Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ted Koppel on how terrorism works

June 28, 2014, will mark the 100th anniversary of what is arguably the most eventful terrorist attack in history. That was the day that Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, shot and killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

In one of those mega-oversimplifications that journalists love and historians abhor, the murder of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife, Sophie, led directly and unavoidably to World War I. Between 1914 and 1918, 37 million soldiers and civilians were injured or killed. If there should ever be a terrorists' Hall of Fame, Gavrilo Princip will surely deserve consideration as its most effective practitioner.

Terrorism, after all, is designed to produce overreaction. It is the means by which the weak induce the powerful to inflict damage upon themselves—and al Qaeda and groups like it are surely counting on that as the centerpiece of their strategy.

It appears to be working. ...

It was only 18 months [after September 11], with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, that the U.S. began to inflict upon itself a degree of damage that no external power could have achieved. Even bin Laden must have been astounded. He had, it has been reported, hoped that the U.S. would be drawn into a ground war in Afghanistan, that graveyard to so many foreign armies. But Iraq! ...

Saddam was killed, it's true, and the world is a better place for it. What prior U.S. administrations understood, however, was Saddam's value as a regional counterweight to Iran. It is hard to look at Iraq today and find that the U.S. gained much for its sacrifices there. Nor, as we seek to untangle ourselves from Afghanistan, can U.S. achievements there be seen as much of a bargain for the price paid in blood and treasure.

At home, the U.S. has constructed an antiterrorism enterprise so immense, so costly and so inexorably interwoven with the defense establishment, police and intelligence agencies, communications systems, and with social media, travel networks and their attendant security apparatus, that the idea of downsizing, let alone disbanding such a construct, is an exercise in futility. ...

We have created an economy of fear, an industry of fear, a national psychology of fear. Al Qaeda could never have achieved that on its own. We have inflicted it on ourselves.

Over the coming years many more Americans will die in car crashes, of gunshot wounds inflicted by family members and by falling off ladders than from any attack by al Qaeda.

There is always the nightmare of terrorists acquiring and using a weapon of mass destruction. But nothing would give our terrorist enemies greater satisfaction than that we focus obsessively on that remote possibility, and restrict our lives and liberties accordingly.
--Ted Koppel, WSJ, on self-inflicted wounds