The reaction in the Boston area was pretty upbeat, but a few national security writers (including FP's Stephen Walt) have been sounding some sour notes which are worth exploring a bit. Their basic objection is whether it was appropriate to shut down an entire metropolitan area just to hunt down one wounded terrorists.
In short, two miscreants have shut down an entire metropolitan region. And we're supposed to try to not give terrorists what they want.— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) April 19, 2013
Trying to imagine the reaction of NYers if they were told to stay inside because a crazy person was on the loose. Here we call that Monday.— Michael Cohen (@speechboy71) April 19, 2013
So, in doing this, did the authorities in Boston let the terrorists win?
I don't think so, but I get the argument. As I said on Twitter last night, Boston wasn't in lockdown after the Marathon bombings, but after the suspects had been identified, caught in a confusing crossfire, and seemingly at large but close to capture. Plus, it wasn't like, outside the Watertown search perimeter, people were getting arrested for leaving their homes (I was in the lockdown zone -- believe me, I know). For a short period of time -- less than a day -- requesting people to stay in their homes to capture an identified violent terrorist doesn't strike me as outrageous.
There is another reason I feel this way, however, and this might be a data point in Goldberg and Cohen's favor. The reason the capture of Tsarnaev felt so good is that it provided a sense of closure. In the span of four days, there was a bombing, an identification, a shootout that left one of the bombers dead and a capture of the other one. Game over. That's feels like victory.
Now, that's obviously a simplification and an exaggeration. There's still the fifty-eight victims in critical condition in Boston-area hospitals. There's still the question of how the judicial system will cope with Tsarnaev. There's still the unanswered question of why they wanted to do it. And there's still the public policy issues that will be touched by the past week's events.
But still, Tsarnaev's capture closed a chapter. That seems pretty rare to me in counter-terrorism. In countries like Israel, senses of closure don't happen all that often. In the United States, however, we've been lucky enough to get that sense after Osama bin Laden was killed. Tsarnaev's capture feels the same way.
Maybe the thing about Americans is that, with the blessings of our geography, we want and expect policy closure on issues that defy the very idea of tidy endings -- and we're willing to temporarily sacrifice some of what makes America great for those moments of closure -- or, to put it more plainly, victory.
The question going forward is whether Americans need to reject this desire for closure. We've done it before -- when it was implemented at the start of the Cold War, containment was an indefinite strategy. There are issues where victory is a chimera. But there are also issues where victory is conceivable, so I wouldn't want that notion to be rejected as a general rule. But when it comes to counterterrorism, this shifting of frames might be necessary.
What do you think? Seriously, what do you think?
Your humble blogger awoke this AM to an automated phone call informing me to lock all my doors and not to go outside because of, well, this.
As I'm typing this, one of the suspected bombers is dead, and the other one is on the run and somewhere kinda close to where I lie.
So, I've spent the AM watching cable news and checking my Twitter feed to find out everything about the suspected Boston Marathon bombers. So here are the most useful links I've seen today, beyond the excellent tick-tock on this past evening from the New York Times that was liked above):
1) The Wall Street Journal has a solid profile on the Tsarnaev brothers suspected of being the Boston Marathon bombers. And Adam Serwer at Mother Jones has some disturbing info about Tamerlan's beliefs.
2) Business Insider has some 28 Days Later-style photos of the unpopulated Boston streets right now.
3) How do you build brand loyalty? By staying open for cops during a lockdown. Dunkin Donuts for the win.
4) So, the suspected bombers are Chechen. For useful links to that conflict, check out the Council on Foreign Relations as well as The Monkey Cage and Foreign Policy. Oh, and Chechnya's leaders ain't pleased about this.
5) According to the New York Post, it sounds like these Chechens are in league with the Evil League of Evil to smite down Glenn Beck and Infowars because the latter has been hoarding Bitcoins and -- OK, I clearly need to get off the internet.
That is all. For now.
While I was getting drunk in Mexico, I see that the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs commissioned a poll of 600 "active voters" in Ohio and a similar amount in Florida to see what swing state voters think about foreign affairs. In Politico, Graham Allison and Mike Murphy co-author their take:
It has long been accepted wisdom that Americans “don’t know much about history, don’t know much geography”— to recall the words of a golden oldie. So most folks managing, covering, or watching current campaigns will be surprised to learn that the majority of likely voters in the critical swing states of Florida and Ohio not only know more about the world outside, but care more, and want to know more than most candidates imagine.
