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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Odds I would have given, and odds I won't take, on future terrorist attacks on American soil

There could be another one tomorrow. Or in three months and a few days, to commemorate the anniversary of the first one.

But there has not been a major terrorist attack, by al Qaeda or otherwise, on American soil during the roughly six and a three-quarter years since 9/11/01.

When Barack Obama and the Democrats tell you, again and again, as if it's an indisputable truism, that "George W. Bush's foreign policy and national security policy have been unmitigated disasters," that rather important fact — almost seven years since the last major terrorist attack on American soil! — is enough all by itself to refute their argument.

Indeed, if you had asked me in late September 2001 what the odds were that we could survive two full years without another major terrorist attack on American soil, I'd have given you poor odds (at least 10 to 1 that another attack would occur). If you'd asked what the odds were that we could survive another five full years without one, I'd have given you overwhelmingly grim odds (at least 50 to 1). Turns out, I would have been wrong.

But it just doesn't seem all that remarkable to us anymore that, hey, our office towers are pretty much not imploding in onto themselves and falling out of the sky. Our train stations aren't filling up with shrapnel or nerve gas. Our petrochemical refineries and nuclear power plants haven't been sabotaged. Only people who fail to remark on such things can also listen to Obama preach about "Bush's failures" without laughing.

It should seem remarkable. It genuinely is remarkable. Indeed, I encourage each of you to remark upon it, confidently, the next time someone like Obama says something so pathetically stupid about "George W. Bush's unmitigatedly disastrous foreign and national security policies."

Likewise, we Americans, even those of us who genuinely do cherish and honor our military forces, mostly tend to take for granted that they can whip anyone who will come out to fight them, any where and any time, and that we'll do so by margins so lopsided and decisive that they lack any comparison throughout the history of human warfare. But I don't think our potential enemies make that mistake.

Back in the late 1970s, immediately post-Vietnam, and even the 1980s, the leaders of a third-rate tin-pot dictatorship like Iran might have flattered themselves into thinking that they could at least give us a good fight. Desert Storm proved to the world, however, that anyone else giving us a "good fight" is an unlikely proposition, and Iraqi Freedom made it an absolutely preposterous one.

The practical limits to American military power are those which are self-imposed by our fundamental decency and sense of responsibility, and, frankly, by our own long-term self-interests: If we're going to topple a regime like Saddam's, we don't just walk away after the statues have been pulled down, or even after the war criminal trials have been concluded. Democrats are fond of quoting our own generals who say, "There is no military solution in Iraq." Well, of course there is: We could turn the entire country into a radioactive green-glass parking lot by noon tomorrow if we weren't self-constrained from doing so by other considerations. Short of that, we could — if we had the desire and political will — flood the country with sufficient occupation troops to turn it into a well-run prison camp; but we're self-constrained from doing that, too.  So we choose to consider and employ other alternatives, even ones that are messy and costly and slow.

But even if the Iraq War did nothing else (a proposition I reject), however, it emphatically demonstrated to every other country in the world that, in their dealings with the United States, there simply is no "military solution" which can favor them.

Consequently, when the leaders of the Iranians or the North Koreans or the Syrians or the Libyans (or for that matter, the Paskistanis or the Egyptians) send their proxies to sit across the table from Condi Rice and her own minions, there is never any "My daddy can beat up your daddy" subtext to the conversations. Everyone on the block knows that the results of any military conflict are preordained. They all watched the American Big Daddy thrash the stuffings out of the last other Daddy who chose to fight. And for the remainder of George W. Bush's term, there will be no doubt in their minds that similarly provoked, America could, and very well might, do the same to them. And so, currently, they act up and misbehave in direct proportion to their confidence that Dubya, if provoked by them, will be sufficiently restrained from undertaking any military solutions by a war-weary and often short-sighted Congress and public. (Do you think it was accidental that the Iranians seized and kidnapped British sailors and Marines from international waters in the Gulf last year, instead of American ones?)

The day Barack Obama takes over the White House, though, everything changes. Would Barack Obama — the candidate preferred, bought, and paid for by MoveOn.org, which opposed even the Afghanistan regime change — react surely and decisively to a challenge to American interests? I don't think he would — not unless he were absolutely convinced that failing to do so would result in his being immediately impeached in the House and successfully convicted in the Senate. I don't think foreign enemies of America believe he would, either. He might talk, and scold. But he'd include America itself in the scolding! (He'd especially, and conveniently, blame ... George W. Bush!)

