In today’s Wall Street Journal, Ted Koppel writes that we have overreacted to terrorism, that we have done to ourselves what the terrorists could never have done. And of course I agree with him. I said the same thing two years ago.
Koppel’s commentary apparently was prompted by the closing of US embassies across North Africa and the Middle East, which many observers are now suggesting was an overreaction to a vague threat picked up from terrorist communications last week. The embassies and consulates, 20 in all, were closed. Not just put on alert or provided with increased security, but summarily shut down.
Coming as it does in the wake of the Benghazi attack and subsequent furor in Congress, the Obama administration’s “abundance of caution” in closing all those embassies might be as much about his political position here at home as it is about events abroad. We’ll probably never know.
But whatever the motive, the closings were an overreaction. And we’ve been overreacting since 9/11. We’ve spent a huge amount in blood and treasure overseas in those 12 years, much of it unnecessary and ill-advised. We can’t unspend it. We can’t recoup those losses nor the damage to our reputation. Nor will we likely undo what we’ve done here at home, as Koppel explains:
At home, the U.S. has constructed an antiterrorism enterprise so immense, so costly and so inexorably interwoven with the defense establishment, police and intelligence agencies, communications systems, and with social media, travel networks and their attendant security apparatus, that the idea of downsizing, let alone disbanding such a construct, is an exercise in futility.
Two years ago I closed by saying:
Stop the ongoing disproportionate overreaction to a one-time tragedy. Stop the navel-gazing and the rehashing and the what-ifs. Stop giving the terrorists the victory they couldn’t accomplish by themselves. Stop turning American against American, Christian against Muslim. Stop insisting we live in fear. Stop building Fortress America and get back to building America the Beautiful.
Perhaps I should have begun this by saying Koppell agrees with me. He closes with the following:
We have created an economy of fear, an industry of fear, a national psychology of fear. Al Qaeda could never have achieved that on its own. We have inflicted it on ourselves.
Over the coming years many more Americans will die in car crashes, of gunshot wounds inflicted by family members and by falling off ladders than from any attack by al Qaeda.
There is always the nightmare of terrorists acquiring and using a weapon of mass destruction. But nothing would give our terrorist enemies greater satisfaction than that we focus obsessively on that remote possibility, and restrict our lives and liberties accordingly.
Of course, he says it more eloquently, has a reputation to bolster his words, and speaks to a much wider audience.
Not that it matters. The die, it seems, is cast. And we are the poorer for it.