Well.... sort of. As Allison and Murphy acknowledge later on in the essay:
When asked what international issues they want to hear Romney and Obama speak to, the first responses are Iran’s nuclear weapons program and terrorism, far ahead of the global economy. Both in Ohio and Florida, by a margin of almost 2-1,voters believe the Arab Spring has affected American interests negatively, not positively. Voters have mixed views on U.S. global engagement and are split almost down the middle on isolationism. Given that Florida Republicans and independents overwhelmingly take the view the U.S. should pay less attention to problems overseas, two decidedly internationalist candidates will tread carefully.
But even those who oppose America taking a more active role in foreign affairs believe that understanding foreign affairs is essential because events abroad can increase the threat of terrorism or draw America into foreign wars. This is an especially relevant concern for these two states, where the majority have a relative who has served in the military.
Now on the one hand, this poll makes it clear that isolationists are not know-nothings -- even those individuals who don't want foreign entanglements want to know more about the world. Which is smart... because greater knowledge is a good way to avoid foreign entanglements.
On the other hand, a peek inside the poll numbers makes it clear that this desire to avoid foreign entanglements is pretty strong. When asked whether "it's best for the future of the country to be active in world affairs" or whether the U.S. "should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home," a plurality of Floridians (48% to 45%) prefer concentrating on the home front. Intriguingly, Ohioians are more cosmopolitan, with 51% preferring an active role and only 42% opposed. This is intriguing because the Midwest is often thought to be more isolationist than Florida -- and the poll shows that Floridians are much more well-travelled to Ohioians. Still, the important thing is that compared to past polling on this subject, these are very strong numbers for isolationism -- or, dare I say, a more realpolitik perspective.
The poll also shows that Americans are very wary about the Arab Spring:
Voters are pessimistic about the impact of Arab Spring on American interests. In Florida, 27% said it is good while 47% said it is not good and 25% are unsure. The numbers were similar in Ohio – 26% said good, 41% said not good, with 33% unsure.
Also, in terms of debate topics, the issues that piqued the interest of poll respondents were, in descending order, Iran, terrorism, Afghanistan, human rights, the global economy, China, Arab Spring, and Europe. This must make Bob Schieffer pretty happy. This is one of those cases when the wisdom of crowds doesn't hold however -- because these voters are pretty uninformed about foreign affairs (a strong majority of respondents believes that Japan possesses nuclear weapons).
To be honest, however, the single-scariest data point in this survey is that 70% of Floridian responses said that "cable television news stations like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC" was a main source for their opinions about foreign affairs.
Your humble blogger is writing from Mexico City, where tomorrow he'll be part of a one-day conference at the Center for International Studies at El Colegio de Mexico on U.S. foreign policy in 2013.
The conference is tomorrow, but the journey was today, and it was a pretty interesting journey given that it started with my alarm going off at 4:30 AM. Some highlights:
1) In an effort to travel light, I normally wear at least one of the suit jackets I have to bring to a trip for the plane. I got up so early today, however, that I figured I was just dress very casual for the flight. Naturally, this would be the day I bump into a very well respected senior scholar in my field at the Newark airport.
2) Right before taking off from Newark to Mexico City, a flight attendant asked the man sitting next to me for his autograph. I later discover that I was sitting next to Iron Chef Morimoto. Cool!
3) Less cool: watching CNN on the flight. I made the mistake of watching Ashleigh Banfield's lead segment, on the New York Fed bombing attempt. Banfield was obsessed that the suspected terrorist got into the states on a student visa. Her first three questions to the homeland security expert boiled down to the following:
A) Shouldn't the U.S. radically reduce the number of student visas it issues?
B) Why can't the U.S. government monitor every person coming into the United States on a student visa?
C) Could the U.S. government use these student visas as a way of draining foreign swamps and bringing terrorists to the United States.
Kudos to the security expert who basically said that none of these ideas were workable. My head would have hurt banging it into the camera.