The best I can say is that however gravely its international interests would be wounded, America, at considerable cost, would probably survive four years of an Obama presidency. We survived Jimmy Carter, an equally naïve buffoon. But if Obama wins, I won't give you even astronomical odds — not a thousand to one, not even a million to one — that there won't be another terrorist attack on America comparable to 9/11/01 during his four-year term of office.

Posted by Beldar at 09:11 PM in 2008 Election, Global War on Terror, Politics (2008) | Permalink


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Tracked on May 23, 2008 10:06:16 PM


(1) Gregory Koster made the following comment | May 21, 2008 3:24:02 AM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Welcome back.

Obama has given me the impression that foreign affairs are a nuisance, that they should go away so he can get on with his domestic agenda. He will soon learn as his hero Kennedy said to Nixon, "It is really true that foreign affairs is the only important issue for a President to handle, isn't it? I mean, who gives a s**t if the minimum wage is $1.15 or $1.25 in comparison to something like this? [the Bay of Pigs fiasco.]" Yes indeed. And the reaction to the fiasco drove Kennedy a long way down the road to Vietnam. So too with Obama. I can't fathom his joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee---and then doing next to nothing while on. The man is excessively lazy for a President, and this means that his department heads (think: CIA) will be critically important. But given the liklihood of a filibuster proof Senate in 2009, the GOP will be almost helpless to do anything. In this regard, we will be worse off compared to the Bumpkin's 1977-81 fiasco. At least in those days, Scoop Jackson and Daniel Moynihan were part of the Democratic Congress. Today you can see for yourself and be depressed. Hillary will not take the veepacy, not when she can stay in the Senate and straighten the fool out when he screws up. You are also right that the odds against another sizable terrorist attack will go way down should Obama be elected. The consolation of watching the Andrew Sullivan gang shriek that it isn't my fault will be too small to compensate.

Glenn Reynolds has a podcast with Fred Thompson about a month back. About fifteen minutes, well worth listening to.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(2) steve sturm made the following comment | May 21, 2008 7:59:23 AM | Permalink

I disagree. Not with your figuring that Obama would be lukewarm at best about retaliating, but rather with your assertion that our (mis) adventure in Iraq is a major reason that we haven't been attacked since 9/11

(3) Stan made the following comment | May 21, 2008 10:10:27 AM | Permalink

Our adventure in Iraq has been a tremendous success on a number of different levels. Al Qaeda has been decimated. Without Iran's funding and material support, the last of those attacking the elected government of Iraq and its army would be toothless.

The Kurds have created a stable, thriving area covering 1/3 of Iraq which requires no US help at all.

Were mistakes made? Of course, there has never been a war without a ton of mistakes. The US accomplishments in Iraq will go down in world history as both extraordinary and unique.

(4) Michael Myers made the following comment | May 21, 2008 11:05:27 AM | Permalink

Well Steve Sturm if our "misadventure" in Iraq is not a major reason for the absence of a terrorist attack since 2001, what is the major reason?

In the way of the adult world one can often see multiple reasons that contribute to things happening. If Bush is going to be blamed for every bad thing that happens on his watch--and he certainly has been--why can he not get credit for the good things that happen on his watch?

So my question remains--if the Iraq misadventure was not the major reason for the absence of terrorist attacks, could you please identify the real major reason?

(5) steve sturm made the following comment | May 21, 2008 1:29:44 PM | Permalink

possible reasons, in no particular order and without any endorsement:

1 - terrorist fears that our intelligence agencies will catch them before they can carry out their mission.

2 - our counterintelligence, even with having their hands tied behind their backs, has been incredibly effective in learning of and preventing attacks.

3 - a terrorist desire that any following attack be more spectacular than 9/11, and they just haven't yet been able to design and carry out such an attack.

4- 9/11 was an aberration, in that the world isn't full of terrorists looking to attack the United States.

5 - terrorist realization that they didn't accomplish their goals with 9/11 and they are thus targeting the more easily persuadable countries such as Spain, England and, yes, Israel.

