Polaris SLBMThe comment that "we need intelligence about a coming attack and then we will be able to stop it" shows everything that is wrong in current strategic thinking and why "Homeland Security" as envisioned by the government won't work… sure there is a policing function to counter-terrorism but you will never be able to "police" the terrorists completely away.

Enemies are always at the gates and they are planning "devastating" attacks on us 24/7. Our enemies are constantly sharpening their pencils. We lived under the threat of devastating attack from the Soviets for decades.

Historically what has prevented these attacks more than anything else is not analysis and timely intervention or "policing"… rather it has been simple game theory, the concept of deterrence, that is… a credible threat of retaliation in kind or the threat of overwhelming retaliatory force. You are unlikely to punch someone if you think that they will get up and punch you even harder.

To the extent that we allow that to slip, we will only make the world more dangerous for ourselves.

We see this "credible threat effect" in the back and forth in the financial markets everyday, what stops moves in the market is the credible "threat" of uncommitted capital to step in and take an opposite position. How many times have we sat watching the green and red ticks thinking "how extended is this". We always know that if we do something stupid, such as attack in the wrong way, the market mistress can really kick us hard in a sensitive spot.

Steve Leslie writes:

Tom's either/or scenario on deterrence to terrorism is flawed thinking.

The war on terrorism is an extremely complex endeavor and cannot be distilled into one simplified strategy as a solution. 

There is no one strategy that works with terrorism. It is true that some terrorists' view is that they will not attack if retaliation will involve broad onslaughts as were seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps this is the view that Iran is taking right now. 

Then again there are zealots and maniacs who think nothing of strapping a bomb to their bodies or filling a vehicle with explosives and driving into a crowded marketplace.  No direct or implied threat will stop them from doing this. Look at Northern Ireland and the English.  They fought their war of terrorism for over 20 years.

It is impossible for Western culture to understand a philosophy of suicide/terrorism.  This is an extremely bizzare worldview.

Think back on Timothy McVeigh. He blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City and killed hundreds of people.  For what?  No amount of implied deterrence stopped him. 

How about the Unabomber, Ted Kazinski.  He sent out mailbombs to people to kill and dismember them.  The FBI hunted him for years before finally catching him. This never stopped him from his insane mission. 

Now, it would be nice to say that all you have to do is this, but this is not the world that we live in and the sand is ever shifting.

Terrorism is a risk of doing commerce in the world.  It is now a fact of life and will never leave.





Speak your mind

5 Comments so far

  1. Gene on November 20, 2007 2:14 pm

    Hmm, and all this time I thought that it was the taking over foreign countries, stealing their oil, hanging their leaders, and raping their women that made the world a more dangerous place for us.

  2. John on November 20, 2007 6:30 pm

    The idea that deterrence will keep us safe from radical islamic terrorists presupposes that we can hit back hard enough to make them think twice about hitting us. If someone is willing to die in exchange for punching you in the nose, hitting them harder than they hit you just won’t do the trick. Better to see it comming and duck.

  3. Acetrader on November 20, 2007 6:40 pm

    Re: “gene”…your ignorance is scary. So we steal their oil? Really….hmmmm, want to back that statement up? As for why we hanged their “leader” ask the kurds, or maybe the Iraqi olympic team. Rape their women? Probably the most ignorant thing you have said….shame on you for letting a few criminals in uniform overshadow the 120,000 men and women trying to help rebuild a country. By the way “gene” if 18 million Iraqi’s wanted us out don’t you think we would see demonstrations? Violence in Iraq is down over 50% the past few months.

  4. gabe on November 20, 2007 10:10 pm

    acetrader, I have a bridge to sell you. At the risk of transforming this post into what was not supposed to be:

    1. why do you think saddam hanged? he was a bad dictator? or was it “after all this man tried to kill my daddy”? seems to me US is perfectly fine with terrorists kurds PKK killing 35,000 turks over the years w/o reaction.

    2. if US is on some kind of cross and shield mission to spread democracy in the world why don’t you start closer to home and work your way up? latin america is ripe. medellin cartels, chavez etc. not to mention the greatest disgrace to the human race, what’s going on in Africa. I don’t see empire troops stationed in Darfur.

    3. why do you think every middle eastern kid was cheering while WTC was burning? after all the empire has bases all over the world and seems to me Japan would have 10x more reasons for it.

    Some things in this world are better left unspoken. turn off foxnews.

  5. Craig Bowles on November 21, 2007 12:22 pm

    Iben Browning said back in the 1970s that terrorism would increase sharply after year 2000 due to a widening gap between the countries that have and the have nots. He based the timing on changes in climate among other things. He warned then that security and freedom are a choice. He also said when a country has a big military, they have to decide eventually whether to use it or lose it. (On a side note, I bet Iraq would love to go back to Saddam Hussein. I remember my friend who keeps up with such things saying back when we invaded that Iraq had the highest standard of living in the Middle East on average.)


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