A big question of the last decade is how have the 9/11 terrorist attacks changed American society. Writing for Wired, Spencer Ackerman says not well:
hysteria is what the terrorists want. In fact, it’s the only win a decapitated, weakened al-Qaida can get these days. The only hope that these eschatological conspiracy theorists possess for success lies in compelling the U.S. to spend its way into oblivion and pursue ill-conceived wars. That’s how Osama bin Laden transforms from a cave-dwelling psycho into a world-historical figure — not because of what he was, but because of how we reacted to him.
And that points to the only way out of a trap that’s lasted a decade. It has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with politics. The U.S. has to embrace the reality that terrorism is not anything remotely like the existential threat we make it out to be. We can honor those 2,996 without being permanently haunted by them.
While I don’t agree with Ackerman’s entire argument—or at least the weight he gives to the threat terrorism poses—he makes an important point about political incentives.
All the incentives align for keeping that liberty-crushing Security State in place.
I don’t think we’re in such a security state. But without question civil liberties have taken a hit.
Ackmernan notes a recent comment from Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism chief:
“There’s going to be a terrorist strike some day,” Clarke told Frontline for its “Top Secret America” documentary this week. “And when there is, if you’ve reduced the terrorism budget, the other party, whoever the other party is at the time, is going to say that you were responsible for the terrorist strike because you cut back the budget. And so it’s a very, very risky thing to do.”
In other words, Ackerman says that American politics are locked in a situation where politicians are punished if are perceived to de-emphasize programs and efforts that protect against terrorism.