Joshua Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas makes clear the views on al Qaeda that have driven me crazy since September 12, 2001:
Lex Luthor is incredibly evil, and incredibly powerful. He’s a technological genius, and from his research he created an astonishing pile of wealth. He’s so rich, and so powerful, that he can divert resources from his research labs to produce weapons with which to wage war on Superman. Luthor’s labs produce technologies beyond that available to militaries, technology that makes weapons capable of destroying or disabling the unstoppable, unkillable man. Absent superpowers, nothing short of Luthor’s research labs and financial power could conceivably match an entity like Superman.
Many people look at the world of counterterrorism and seem to think that al Qaeda is somehow like Luthor. But they aren’t. Their technological capacity is probably far less than yours or mine, and surely less than that of the US government. Their knowledge of aviation security is probably less than frequent business travelers. Yet every time they shove some explosives in their underwear, we freak out.
9/11 was an aberration. It never made sense that the cockpit door was so weak, and so rarely locked. And absent a history of suicidal airline attacks, passengers early in the day were more complacent about a hijacking than they were even before the fourth plane crashed that day. Passengers and flight attendants are warier now, and the cockpit door is locked and reinforced. 9/11 can’t happen again, not even if passengers could bring scissors and nailclippers and even pocket knives on board.
So al Qaeda adapted. They tried shoe bombs, and underpants bombs, and now package bombs. Those attacks originated outside the US, not from domestic airports, because we’re doing a better job detecting and disrupting domestic terrorist cells. They take the path of least resistance. They might like to kill Superman, but they can’t.
I’ve said it before, we are not in an existential war. Not even close. These poor and worthless terrorist cells hanging out in the crappiest place to live on Earth are not Nazis, Soviets, or even Redcoats. Not even close. These guys are less than the Luxembourg standing army.
Our response should have been small, proportional, and finishing with us giving al Qaeda the finger and saying “Bring it!” Sorry to our English heritage, but keep calm and carry on is not 21st Century America enough.
The entire article is an easy to grasp read. And Mr Rosenau wraps up the comic book analogy:
After 9/11, we as a nation went batshit insane. We’ll get attacked again. However good our security is, we aren’t Superman, we aren’t invulnerable, and al Qaeda will find a way to hurt us. But they aren’t Lex Luthor, either. They won’t go after the very hardest targets, they’ll go where security is weakest. And we can beat them. If the general public doesn’t spot something odd, and if intelligence and security teams fail to disrupt a planned attack, we can work towards making a society resilient to the occasional successful terrorist attack. But freaking out, allowing ourselves to be groped in public by untrained rent-a-cops, isn’t the answer. It just stokes the fears which will erupt after an attack, bringing the absurdity Drum fears.
No matter what we do, there will be a successful attack. The way to preserve civil liberties is not to surrender those freedoms to prevent an attack. We need to have a serious discussion about risk, so that people treat the risk of terrorism the way they treat the risk of cancer. We accept that flying takes us into the thinner parts of the atmosphere, exposing us to more cosmic rays, and thus raising our cancer risk. But it’s worth it to see our family, to meet our business partners, or to take a relaxing vacation. The risk is small, so we set them aside. We can do that with terrorism, too.