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Spencer Ackerman on 9/11


I don't know what you are doing, but I observed the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 on May 2, 2011…

Spencer Ackerman:

How to Beat Terrorism: Refuse to Be Terrorized: Ten years ago today, 2,996 people were murdered, unleashing a pair of destructive, mutually reinforcing trends. To prove their relevance, terrorists keep trying to attack the United States at home. And the media and politicians react to it with hysteria, running in fear of getting blamed for a successful attack and perpetuating the gigantic, expensive, counterproductive National Security State. As awful as the snuffing of so many souls on 9/11 was, the second trend has often proved more dangerous than the first.

In case you haven’t noticed, 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.

We can honor the 9/11 victims without being permanently haunted by them.

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…. There is only one kind of terrorism that actually is a major threat: nuclear terrorism. And there, the U.S. has shamefully underreacted. It’s a travesty that there’s unsecured nuclear material in this day and age, and the Obama administration’s efforts to secure it, however incomplete, deserve credit. But notice that’s a problem about unsecured nuke material, not al-Qaida. Lock up the loose nukes — and yes, that’s difficult — and there’s no nuclear terrorism. What’s more, the difficulty of al-Qaida acquiring that material, even with its ties to the spy service of nuclear Pakistan, is reflected in the fact that al-Qaida’s most ambitious plots now involve … car bombs….

[T]errorism alone cannot do anything to the Constitution. Only Americans can damage the Constitution. Goldberg is conflating the act and our response to it — a response that is entirely within our power to affect. Indeed, as citizens in a democracy, it’s our responsibility to check the government from its excesses, and to stop adding fuel to the political fire….

The only way this changes is if citizens change the political incentives for politicians. Two-bit terrorists will always be around, sadly. But when the Harry Reids get major political blow-back for attacking the Rand Pauls, then — and only then — will the 9/11 Era be truly over.

Obama has accommodated himself to the politics of fear far more than he’s confronted it.

This isn’t a call to stop counterterrorism. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says that al-Qaida is on the verge of strategic collapse. If surveillance, drone strikes and Special Operations Forces can actually end al-Qaida, it would be foolish to let the pressure relent. And to confront a residual threat from car bombs, police will need to be vigilant, and the country will need to retain some smaller, focused intelligence apparatus for early warning. But all of that is only justifiable if the new U.S. Shadow Wars — undeclared, largely covert wars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond —  actually end soon. The Bush administration never had an endgame for the war on terrorism, preferring to conceive of a “Long War” that amounted to an epochal, generation-spanning struggle….

[S]ince coming to power, Obama has accommodated himself to the politics of fear far more than he’s confronted it. He’s allowed widespread surveillance of American Muslims. He was reluctant to fight Congress over closing Guantanamo Bay. He backed down on holding criminal trials for the 9/11 conspirators…. Only when citizens make it acceptable for politicians to recognize that the threat of terrorism isn’t so significant can the country finally get what it really needs, 10 years later: closure.