A summary of a draft of a new National Intelligence Assessment on Iraq reportedly concludes “that al-Qaida has reconstituted its core structure along the Pakistani border and may now be a stronger and more resilient organization than it appeared a year ago,” as
Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball put it.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has a “gut feeling” the U.S. may be vulnerable to an attack this summer, although everyone scrambles to say there’s no specific threat.
In short, be afraid, be very afraid. Or maybe not.
A terrorist attack, even a botched terrorist attack like those in London and Glasgow recently, is a dramatic and traumatic event — terrorists wouldn’t bother if it weren’t — but a little perspective may be in order.
A quarter-million people have died in automobile accidents since 9/11, but most Americans accept that statistic as background noise. A new terrorist attack would be horrific, and we would all empathize with the victims, but your chances of being hurt in a terrorist attack are about the same as your chances of winning the lottery next Saturday night.
The Bush administration has declared a global war on terror and has made it the signature issue of George W. Bush’s presidency. It wouldn’t do to have Americans adopt the attitude many Europeans, after significant experience with both war and terrorism on their own soil, have adopted — that terrorism is likely to be an ongoing problem requiring serious vigilance (i.e. parts of London are studded with security cameras), but not something likely to be eliminated no matter how strenuous our efforts and no matter how much of our freedom we cede to the government.
So we may be seeing terrorism hype here.
Even if that is so, however, there are reasons to believe al-Qaida is stronger than it has been recently, and most of those reasons suggest the predominant ways our government has chosen to “fight terrorism” have been profoundly misguided.
The most egregious blunder was invading Iraq.
Brian Michael Jenkins, the Rand Corporation’s prominent terrorism expert, said his own assessment is that al-Qaida is stronger along the Pakistani-Afghan border than it was a year to 18 months ago, that the effectiveness of the leadership has probably improved, that al-Qaida has proven to be adaptable and resilient.
Jenkins is also concerned that Iraq has become “the academy of advanced terrorism,” with people gaining experience there in urban guerrilla warfare and returning to Europe where that experience is likely to mean more terrorist incidents and more people trained in the years ahead.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that leaving Iraq will eliminate the violence or the jihadist juices it has unleashed immediately or even soon. Seeds have been sown there that will bloom for years.
But invading was a mistake — both a diversion from the real threat and a motivating factor for jihadist recruiting. Let’s remember that the next time leaders bang the war drums.