Terrorism as a Mere Nuisance

Matthew Yglesias writes:

It's easy and, indeed, appropriate to mock Bush for the public diplomacy fiasco involved in saying that his plan is to make Iraq more like Israel but this shouldn't completely obscure the fact that Bush is making a sound analytic point. What he's saying about Iraq is, in essence, what John Kerry was saying about the US when he said he thought we should aim to reduce terrorism to a kind of nuisance. Naturally, Kerry got savagely attacked for saying this, but at some point somebody's going to need to have the courage to make the argument that setting ourselves maximalist goals vis-a-vis terrorism doesn't make sense.

Plenty of countries have long suffered some degree of terrorism — Spain, Britain, Israel — while being more-or-less pleasant, economically successful democracies whose citizens enjoy a high standard of living. These countries would, of course, like to completely eliminate their terrorism problems and rightly do make efforts in these regards. But during their better moments, at least, all of these countries recognize that the goal is to reduce the harm caused by terrorism to manageable levels, not to turn everything upside down in pursuit of a possibly chimerical "victory." What we really, really, really need to focus on is making sure no terrorists get nuclear bombs while, beyond that, we keep the risks involved in conventional terrorism (even in Israel you're more likely to die in a car wreck than a suicide bombing) in perspective.

Yglesias is dismissing an important distinction. Bush is saying that a realistic goal would be to make Iraq (a country currently consumed by violence and terrorism) more like Israel (a democracy that functions even though the threat of terrorism remains a part of daily life). Kerry, by contrast, was suggesting that America become more like Israel. Now, I love Israel with all my heart, and have the utmost admiration for the resilience of the Israeli people. But under no circumstances would I want America to become like Israel–nor should any other American be satisfied with living in a country in which terrorism is accepted as a part of daily life. Furthermore, the type of security measures that Israel takes just to limit terrorism to a mere “nuisance” would have progressives such as Yglesias up in arms.

Yglesias is right to a certain extent that we can never expect to eliminate the threat of terrorism entirely. Something like the Oklahoma City bombing, in which domestic terrorists acted alone, is very difficult, if not impossible, to prevent. However, I do believe that with a combination prudent domestic security, financial pressure, sustained military offensive, and stricter enforcement of our immigration laws, we can reach the point in which we eliminate the possibility of state sponsored terrorism and large-scale attacks such as 9/11 that are planned and executed by global terrorist networks. Anything less, in my view, is unacceptable.

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