A Man with a Flashlight

Did we overestimate Al Qaeda?
May 4, 2007, 1:44 pm
Filed under: The War on Terror

Andrew Sullivan thinks we may have. To wit:

The great unanswered question of our time is: why have we not had another major terror attack since 9/11 in America? I don’t know the answer. Although I’m sure the CIA has foiled some plots, our knowledge of the competence of the federal government should inhibit us from assigning them too much credit. Perhaps serious global jihad is indeed the province of a few wealthy and motivated religious fanatics, and not the widespread threat we fear. Perhaps Arab culture is unproductive even when it comes to murdering innocents. Perhaps we’ve been lucky. I certainly don’t buy the idea that the war in Iraq is somehow preventing them from attacking us here. You can’t find 19 true-believers to get on a plane while you’re pursuing a classic Arab insurgency? The point of terror on a 9/11 scale is partly to get us to over-estimate the strength of the enemy. Maybe they succeeded. And maybe, as a result, we’re trapped.

Remember that Bin Ladin was surprised at the extent of the 9/11 damage.

Sullivan is quite right that we are meant to over-estimate the enemy. Terrorists want to stage media events, not military strikes.

This is one reason why treating them as a law enforcement problem, as much as it is pooh-poohed, might be wise: it denies them some stature. Should we see them as soldiers, or criminals? Surely they would prefer soldiers. Calling the struggle against terrorism a war is only correct in scale – and, Sullivan suggests, perhaps not even in that.

Of course if they get a nuke this will all be moot, but the priorities of our government seem to be elsewhere.


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