Friday, August 11, 2006

Vulnerability Without End

In the wake of yesterday's disruption of a massive terrorist plot to blow up multiple airliners, an AP story begins, "After two wars, thousands of deaths and many billions of dollars spent, the United States is still vulnerable to terrorists."

The story quotes President Bush as saying, "We've taken a lot of measures to protect the American people. But obviously we're still not completely safe."

In the same story, Harry Reid argues that because of "mismanagement and wrong funding priorities, we are not as safe as we should be." That is arguably true, though it should be pointed out that in contrast to the 1990's, when al Qaeda terrorists successfully attacked a series of American targets both inside the United States and abroad with little consequence to them, since 2001 their activities have largely been limited to Iraq. It is not a stretch to contend that the aggressive response of the United States in the Middle East has caused this result.

Even so, there is a bit of unreality in the statements of both the AP writer and the President. Note the words "still vulnerable" and "still not completely safe."

The word "still" provides a sense of comfort, because it implies the possibility of a day when vulnerability disappears and complete safety becomes possible. Neither President Bush nor any other politician, Democrat or Republican, can say it, because they would be skewered for doing so, but that word "still" provides that sense of comfort at the expense of honesty. As long as people are willing to engage in terrorist acts without regard to their personal mortality, there is no future in which the threat goes away. It can be mitigated, but not eliminated. Some ideas for protecting American citizens are better than others, but there will be no fully certain plans

Those who for either personal or political reasons wish that this issue would go away will be disappointed. National security will remain a pre-eminent national issue and personal concern for the remainder of our lifetimes. Modern technology combined with the human capacity for evil guarantees it.

That is not fatalism. It is realism about the world in which we live.

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