6 - Our being in Iraq has indeed been the flypaper that gave terrorists an opportunity to strike at Americans without going through all the trouble of actually coming here to do so (yes, in a way, this means that our being in Iraq has led to our not being attacked here at home).

7 - A twist of #5, in that the brains behind the terrorists have been occupied in Iraq and Afghanistan and thus are unable to assist in planning and carrying out attacks here in the United States.

8 - terrorist sponsors fear another attack on the US would result in economic ripples that threaten their own financial interests and they've chosen money over ideology by yanking support for a terrorist attack.

As far as giving Bush credit, I look to see whether an event took place because of or despite someone's actions... and I sense that Bush invading Iraq has had very little to do with out not being attacked. This isn't to say that other actions he has taken have had a positive effect.

(6) LazyMF made the following comment | May 21, 2008 2:56:36 PM | Permalink

Wasn't there only one Muslim terrorist attack in the continental US during the 8 years of Clinton (1993 WTC bombing)? By that logic, was Clinton's and Bush's foreign policy equally as successful? Smells like a logical fallacy to me.

(7) Beldar made the following comment | May 21, 2008 7:19:46 PM | Permalink

Mr. Koster: Your observations about the loss to the Democratic Party, and the country, of sober national security-minded Democrats like Moynahan, Jackson, and yes, even the naive JFK, are on target. And yes, Obama could have used his subcommittee chairmanship to demonstrate engagement and competency on something, in at least the way Truman used a committee investigation into war profiteering and incompetency to justify FDR's picking him for the Veep slot in 1948. But his campaign theme is that, with less than one Senate term, he's already divine, so even delegating underlings to prepare for hearings that he could swoop in and preside over was thought unnecessary. What percentage of the millions of Americans who've voted for him in the primaries have a clue of his nonperformance with that committee, do you suppose? (I'd guess less than 2%.)

LazyMF, my friend: Implicit in your question is the admission that, of course, Clinton's anti-terrorism activities were a cruel joke -- cruise missiles used to distract attention, Wag-the-Dog fashion, from a presidential impeachment scandal rather than to actually effect any gains to American security.

Moreover, the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center was -- by the terrorists' own estimation, and by any reasonable comparison to 9/11/01 -- a failure. And it took them years to ramp up, with the Taliban providing Afghanistan as a friendly base of training and operations, before they could pull off something like 9/11/01. The delay between 1993 and 2001 had nothing whatsoever to do with Clinton Administration interference in the meantime. By contrast, pretty solid cause-and-effect sequences can be posited and argued, if never definitively proved, to the effect that what America has done since 9/11/01 has indeed prevented another armed attack on U.S. soil after the terrorists had vividly demonstrated their capacity to do so.

My good friend Steve, you're wise not to "endorse" any of the items on your list. One through five and eight are unserious on their face; and six and seven are back-handed concessions that Bush's foreign and national security policies have been at least partially effective.

(8) stan made the following comment | May 21, 2008 8:00:12 PM | Permalink

I seem to recall one federal district judge ruling that Saddam was behind the OKC bombing. And we know that the FBI had an APB out on the Iraqi that was seen with McVeigh. Then Clinton blamed Rush Limbaugh for the bombing and no one wanted to know any more about any Iraqis.

Other evidence ties bin Laden to the OKC bomb. see e.g. JaynaDavis.com

There is no question that the OKC bombers went to the Philippines to meet with people involved in the WTC attack.

(9) Gregory Koster made the following comment | May 21, 2008 10:02:16 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: I think you are off the beam implying that the first WTC attack was a failure. The US got off lightly, being protected by luck (e.g. where the van with the explosives was parked when it blew up) far more than good management ( a company of FBI agents busting down the doors of the building where the van was stored before it ever left.) I wish Mr. Sturm would tell us WHY he thinks GWB has been completely ineffectual in preventing more attacks. I could buy his "timing" argument in #1 for a year, maybe two, but going on seven years seems a bit much. The only persuasive argument I could think of is the general ineptitude and self sabotaging efforts of the administration. Sending Joseph Wilson off to investigate yellowcake isn't something to inspire confidence. Belly laughs (though Scooter Libby ain't laughing)yes, sober confidence, no. So how about it Mr. Sturm? I'll accept that you don't think GWB has been effective WHY do you think so?

