At Power Line, John Hinderaker says that, contrary to Barack Obama’s repeated statements that the free world is less safe because of the Bush administration’s national security policies, the evidence indicates otherwise. Likewise, Fareed Zakaria writes at Newsweek that terrorist attacks are down by nearly two-thirds in the last 4 years. Are we in fact safer than Mr. Obama would have us believe?
the U.S.-based IntelCenter published a study in mid-2007 that examined "significant" attacks launched by Al Qaeda over the past 10 years. It came to the conclusion that the number of Islamist attacks had declined 65 percent from a high point in 2004, and fatalities from such attacks had declined by 90 percent.
The Simon Fraser study notes that the decline in terrorism appears to be caused by many factors, among them successful counterterrorism operations in dozens of countries and infighting among terror groups. But the most significant, in the study’s view, is the "extraordinary drop in support for Islamist terror organizations in the Muslim world over the past five years." These are largely self-inflicted wounds. The more people are exposed to the jihadists’ tactics and world view, the less they support them.
This last instinctively makes sense to me. If a bunch of Christian fascist killers from the church up the road from me started cutting the heads off of people I know, I’d take a dim view of them and their fallacious interpretation of Christianity. So it must inevitably be with Muslim terrorists, though I would submit that the threshold of rejection is significantly higher in Islamic societies than in free ones.
One problem I have with the data Zakaria uses as the basis for his article is, to him, the very point: "Including Iraq massively skews the analysis. In the NCTC and MIPT data, Iraq accounts for 80 percent of all deaths counted." Excluding it hides the fact that Islamic terrorism is killing significant numbers of Iraqis. Yet his point is valid. Outside of known war zones, we have been safer than just a few years ago.
Of course that may simply be an illusion. Terrorist leaders, for all of their mental shortcomings, are not stupid. Heightened alertness on our part will necessarily lead to fewer attacks while they bide their time, waiting for the inevitable decline in readiness. So is that readiness truly necessary?
Hinderaker speaks more directly to this point:
It should also be noted that the decline in attacks on the U.S. was not the result of jihadists abandoning the field. Our government stopped a number of incipient attacks and broke up several terrorist cells, while Islamic terrorists continued to carry out successful attacks around the world, in England, Spain, Russia, Pakistan, Israel, Indonesia and elsewhere.
There are a number of possible reasons why our government’s actions after September 11 may have made us safer. Overthrowing the Taliban and depriving al Qaeda of its training grounds in Afghanistan certainly impaired the effectiveness of that organization. Waterboarding three top al Qaeda leaders for a minute or so apiece may have given us the vital information we needed to head off plots in progress and to kill or apprehend three-quarters of al Qaeda’s leadership. The National Security Agency’s eavesdropping on international terrorist communications may have allowed us to identify and penetrate cells here in the U.S., as well as to identify and kill terrorists overseas. We may have penetrated al Qaeda’s communications network, perhaps through the mysterious Naeem Noor Khan, whose laptop may have been the 21st century equivalent of the Enigma machine. Al Qaeda’s announcement that Iraq is the central front in its war against the West, and its call for jihadis to find their way to Iraq to fight American troops, may have distracted the terrorists from attacks on the United States. The fact that al Qaeda loyalists gathered in Iraq, where they have been decimated by American and Iraqi troops, may have crippled their ability to launch attacks elsewhere. The conduct of al Qaeda in Iraq, which revealed that it is an organization of sociopaths, not freedom fighters, may have destroyed its credibility in the Islamic world.
But based on the clear historical record, it is obvious that the Bush administration has done something since 2001 that has dramatically improved our security against such attacks. To fail to recognize this, and to rail against the Bush administration’s security policies as failures or worse, is to sow the seeds of greatly increased susceptibility to terrorist attack in the next administration.
The real question is whether we’d be safer with Barack Obama as president than we are with George W. Bush. Despite the fact that Americans dislike many of the administration’s policies and the Iraq war is almost universally accepted as a major blunder, the answer is still a clear and resounding "No!"