How The US Response Turns 'Failed' Terrorist Attacks Into Successes

from the playing-the-game-they-want dept

Terrorism is a serious issue. No one’s trying to downplay the fact that some very angry individuals are trying to kill an awful lot of Americans (and others as well). However, what’s amazing is how incredibly bad the US appears to be at this particular game of chess. Robert Wright recently had a bit of an eye-opening discussion of how the US appears to have played into Al Qaeda’s plan at almost every turn. It’s another case of the US simply not understanding how to respond to a distributed threat, rather than a centralized one. The whole business is based on getting the US to overreact and overspend and get it caught in a quagmire that causes additional problems. And, increasingly, it looks like that’s exactly what’s happened.

Along those lines, Bruce Schneier highlights how the US response fits right into Al Qaeda’s plans, since our response is quite costly, while the attacks are really, really cheap. He points to an article in Foreign Policy that explains how the TSA’s security policies are exactly what Al Qaeda wants. It’s not about killing Americans or even “terrorizing” them. It’s about trying to get the country spending more and more to try to stop the impossible — leading to a bankrupting of the overall economy. Now, I will say that this goal is probably a lot more difficult to reach than Al Qaeda probably thinks, but it’s no excuse for the US government following through and helping Al Qaeda.

But the really striking thing about all of this is that you realize how the US has turned each failed attack into a success for Al Qaeda. A clueless guy can’t light his underwear on fire to take down an airplane? We spend billions in totally ineffective and intrusive TSA security procedures and machines that wouldn’t have even caught that guy.

What we’re doing is creating a circular situation where all we’re doing is encouraging more ridiculous attacks by Al Qaeda. Even when they don’t succeed, the fact that we’re costing the country so much in silly security theater encourages Al Qaeda to do more — and (perhaps) to get more ridiculous each time, knowing that we’ll continue to overreact and spend ourselves silly to try to prevent another guy from trying to light his underwear on fire on a plane. Outspending (massively) an enemy worked when that enemy was the Soviet Union — a centralized bureaucracy that simply couldn’t keep up. But this is a very different beast, and responding using the same basic thought process isn’t helping. It’s making matters worse. As Wright notes in that first article: “We?re creating them faster than we?re killing them.” And spending orders of magnitude to do so. Forget the fact that this isn’t sustainable. It’s just downright stupid from a strategic standpoint.

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Comments on “How The US Response Turns 'Failed' Terrorist Attacks Into Successes”

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Ima Fish (profile) says:

The whole business is based on getting the US to overreact and overspend and get it caught in a quagmire that causes additional problems

I’ve said this before. Back on November 24, 2002 Osama bin Laden promised to destroy the economy of the west. It?s eight years later and it appears his threat was carried out. But yet, no one is talking about this angle.

Terrorism is about more than blowing things up. It’s about covertly destroying systems and infrastructure. We’re treating this war against terrorism as if its being fought solely in airports. It’s not.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Said it before...

I agree with everything in your post except your definitions.

Terrorism is about influencing people with fear/intimidation. (Examples clearly visible in the news–obviously the media/government is terrorizing us).

WAR is about destroying your enemy’s systems and infrastructure.

So, to be more accurate, Al Qaeda is (allegedly) at war with the United States; and the United States is terrorizing the United States populace.

Joe Patriot says:

Re: Re: Said it before...

Semantics aside, whenever we compromise our principles as a response to a terror attack, they win a victory, because we lose some of what made the US great.

– Security Theater
– Eroded Civil Liberties
– Guantanamo Bay and Extreme Rendition
– Two ruinously expensive conflicts

Al Qaeda has been soundly kicking us around on that account since 2001.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Ignore them

I agree w/the sentiment, but why not actually go in the OTHER direction.

Al Queda: We hate your way of life, and that’s why we destroyed the twin towers!

USA: Huh. Well, that was stupid of you. Now most of the world hates you. Oh well, you know what WE’RE going to do? Allow MORE freedom and show you why our way of life is the best. How does a mosque at ground zero grab you?

Al Queda: JEWS! You support the zionists! Death to America!

USA: And not just them, either. We’re going to help Israel, because we want to. Oh, we’re also going to help out other groups that are oppressed, including Muslims around the world. How does some foreign aid to the Sudan grab you?

Al Queda: We hate your freedom!

USA: Too bad. Just to annoy you, we’re going to give our citizens MORE freedom! BWHAHAHAHA!

It’s really to bad it didn’t go something like this. The USA has such a horrible PR problem….

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Ignore them

“The offered “solution” is vague and clearly tongue-in-cheek.”

The language is, yes. The spirit is not. Seriously, what could be better than listening to an Al Queda rant and coming back with “screw you, we’re going to be even MORE free!”.

I mean, honestly, in which direction does the TSA scanning crap move us more: closer to westernized concepts of freedom, or closer to Sharia law?

I certainly prefer my method of response to all the nonsense that’s going on now. In fact, I think I’ll coin a term for my proposed “solution” to terrorism.

It’s called the “nah nah nuh boo boo, stick your head in poo poo” method for combatting terrorism….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Ignore them

It’s kind of the one basic rules about trolls:

Don’t feed the trolls. Overreacting is basic troll food.

In all reality, deaths caused by terrorism aren’t even a drop in the bucket of overall deaths in the US. Even if they did continue to attack us, sure it’d be a shame, but really it’s nothing to give your full undivided attention to.

teka (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ignore them

Odds on someone you know and love being part of the “minor” cost of automobile travel is much higher.

Odds of someone you know and love being part of the “minor” cost of slippery tile in the bathroom or that cough that “didn’t seem that bad” are much higher.