4) Some very nice students picked me up from the airport and took me to the college, which is right by Mexico's 1968 Olympic Stadium. They also revealed the ways in which political scientists are viewed in different countries. Apparently, this college was relocated from the downtown to a more isolated part of Mexico City. Furthermore, within this "University City," the political scientists are housed in a structure separate from the rest of the social scientists. Why? Because the old PRI governments feared student protests led by political scientists! Which is not really a fear in the United States.
5) The only thing better than watching the Yankees getting swept in the ALCS? Watching it en espagnol, and hearing the announcer boom "PROFUNDO!!" when the Tigers hit a home run.
Hey, remember how the new Al Qaeda was going to be more networked and more capable of inspiring home-grown terrorism? Remember how today's threat enviroment was supposed to be worse than the Cold War?
Bear these points in mind when considering two news items that crossed my screen today. In the first, courtesy of Micah Zenko, a Pentagon official suggests that maybe, just maybe, the U.S. overrestimated Al Qaeda's capabilities:
With the benefit of more than a decade of hindsight, America may have misjudged the true threat posed by al-Qaeda in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, a top Pentagon official said Tuesday.
“Al-Qaida wasn’t as good as we thought they were on 9/11,” said Michael A. Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict.
“Quite frankly, we, the American people, were asleep at the switch, the U.S. government, prior to 9/11. So an organization that wasn’t that good looked really great on 9/11,” Sheehan told a room full of special operators in Washington who were attending an annual Special Operations, Low Intensity Conflict Planning Conference.
“Everyone looked to the skies every day after 9/11 and said, ‘When is the next attack?’ And it didn’t come, partly because al-Qaida wasn’t that capable. They didn’t have other units here in the U.S. … Really, they didn’t have the capability to conduct a second attack.”
The true limitations of al-Qaida are one of two key reasons that America has not suffered a major terrorist attack since 2001.
“The other reason is that we actually responded … and crushed al-Qaida immediately after 9/11, and continually for the last 10 years,” Sheehan said. “We are better than we often give ourselves credit for. We have a very polarized political system and it’s very difficult for anybody to actually give credit or receive credit for how good we are.”
Well, sure, Al Qaeda abroad has been weakened, but this homegrown thing, I mean, that's probably a really big-- hey, what is Scott Shane reporting about in the New York Times?
A feared wave of homegrown terrorism by radicalized Muslim Americans has not materialized, with plots and arrests dropping sharply over the two years since an unusual peak in 2009, according to a new study by a North Carolina research group.
The study, to be released on Wednesday, found that 20 Muslim Americans were charged in violent plots or attacks in 2011, down from 26 in 2010 and a spike of 47 in 2009.
Charles Kurzman, the author of the report for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, called terrorism by Muslim Americans "a minuscule threat to public safety." Of about 14,000 murders in the United States last year, not a single one resulted from Islamic extremism, said Mr. Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina (emphasis added).
Digging a wee bit into the actual report -- and read the whole thing, it ain't long -- I'll just reprint the closing two paragraphs below:
Repeated alerts by government officials may be issued as a precaution, even when the underlying threat is uncertain. Officials may be concerned about how they would look if an attack did take place and subsequent investigations showed that officials had failed to warn the public. But a byproduct of these alerts is a sense of heightened tension that is out of proportion to the actual number of terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11.
This study’s findings challenge Americans to be vigilant against the threat of homegrown terrorism while maintaining a responsible sense of proportion. (emphasis added)
Now, I'm sure that the reason for this lull is that Al Qaeda's remaining assets in the United States are focusing their energies on getting all turkeys to become halal or something. That said, I'm going to continue to insist that the United States faces a much less threatening threat environment now than it did fifty years ago. Oh, and that I don't need to listen to Representative Peter King when he opens his mouth on national security issues.
Cards on the table: having experienced one first-hand, I hate the new full body scanners being used at airports. I hate that their existence allows TSA officials to bark additional orders at me like I'm a five-year old. I hate having to hold my hands up in a surrender position to be scanned. I hate having to empty every f***ing piece of lint from my pockets before going through one. I hate that they have lengthened and not shortened the time it takes to get through security. I hate the fact that other countries with equally acute terrorist concerns are not nearly as physically invasive in their security screenings. I hate the sneaking suspicion I have that the scanners are merely a massive exercise in
kabuki security theater designed to alleviate the psychological fears of some travelers. I hate that the official response to these complaints boils down to, "we face a determined enemy." I hate the stupid reassurances that the "imaging technology that we use cannot store, export, print or transmit images," when, whoops, it turns out that this has already happened. I hate the ways in which these scanners make it so easy to mock the United States.
