Blogger face-off: Are we safer now?

The Hill invites two established bloggers from either side of the political spectrum to sound off on a designated topic in original commentary each Saturday. This week, bloggers were asked whether America is safer in the nine years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.



Fight has taken toll on terrorists, but is far from over

by Rob Port

“Are we safer now than we were before 9/11?”

It’s the annual question we ask every year on the anniversary of that terrible day, and nine years later it’s still a difficult one to answer.

On one hand, it’s easy to say that we’re safer because we haven’t had another 9/11. No more planes have crashed into buildings. No additional mass murders or hijackings. We’ve seen nothing that would rise to the scope of personal and economic tragedy of 9/11.

On the other hand, it’s hard to say that the absence of another attack on par with 9/11 is evidence of safety. After all, al-Qaeda and their ideological brethren have proven to be nothing if not calculating and patient with years going by between attacks.

It’s not like attacks haven’t been attempted. Faisal Shahzad attemped to car bomb Times Square, an attack that was only thwarted when the bomb failed to go off and street vendors alerted authorities to smoke coming from the car.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the infamous “underwear bomber” who attempted to take down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 with explosives he’d smuggled on board in his undergarments was stopped, despite any number of warning signs that should have alerted authorities to his plot, not by security forces but rather by his own ineptness at mixing the chemicals that would cause the explosion.

How can we truly say that we are safer, nine years after 9/11, if two major attacks motivated Islamic extremism and organized by international terror organizations with potentially dire and bloody consequences were stopped not by our security efforts but rather by mere circumstance and fate? Despite having expanded our intelligence infrastructure, and bolted on to our existing infrastructure an entirely new security bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security, we are still disturbingly vulnerable in a lot of ways.

This is perhaps best illustrated by the Fort Hood shooting massacre. The military knew that Nidal Malik Hasan was having problems. That he was in touch with extremist elements in the Islamic community. Yet, either because of an overabundance of political correctness or perhaps blind bureaucratic incompetence, nothing was done and his 43 victims at Fort Hood paid the price.

I do think, though, you could make an argument for our efforts in the Middle East severely depleting the effectiveness of the terrorists who would see us attacked. After all, the cost of mounting insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan not to mention the global efforts (led by the United States) to attack the funding networks surrounding organizations like al-Qaeda have taken their toll. Put simply, the terrorists do not have the same resources they once had and aren’t nearly as effective now that we’re paying attention to them and taking their threats seriously.

Which brings me back to the original question. Are we safer? I think the answer is yes. Safer, but not as safe as we could be. If the politicians focused less on using the threats posed by terrorism as leverage to justify expansion of government, much of which only serves to confuse and exacerbate an already unwieldy host of military/intelligence bureaucracies, and focused more on diplomacy and military operations that address the root causes of the terrorism in question we would be safer still.

Not absolutely safe. Never that, as it's unattainable, but as safe as we could reasonably expect.

Rob Port runs SayAnythingBlog.com and is a talk radio host on AM1100 WZFG Fargo/Moorhead.



Let's try asking different questions

by Jonathan Schwarz

The question of whether America is safer today is sort of strange, for two reasons.

First, the U.S. is unquestionably the safest country that's ever existed.

I don't say that to diminish the terrorist attacks nine years ago — I lived about a mile north of the World Trade Center then, and was on Seventh Avenue watching when the north tower collapsed. Let me tell you, Osama bin Laden & friends really put the "terror" back in "terrorism."

But the sad reality of life on Earth is that horrible things happen all the time. What was unusual about the terrorist attacks wasn't that they happened, but that they happened to us. We have two giant oceans on either side of us; two weak, friendly neighbors; and the most powerful military in the world. As awful as that one day was, what was true before is still true afterward: No one has less reason to be scared than Americans. Wondering whether we're safer is a little unseemly, like Yao Ming wondering whether he's ever going to get taller.

Second, making Americans safer is not a serious goal of the people who run the United States.

Now, I'm not saying Dick Cheney doesn't care about us at all. If he made a list of his top 100 priorities, whether we live or die might be as high as #96. It's just that other things are far more important to him. And if us staying alive conflicts with priorities 1 through 95, well, we've got to go.

This can be clearly seen in the U.S. response to the September 11th attacks. Behind the scenes, even the Bush administration understood it had nothing to do with "our freedom." It was about U.S. foreign policy. As a senior Bush official once explained, without American soldiers in Saudi Arabia, "bin Laden might still be redecorating mosques and boring friends with stories of his mujahideen days in the Khyber Pass."

But obviously they weren't going to change our foreign policy (the only thing that could truly make Americans safer in the long run). On the contrary, they saw it as a tremendous "opportunity" to launch the invasion of Iraq — even though the world's foremost experts on al-Qaeda were telling them it "would intensify Islamic terrorism, not reduce it." Which it did.

And not much has changed today. Our current president apparently finds it hilarious to joke in front of Washington high society about killing people with predator drones. Meanwhile, at almost exactly the same moment, Faisal Shahzad was trying to set off a car bomb near Times Square in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes. Ha ha ha.

So to use another Yao Ming comparison, asking whether we're safer is like asking: "Has Yao gotten thinner since he started his new diet of ten Big Macs a day?" Well, no. How could he? Of course, as a 7'6" professional athlete, he could probably get away with it. However, if they get unlucky, even pro athletes can be felled by sudden heart attacks.

Jonathan Schwarz's blog A Tiny Revolution is named after something George Orwell said: "Every joke is a tiny revolution"