Finally, Mr. Dyer, I doubt if it took eight years to plan the 9/11 attacks. The hardest part of doing so would be recruitment. Once you have twenty odd men, the rest is trivial. Crossing American borders before 9/11? Cinch. (Crossing American borders after 9/11? Um...another point for Mr. Sturm to press.) Training several of your group to fly an airliner? Also easy. Cost? I bet it could be done for a million bucks, which is chicken feed to international terrorism. Today it would be much harder, if only because "it has happened here" and passengers would be less inclined to sit still as they flew toward the slaughter. But the increased difficulty still owes too much to citizens, and not enough to effective government action.

On another subject, what's your opinion of gay marriage in California?

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(10) steve sturm made the following comment | May 22, 2008 7:59:44 AM | Permalink

I didn't say that Bush has been totally ineffective in preventing follow up attacks. Our intelligence agencies have no doubt had some successes, but while some number of terrorists have been caught and plans disrupted, I don't think anyone would argue that we've caught every terrorist. The question is thus: why haven't those who haven't been caught attacked us?

Is it because our invading Iraq has given the state sponsors of terror the jitters, so much so that they've clamped down on every single terrorist (and it has to be every single one) looking to strike? Is it because Bush has put into place such an effective intelligence and interdiction program that guarantees that any attack would fail, so much so that every terrorist (and again, it would have to be every one of them, even the ones most confident of their abilities) has tabled their plans to strike? Or are there other reasons, some of which, as I hypothesized above (and most of which Beldar has dismissed as being 'unserious'), having relatively little to do with what Bush has done and more to do with the motivations and limitations of the terrorists themselves?

(11) Mark L. made the following comment | May 22, 2008 3:23:27 PM | Permalink

The reasons we have had no domestic terrorist attacks since 2001 are Afghanistan and Iraq.

In overturning the Taliban government we destroyed the main terrorist training bases that existed in 2001. We also killed, captured, or dispersed their varsity and first-round substitutes. Planning major terror ops is hard work that takes time and capable people. They have had less and less of both time and capable people since 2001.

That isn't to say that they couldn't have developed a new cadre by now. If they were left alone, they could have. But the Iraq invasion proved an irresistible lure. They put many of their chips on Iraq, believing that they could outfight the American soldier in low-intensity combat. Instead they died, and died, and died. What they have left now are mainly the scrubs (and very, very, lucky).

They also alienated the indigenous inhabitants of Iraq in the process. That discredited their movement, further sucking oxygen from their movement -- not just in Iraq, but in other Muslim nations.

These are trends. You can always play a "yeah, but" game pointing out individual variations, but it does not change the trend line. In 2001 they were using airliners as cruise missiles. In 2004 they were able to pull off major bombings in trains. Today, they can set off a bomb or two -- in Arab nations, against soft civilian (read Muslim) targets.

They are losing.

(12) Beldar made the following comment | May 22, 2008 5:54:16 PM | Permalink

Steve, you're too smart a guy to try to seriously argue with a straight face that the explanation why we haven't had more terrorist attacks on the U.S. since 9/11/01 is that the terrorists have "chosen money over ideology" (your #8), or that there really aren't any more of them left who still hate the U.S. (your #4), or that they can't conceive of comparably impressive attacks (your #3). I don't think you're a silly person, but those, in particular, are silly arguments, which you wisely distanced yourself from even when you first posted that comment.

And I commend you for your honestly in admitting that you wouldn't have predicted, immediately after 9/11/01, a seven-year period of freedom from such attacks. That's the main point of my post: That we've gone almost seven years is an astonishing fact — an entirely objective one that deserves to be given meaning and due appreciation in our current thinking about the conflict against the terrorists, even if there's necessarily still speculation about its cause(s).

(13) David made the following comment | Jun 18, 2008 12:41:11 AM | Permalink

If your countries are not members of Nato then you may be consider terrorists accounding Washington but still they like some natural resources like oil and so on from you in most cases they wanted to murders you both directly or indirectly.Since Nato = Nazi you should beware of the evils empire.Now all these former empires are now runing by America empire. If you make poor missjudgement against this evil empire you pay heavy cost for it.

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