The thing is, right now I'm in the distinct minority of Americans.
The above chart is the result of a CBS poll released yesterday (which also found a majority of Americans to oppose racial profiling) on the question of full-body scanners in airports. The results speak for themselves.
Or do they? Here are a couple of different ways of interpreting these results.
1) Big friggin' surprise. It's pretty easy to find U.S. public opinion polls demonstrating majority support for homeland security measures ranging from crackdowns on illegal immigration to
torture enhanced interrogration techniques. As I've said in the past, when it comes to homeland security, the average American has few qualms about strengthening the national security state. This latest poll is just one more data point supporting that argument.
2) Oh, you wait... you just wait. Nate Silver ably rounds up the rages against these machines coming from angry unions, pissed-off bloggers, and generally cantankerous individuals surreptitiously taping their pat-downs.
What do these vocal members of the minority have in common? They've all had to fly recently. Silver posits that as more Americans face the indignity of these scanners, the poll numbers will start to change. Well see.
3) New Elite, meet Real America. Silver also points out that a minority of travelers comprise a majority of actual air travel:
A study by the market-research firm Arbitron found, for instance, that frequent fliers — those who take 4 or more round trips per year — account for the 57 percent majority of all air travel, even though they make up just 18 percent of air travelers and something like 7 percent of the overall American population.
At least one past survey has identified differences in perceptions about airport security procedures between frequent and occasional fliers. This was a 2007 Gallup poll, which found that while just 26 percent of occasional travels were dissatisfied with airport security, the level rose to 37 percent among those who fly more frequently.
What I think we need to know then, is how those who have actually traveled through an airport that uses the full-body scanners feel about them — particularly if they’re people who fly frequently and are therefore going to bear the burden of any inconvenience, embarrassment, invasion of privacy or health risk brought on by the new technology.
Well... maybe. Silver wants to prioritize the preferences of frequent travelers over other Americans. To be fair to the pro-scanner position, however, it's not just the people who board planes who are affected the consequences of homeland security failures. I'm not convinced that the opinions of grounded Americans shouldn't apply.
There's a deeper cultural question, however. There's an awful lot of resentment welling up in the United States against "elites." Defining just who is in the elite and who is in "Real America" is an inexact science. I can't help but wonder, however, if frequent air travel is the perfect Sorting Hat that separates the elites (i.e., the frequent travelers) from the masses (i.e., everyone else). [UPDATE: Adam Serwer makes this point as well: "The TSA's new passenger-screening measures just happen to fall on the political and economic elites who can make their complaints heard. It's not happening to those scary Arabs anymore. It's happening to 'us.'" See also Seth Masket and Kevin Drum on this point.]
This isn't necessarily a partisan divide -- conservative elites appear to be just as frosted with the TSA as liberals. Body scanners are an issue that only animates the hostility of elites, however. Real America couldn't give a flying fig one way or the other -- except if National Op-out Day gets them mad when they're traveling because of even longer security lines. But I think it's a better than 50/50 chance that they'll be angrier at the opt-outers than the TSA employees.
Maybe the scanners will quickly disappear in the face of elite protests. Or maybe it means that some clever populist will seize on this issue as a way to talk about out-of-touch elites again.
Clearly, I hope it's #2, but I don't know. With travel season upon us during the next six weeks, we'll see.....
Over the weekend, CIA chief Leon Panetta had a chat with This Week's Jake Tapper, and provided the following assessment of Al Qaeda' capabilities:
TAPPER: How many Al Qaida do you think are in Afghanistan?
PANETTA: I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaida is actually relatively small. I think at most, we're looking at maybe 60 to 100, maybe less. It's in that vicinity. There's no question that the main location of Al Qaida is in tribal areas of Pakistan....
PANETTA: I think what's happened is that the more we put pressure on the Al Qaida leadership in the tribal areas in Pakistan -- and I would say that as a result of our operations, that the Taliban leadership is probably at its weakest point since 9/11 and their escape from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Having said that, they clearly are continuing to plan, continuing to try to attack this country, and they are using other ways to do it.
