The events of 9/11 have spawned an understandable focus on security, however, the extent of fear-mongering, Islamophobia and ongoing curtailment of civil liberties, along with the meteoric rise of an unwieldy national security state which operates like a secret government within a government, is at odds with the principles and values of representative democracy.
The irony of our government’s response to terrorism is that many of the policies we’ve created to deal with terrorism have done little more than perpetuate anti-American sentiment and serve as a recruiting tool for terrorists. Along the way, the military-industrial-security complex has become a self-perpetuating behemoth that feeds off our collective fear.
That’s not to say there are legitimate security concerns but at what point do we reflect on whether we have essentially handed our “enemies” a huge victory by undermining the very principles, values and freedoms that are unique to America? There is no such thing as absolute security and any attempt to achieve a complete eradication of terrorism is doomed to failure. Unfortunately, few people are asking “are we really safer” for all these laws and procedures we’ve enacted and wars that we’ve engaged in? Frontline did ask the question and they aired a fantastic program (which you can watch here) on that issue which relied heavily on Dana Priest’s investigative journalism about the growing national security state. You really have to see the program to get an idea of the scope of our national security state- the money spent, the duplication of effort, the growth of the military-industrial-complex and the lack of any objective accounting of whether it all even works.
I don’t know how many people recall this but after 9/11, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu responded that the attack was good for Israel, saying:
“We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq,” Ma’ariv quoted the former prime minister as saying. He reportedly added that these events “swung American public opinion in our favor.”
Yes Bibi, it’s all about you.
I think there are some in Israel (and the U.S.) who would like nothing more than for the U.S. to become more like Israel- ie. to justify absolutely everything in the name of security even if arguably unrelated to any rational security threat. Well, we very well could be slowly inching closer to that. Yesterday there was an article in Politico about a new method for passenger screening that the TSA is likely going to institute. What country is it modeled after? Israel. Basically, Israel has a very random policy that amounts to racial profiling on steroids. Anyone who has traveled to Israel knows if Israeli security thinks you are Arab or Muslim (also see here and here) or that you have pro-Palestinian sympathies, you can book your return flight because you aren’t getting into Israel.
The problem with the U.S. response to real and perceived terror threats is that the huge expansion in Executive and military power is prone to abuse. After all, taken to its logical extreme, what can’t be justified in the name of security and safety? As we learned recently with the controversy over the Flotilla to Gaza, almost anyone with unpopular views can be accused of providing “material aid” to terrorists. Of course, there has already been massive abuse of civil liberties by our government since 9/11 (see here here, here, here, here, and here for just a few examples) and as is typical with a country that curtails freedom in the name of security and operates with minimal transparency, there has been little to no accountability. In fact, quite the opposite- the Bush and Obama administrations have pursued government whistleblowers who exposed the wrongdoing with a vengeance.
I remember watching another Frontline program, I think it was “Bush’s Wars” which talked about how Osama bin Laden had hoped that Al Qaeda could get the U.S. involved in multiple “bleeding wars” that would spread our military very thin, eat up resources, create a backlash against us in the Middle East and get us bogged down in wars where our advanced weapons systems/technology really wouldn’t matter. Mission accomplished! Why haven’t our leaders or media questioned why we would so willingly walk into this trap? Look at Afghanistan; by our own admission, we’ve nearly rooted out Al Qaeda but they’ve just gone somewhere else and the country is not one bit more stable than when we started- should we be asking why that is? We spend 10 years fighting a war to root out Al Qaeda (and the Taliban) and the country is a disaster. But hey, lets keep the same counterinsurgency (COIN) operations that have failed all along and while we’re at it, lets give the guy who invented the COIN strategy a promotion!
Interestingly, Norway’s response to the recent terrorist incident in Olso has been exactly what one would expect of a healthy democracy that values both security and freedom. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post about the difference between how Norway reacted to the attack and how the U.S. tends to respond in similar circumstances (note: I understand that the attack in Norway is not equal in magnitude to 9/11 but the issue is about more than simply numbers/death toll). And I guess that’s my point- that the U.S. can have both freedom and security but it will mean challenging basic foreign policy assumptions and accepting that no nation is ever completely safe.