Since the announced killing of Emanuel Goldstein — er, Osama Bin Laden — I’ve seen much speculation on what kind of big terror attack we can expect in retaliation. But if Al Qaeda was capable of a large-scale, spectacular reprisal attack, I think they’d already have done it between 9-11 and now. Their actual pattern since then has been one of poorly organized, penny ante attacks, carried out by poorly trained people — suggesting that they picked the low-hanging fruit on 9-11.
It’s quite plausible that, given enough incompetent attempts, somebody will eventually succeed in detonating a bomb and blowing up a plane in the air. Enough monkeys with enough typewriters and enough time, and all that. But even if it happens, the damage will be limited to the passengers on one plane out of millions of flights in any one year. With hardened cockpits and passengers who understand that the goal of hijacking has changed, it will never be possible to fly a plane into a high-value target again. And it’s unlikely all the TSA security theater in the airports, aimed at preventing the previous attack, is good for anything except satisfying the “Well, we have to do SOMETHING!” idjuts.
The interesting thing, though, is that however poorly planned and executed the attacks have been, they were conducted in accordance with a brilliant strategic vision of maximizing bang for the buck in terms of the U.S. government stupidity they provoke. An attempt to smuggle explosives on a plane doesn’t have to be anything more than crude and ineffectual, because TSA’s knee-jerk overreaction — not blowing up the plane — is the real goal. The goal is to make the passenger screening process, the x-raying of all cargo, etc., so onerous, humiliating, expensive and time-consuming that air traffic shrinks radically and the U.S. economy takes a hit. The goal is for the American people to see their government as intrusive, arbitrary, and callous.
The goal is also for the U.S. government, in response, to stay bogged down in endless wars in the Islamic world, radicalizing people there and causing them to see the U.S. as a crusader army — in the meantime wearying and demoralizing the U.S. population and bankrupting the government. To paraphrase the late Mr. Bin Laden, it’s only necessary for a couple of brothers with “Al Qaeda” written on a piece of cloth to show themselves in Antarctica, and the President will send Marines to fight the penguins there “so we won’t have to fight them here.”
In that vein, prominent libertarian commentator Radley Balko writes at Reason, “Osama Won” (May 2, 2011).
Wow — deja vu, all over again! William Graham Sumner, during the Spanish-American War, gave a speech on “The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” His argument was that the United States, a nation formed in reaction against European global empires like Spain’s, had — by adopting expansionism and imperialism — been conquered by Spain in the field of ideas and policies despite defeating her on the battlefield. Despite its ostensible “victory,” the United States experienced a moral defeat by abandoning everything it stood for and becoming what it hated.
Balko, likewise, lists all the changes undergone by America in the past decade. The U.S. has detained people without trial and tortured them at “black sites” overseas, rendered them to other countries to be tortured, claimed a right to detain American citizens without trial, barred those who turned out to be innocent from legal redress in the American courts for their detention and torture, refused compensation to hundreds of innocent people detained at Gitmo, prohibited detainees from talking about their detention and torture, turned the Fourth Amendment’s “search and seizure” provisions into toilet paper with USA PATRIOT and illegal wiretaps, further militarized local police forces, and set up what amounts to a system of internal passport checkpoints in the airports…
If, as American presidents have never tired of claiming, Al Qaeda attacked us because “they hate us for our freedoms,” they must like us a whole lot more now. If Al Qaeda is really fighting us because they hate our freedoms, the war is already over.