TAPPER: Al Qaida you're talking about.
PANETTA: That's correct. They are continuing to do that, and they're using other ways to do it, which are in some ways more difficult to try to track. One is the individual who has no record of terrorism. That was true for the Detroit bomber in some ways. It was true for others.
They're using somebody who doesn't have a record in terrorism, it's tougher to track them. If they're using people who are already here, who are in hiding and suddenly decide to come out and do an attack, that's another potential threat that they're engaged in. The third is the individual who decides to self-radicalize. Hasan did that in the Fort Hood shootings. Those are the kinds of threats that we see and we're getting intelligence that shows that's the kind of stream of threats that we face, much more difficult to track. At the same time, I think we're doing a good job of moving against those threats. We've stopped some attacks, we continue to work the intelligence in all of these areas. But that area, those kinds of threats represent I think the most serious threat to the United States right now. (emphasis added)
Seriously? 60-100 guys? That's it? As Philip Giraldi points out, this kind of assessment raises some Very Important Questions, like: "If CIA Director Leon Panetta is correct and al-Qaeda has been reduced to a tiny remnant why are we spending nearly a trillion dollars a year on defense, intelligence, and homeland security?"
It's a fair question -- shouldn't these guys be able to deal with 60-100 guys?
The easy answers here are A) path dependence; and B) concerns about U.S. reputation. There's a harder answer here, however, that is buried within Panetta's comments, as well as those of just about every other counter-terrorism expert. Let's call it the Counter-Terrorism Mantra, which consists of the following:
1) Al Qaeda is nowhere near as powerful as it was a decade ago
2) Al Qaeda is now really unpopular among Muslims worldwide
3) Because of their desperate straits, Al Qaeda is encouraging anyone and everyone to try attacking the United States
4) One of these homegrown, disgruntled sorts might
not be a moron be smart and lucky enough to succeed.
I understand why the Counter-Terrorism Mantra is used -- because the political costs of underestimating Al Qaeda's capabilities are far greater than overestimating their capabilities. That said, this kind of mantra leads to Very Stupid and Costly policies.
The fact is, Al Qaeda's abilities to execute Grand Guignol-kind of attacks appears to be nil. There have been plenty of opportunities over the past five years for AQ to launch the kind of attack that would put fear into the heart of the West -- the USA-England World Cup match, most recently -- and there's been nothing. Even if Captain Underpants or the Times Square bomber had succeeded, the carnage would have been on a far lower scale than the 9/11 attacks.
Isn't it time that some rational cost-benefit analysis was applied to counter-terrorism policies? In a world where "The [defense budget] gusher has been turned off, and will stay off for a good period of time," isn't it time for political leaders to argue in favor of resource retrenchment, even if it increases the probability of a successful attack just a smidgen?
I can ask this question, because I can be dismissed as an out-of-touch, elities, zombie-loving, pointy-headed academic who knows nothing about counter-terrorism. What I'd like to see is a few bona-fide counterterrorism experts have the stones to ask a similar question.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Your humble blogger has been relatively sanguine about the attempted Times Square bombing effort. That said, Bruce Hoffman's National Interest essay -- published before the attempt -- is a sobering read that is worth a close look. The paragraph that stood out for me:
We have failed to acknowledge that al-Qaeda has a strategy and, moreover, that it is one designed to overwhelm us. It is a strategy of attrition. And it is a strategy of attrition that focuses on strengthening its own capabilities and expanding its recruitment pool, particularly on our shores, while weakening our ability to fight. It seeks to flood already-stressed intelligence systems with “noise” and with low-level threats from “lone wolves” and other jihadi hangers-on (i.e., low-hanging fruit) that will consume the attention of law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in the hope that these distractions will allow more serious operations to slip by unnoticed.
Food for thought.
Three Five quick thoughts on the Moscow subway bombing:
1) Who gets the blame? As Clifford Levy points out in the NYT, "Mr. Putin built his reputation in part on his success at suppressing terrorism, so the attacks could be considered a challenge to his stature." On the other hand, one could see Putin trying to shift the blame onto Russian president Dmitri Medvedev or Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov as a way to thwart future rivals. On the other hand, a lot of Russians are already unhappy with the government, and diversionary tactics might not work this time.
