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Do We Need a War on Terrorism?

The fact that today’s inaugural ceremonies were carried off without any terrorist incident raises the question whether a “war on terrorism” is justified. The original airplane highjackings and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon could probably have been avoided if there had been regulations that were strictly enforced barring the carrying of box cutters on to planes. It is very possible that our reaction to those attacks was overkill. In any case, our response in Afghanistan was certainly more appropriate than our response in Iraq.

Bush’s inaugural address today tried to evoke the same response that our long rivalry with the Soviet Union evoked during the Cold War, especially as described by President Reagan. Bush said, “We have seen our vulnerability – and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny – prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder – violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat.” Scary words, but is there a “mortal threat”? During the Cold War the Soviet Union had millions of armed soldiers stationed across the border from Western Europe and many nuclear armed ICBMs targeted on the US. The terrorists have nothing like this. They can disrupt life in Iraq, where much of the population sympathizes with them, but they have been unable to do so in the US since 9/11. It’s possible that Bush’s national security team was just asleep at the switch on 9/11 and let a fairly amateurish attempt succeed because our guard was down.

If that’s the case, then Bush’s speech was much sound and fury, signifying nothing. We do need protection, but not at the cost that Bush demands. America wants the perfect safety that used to be guaranteed by our oceans’ borders and the homogeneity of our population. Today, that guarantee is more difficult because we can rely on neither of those two old defenses. The war on terrorism and the Department of Homeland Security do little or nothing to make up that gap and add to our security. That’s why it turns out to be relatively unimportant that the Department of Homeland Security is hopelessly incompetent.

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