How Not to Stop a Terrorist Attack
December 08, 2015
James Jay Carafano, a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges, is The Heritage Foundation’s vice president for foreign and defense policy studies, E. W. Richardson fellow, and director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies. Read his research.
Americans should not be surprised by the terrorist attack that took place in San Bernardino, Calif. Terrorists have used mass shootings as a tactic long before Paris, and we have been targets for quite some time. Nor—should Americans be surprised by the plethora of thoughtless responses offered in the wake of unspeakable acts of terror.
On both fronts, Americans have a right to be angry by how Washington has reacted.
According to The Heritage Foundation’s timeline of Islamist plots aimed at the United States since 9/11, San Bernardino is the 75th such plot. The overwhelming number of plots have been thwarted by federal, state, and local law enforcement before any innocent was put in danger. We know what works. Stopping attacks requires sound and diligent counterterrorism operations, proper intelligence collection and analysis, and sharing of information and cooperation.
What’s needed is a government that is focused 24-7-365 on its day job of protecting America.
There should be real concern that this White House doesn’t get this. For instance, the Obama administration has spent seven years pressing the Department of Homeland Security to figure out how it can implement amnesty—not battle transnational terrorism.
Cheerleading for climate change activists seems a higher priority for the president, rather than battling the global Islamist insurgency aimed at America. The Oval Office has obfuscated on the nature of the threat and over sold its accomplishments.
The fact is that by every reasonable, and quantifiable measure this administration has been steadily losing ground. But, while we have a right to be angry with a White House that tries to placate us with pabulum for a speech, we ought to be equally wary of those that offer equally vacuous answers in the president’s stead. We need to guard against:
1. Checkbook Security – Unfortunately, Washington is really good at coming up with measures that succeed in spending money, without improving our security.
2. Feel-Good Security – The first impulse of most politicians is to look for an “easy button” answer that creates the impression they are pressing for something worthwhile, when they are not.
3. Checklist Security – Bureaucrats love meaningless gestures that won’t accomplish much of anything, but create the illusion of activity.
4. Knee-Jerk Security – This is the overwhelming urge to do something, which might not only not make us safer, but might undermine our liberty and prosperity.
5. Hijacked Security – Never wanting to waste a crisis, some in Washington use the threat of terrorism to press their personal political priorities.
If Americans don’t reject these harmful and wasteful security measures (which don’t constitute real security) then the government will only continue to give us more of them.
We have already seen far too many examples of “stupid” security from the president’s irresponsible impulse to appropriate the San Bernardino attack to press his gun control to a wave of reckless attempts at curbing terrorist travel.
The blunt reality is terrorists are a tiny percentage of any group other than other terrorists, focusing on them and their sponsors, masters, organization, ideology, safe-havens overseas and cheerleaders makes far more sense than blanket measures that will leave the rest of us less free, safe, and prosperous—but will allow politicians to preen—at least they did “something.”
“The Obama administration has never been comfortable with a directly confrontational approach to the war of ideas against Islamist radicalism.”
(And the reason why is – because they are the enemy!)