The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself

by Ivan Eland –

As rage coursed through India after the Mumbai terrorist bombings, Condoleezza Rice, the Bush administration’s Secretary of State, flew to India and cautioned the Indian government on avoiding a knee-jerk and counterproductive response. She warned the Indians that “any response needs to be judged by its effectiveness in prevention and also by not creating other unintended consequences or difficulties.”

This lecture is laughable after the Bush administration’s over-the-top reaction to 9/11 was to declare a massive global war on terror; create a fictional and cartoonish “axis of evil”; and invade and occupy two Muslim countries—all of which actually fueled Islamist terrorism worldwide. (Given these same facts, the U.S. criticism of Russia’s temporary invasion of one-third of Georgia in response to that nation’s initiation of hostilities in South Ossetia, which killed Russian soldiers, was equally drenched in hypocrisy.)

And the disproportionate U.S. response to terrorism continues. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently warned that the United States will face its biggest threats not from aggressive nation-states, but from guerrillas and terrorists in “failed states.” To combat these threats, the Department of Defense has just raised such “irregular warfare” to equal status with conventional warfare. It apparently just dawned on the Pentagon’s leadership that most of the wars fought by the United States during the post-World War II period have been such low-level conflicts.

Michael Vickers, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for special operations and low intensity warfare, is now talking of a worldwide network made up of U.S. and friendly forces to conduct “steady state” counterterrorism operations, in order “to create a persistent, ubiquitous presence against our adversaries…” In other words, conducting perpetual war for perpetual peace. The nation’s founders, leery of the costs in blood and treasure of the constant warfare that European kings inflicted on their people, would pass out at this notion—especially when the average American’s chances of ever being killed by an international terrorist attack are statistically less than being struck by lightning.

However, it has not yet occurred to the Pentagon (probably because such a realization would not be in the military’s interest) or the U.S. public that messing around militarily in failed states, especially Muslim ones, is what generates the anti-U.S. hatred that leads terrorists to attack U.S. targets. Yet the people of other countries seem aware that military activities abroad may make their homeland less secure. For example, in Spain after the massive train bombing on March 11, 2004, the Joe Maria Aznar government, which had been one of the few European governments that avidly supported and helped with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, had to lie to its people that the bombing was likely the work of Basque separatists, when it had evidence that the Islamists were behind it. Why? Because if the Spanish people found out that Islamists had perpetrated the attack, the Spanish government knew that the public would correctly see that Spanish foreign policy had endangered the Spanish homeland. Thus, the Spanish government would be put at risk. Of course, the truth eventually came out anyway, the deceitful Spanish government was justifiably thrown out of office, and Spanish forces were withdrawn from Iraq.

In contrast to such lucid thinking, politicians and the media in the United States deliberately stoke excessive fears of terrorism so that they can get government funding for their pork projects or attract more viewers, listeners, or readers. For example, a congressional mandated commission headed by two former senators recently reached the alarmist conclusion that “it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.” How the panel could come up with such a specific estimate of an event that has an essentially unknowable probability (only two major WMD attacks by terrorist groups or individuals have occurred in history—the gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 and the anthrax attacks in the U.S. in 2001) should raise suspicions.

ivan-eland.jpgIn addition, the commission concluded that an attack with a biological agent was more probable than one with a nuclear weapon and that the U.S. government thus should increase regulation of the 400 U.S. research facilities and 15,000 people working with such organisms. No mention was made that even a biological attack is difficult to carry out successfully (the Japanese terrorist group that perpetrated the pathetically ineffective chemical attack on the subway, which should have been easier to carry out than a biological attack, had boat loads of money, had hired topnotch scientists, and had failed at committing biological terrorism) or that threat of biological terrorism has been made worse in the wake of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks by multiplying the number of facilities working on antidotes and vaccines for biological attacks. After all, the anthrax attacks, again killing only a few people, originated from anthrax stored at a U.S. government facility and used by scientists with special expertise in biological weapons agents.

Thus, irrational fear breeds irrational and hypocritical responses. Hopefully, India will respond to the Mumbai attacks by adopting the more rational Spanish model and not the hysterical U.S. model.

by Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University.This article first appeared in The Independent Institute and is republished with permission.

Articles by Ivan Eland:

Published by the LA Progressive on December 9, 2008
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About Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He also has served as Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office), and has testified on the military and financial aspects of NATO expansion before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on CIA oversight before the House Government Reform Committee, and on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Eland is the author of The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy, as well as The Efficacy of Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool. He is a contributor to numerous volumes and the author of 45 in-depth studies on national security issues.

His articles have appeared in American Prospect, Arms Control Today, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Emory Law Journal, The Independent Review, Issues in Science and Technology (National Academy of Sciences), Mediterranean Quarterly, Middle East and International Review, Middle East Policy, Nexus, Chronicle of Higher Education, American Conservative, International Journal of World Peace, and Northwestern Journal of International Affairs. Dr. Eland's popular writings have appeared in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Miami Herald, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Newsday, Sacramento Bee, Orange County Register, Washington Times, Providence Journal, The Hill, and Defense News. He has appeared on ABC's “World News Tonight,” NPR's “Talk of the Nation,” PBS, Fox News Channel, CNBC, Bloomberg TV, CNN, CNN “Crossfire,” CNN-fn, C-SPAN, MSNBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), Canadian TV (CTV), Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, BBC, and other local, national, and international TV and radio programs.