You still drive your car, you still do everything else and you still Would continue to drive, etc, after they die. You wouldnt advocate tripling the national debt to Possibly Maybe prevent a few of these deaths, would you?

Especially when its still just a big maybe, and when the price being paid is freedoms rather then just money.

we can always hope that our loved ones stay safe, and we can take reasonable steps to keep them that way, but kneejerk emotional responses (like everything we have been doing since 9/11 it seems) are a deadlier then the disease they fight.

Anonymous Coward says:

im not so sure you understand something here...

since theres been so many people saying this from the very beginning, and its so incredibly obvious, I dont think the situation is really what you think it is.

consider this possibility instead: The attack was welcomed by those in power cause it let them spend what they wanted to spend. They were just looking for excuses to give money to their pals.

Just assume that the outcome, where the rich get richer, and the friends of those in power gain additional power was the intended outcome and the US “response” to everything makes the most sense possible.

There have been no mistakes in the response. This is exaclty what they wanted all along.

Richard Kulawiec says:

Re: economy

Yes, it’s great for the pigs at the trough — that is, the executives and lobbyists for those companies.

But it’s bad for everyone else. This is not how one grows an economy, and definitely not how one creates jobs for the future.

Consider: as of this morning, shows that the total cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is about 1.115 trillion dollars. That’s just the wars — so it doesn’t includes all the money pissed away by DHS

Do the math. That money could have been spent on college educations, on fixing infrastructure, on getting broadband (REAL broadband) to everyone, on health care, on any combination of things that would actually improve life for citizens and create long-term jobs as a byproduct.

Instead it was spent getting a lot of people killed for absolutely no reason. Ours, theirs, neutrals, whatever: a lot of people have died to achieve nothing of lasting value. That’s a human tragedy — and a very expensive one.

DCX2 says:

Re: economy

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”

Excerpt from the Chance for Peace
by Dwight D. Eisenhower
April 16, 1953

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: Re:

… vector graphics on a virtual front? Just like that sweet tank arcade game from the 80’s. Well that, and actions that more resemble the types of guerrilla tactics in the U.S. Revolution where destructive forces, to the enemy, seem to coalesce out of thin air and then evaporate back into the landscape and populous.

Only now the guerrillas have instant global communications capabilities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Let’s cut to the chase. These “intrusions” will stop once we are all required to fly sans clothing following a full body cavity search, perhaps even including the use of endoscopes to probe such cavities.

On the bright side, this would be an excellent opportunity for federal officials to perform medical procedures such as colonoscopies, etc., and without the “patient” having to provide a co-pay. 😉

gouda says:

Re: immune system

Excellent analogy. We’re suffering a full blown autoimmune response. I remember standing in line at a Dunkin Donuts watching one of the towers come down on the TV hanging from the ceiling.
I turned to my coworker and said “You’re gonna hear the sound of a giant barn door being shut now” I meant that we would react massively, and futilely. I grossly underestimated our response.

crade (profile) says:

What gets me is that the US keeps pointing the finger at us (Canada) and saying our lax security is hurting them. For goodness sake, Canada is the only country on the hit list that hasn’t been hit; and not because there haven’t been attempts on us, but because the attempts were foiled *before* the mission was complete. Grinds my gears I tell ya!

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Canada has a nasty history for that actually; not just at that time. (Or so I’m told, I wasn’t actually around at that time 🙂

Contrary to popular opinion, though, we do have a secret service and they do seem to be doing a rather decent job so far as far as I can tell.

Brent Ashley (profile) says:

Follow The Money

Somebody does bad things.
Somebody makes decisions on how to react, chooses expensive solution.
Lots of money is transferred from the state to somebody who is the chosen solution provider.
The solution is not only ineffective but accelerates the situation.

Who is each of the somebodies?
How to each of them benefit?
Follow the money.

DanVan (profile) says:

What we have learned the last 10 years is that whenever a terrorism attacks with a Republican in office, the terrorists are mad b/c of past Democratic actions

When a terrorist attack happens under Democratic rule, it is the Democrats problem for being “stupid”

When a terrorist attack doesn’t happen under Democratic rule, it is the Republicans to praise for past actions

Make sense?

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

of course, those looking from the outside mostly conclude ‘if terrorists attack the USA, it’s because the terrorists (or at least their leaders) are insane, but smart, while the USA (or, more specifically, it’s leadership) are greedy and stupid. responses follow the same logic’

hence the general antipathy towards both sides from third parties. (threat and risk/reward assessment, dubious or otherwise, being the reason for anyone helping one side or the other.)

opit (profile) says:


“No one’s trying to downplay the fact that some very angry individuals are trying to kill an awful lot of Americans (and others as well).”

I will. The essence of what is being claimed about ‘We’d better fight them over there to avoid fighting them over here’ ignores who exactly is ‘fighting them.’

Let’s start with the 2003 NIE from 16 American intelligence agencies that declared unanimously that invading Iraq would cause an increase in terrorism. We know what followed that, don’t we ?
Let’s play a short and informative video clip from Dick Cheney explaining why the U.S. did NOT invade Iraq under George Bush Sr.
BTW Any surfing around the topic ‘Cheney’ in YouTube is bound to help one lose illusions.
Not that I don’t bust a few myself.

Bob F says:

all that gives me hope

The one thing that gives me hope in all this is that the terrorists seem pretty dumb too. Unless our intelligence agencies are foiling a lot more attacks than we hear about (which is a definite possibility) they aren’t really attacking all that much. You’d think they could afford a few more freight bombs, or talk some more useful idiots into shooting sprees. As mentioned, they wouldn’t even have to be sucessful. I’m also profoundly grateful for the terrorists unhealthy obsession with airplanes. They persist in trying to hit these, instead of, eg, shopping malls or what-have-you. I hope our country wises up before they do!

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