2) Is there an international dimension? Russia's neighbors in the Caucasus and Central Asia, along with the United States and China, are praying right now that the suicide bombers were entirely domestic in origin and execution. If there was an international link, one could easily envision nightmare scenarios about Russia's international response.
3) How screwed is the North Caucasus? They were already pretty screwed because of the Putin administration's attempts to crack down on secessionist groups in the region. I seriously doubt that this attack is going to cause Russian leaders to rethink their strategy. If anything, a doubling-down approach is the likely outcome.
4) Hey, Europe might be relevant again!! The New York Times' Steve Erlanger reported on the latest Brussels Forum meeting, at which European security and foreign policy officials kept saying, "we're relevant!!" Given that the highest-ranking U.S. attendee was an Assistant Secretary of State, I'm pretty sure that U.S. officials didn't think that dog would hunt ex ante. A Russia ready to lash out, however, is guaranteed to force more transatlantic consultations.
5) Obama's counter-terrorism policies don't look so bad in comparison. This is unfair -- the process matters just as much as the outcome, and it might be that the Obama administration is just luckier than the Medvedev/Putin administration. Still, the comparison will be made (though Michelle Malkin attempts to link the attacks to Obama's weaknesses on counterterrorism).
Longtime readers might have noticed that I did not blog about the Captain Underpants Bomber from Christmas Day 2009. Why not? Well,
two three reasons:
Peter Beinart, Marc Lynch and Fareed Zakaria have already said 90% of what I wanted to say. My only additional observation is one I'm reluctant to bring to the attention of terrorists, but the professor in me can't resist.
It's striking how Al Qaeda and its emanations have demonstrated zero creativity in their past decade of attempts to strike the United States. It's all about airplanes, airplanes, airplanes -- even though their ability to use the planes themselves as large bombs has been effectively neutralized.
Any Hollywood hack could devise far more inventive acts of terrorism -- which is why I think we need to treat those hacks the same way we treat nuclear scientists. Don't ever let Michael Bay shoot on location in Yemen (I confess to being on the fence about Megan Fox and/or Shia Labeouf).
Beyond that, everyone just relax a bit.
[Drat!!--ed. C'mon, pay up. I was sure you couldn't connect Captain Underpants to Megan Fox!!--ed. And that's why I get the big blog bucks, my imaginary friend.]
The latest Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) survey of international relations scholars has been released (I've blogged about a prior TRIP survey here). The part that jumped out at me:
On the policy side, we see several important changes from previous surveys. In 2008, for instance, we see fewer than half as many scholars (23 percent of respondents in 2008 compared to 48 percent in 2006) describing terrorism as one of the three most significant current foreign policy challenges facing the United States. Most surprisingly, while 50 percent of U.S. scholars in 2006 said that terrorism was one of the most important foreign policy issues the United States would face over the subsequent decade, in 2008 only 1 percent of respondents agreed. American faculty members are becoming more sanguine about the war in Iraq, as well: in 2006 76 percent said that the Iraq conflict was one of the three most important issues facing the country, but in 2008 only 35 percent of U.S. respondents concurred. Concern over several other foreign policy issues is also declining markedly: when asked about the most important problems facing the country over the next ten years 18 percent fewer respondents chose WMD proliferation, 12 percent fewer said armed conflict in the Middle East, and 13 percent fewer indicated failed states. At the same time, 17 percent more respondents in 2008 than in 2006 believed that climate change will pose a serious challenge, 6 percent more worried about global poverty, and 4 percent more said that resource scarcity is one of the most significant foreign policy challenges.
Basically, my colleagues have mellowed a bit on the standard threats everyone has fretted about for the past eight years. Now they're more worried about threats emerging from the global political economy.
Which puts them in line with the Director of National Intelligence:
The new director of national intelligence told Congress on Thursday that global economic turmoil and the instability it could ignite had outpaced terrorism as the most urgent threat facing the United States.
The assessment underscored concern inside America’s intelligence agencies not only about the fallout from the economic crisis around the globe, but also about long-term harm to America’s reputation. The crisis that began in American markets has already “increased questioning of U.S. stewardship of the global economy,” the intelligence chief, Dennis C. Blair, said in prepared testimony.
Mr. Blair’s comments were particularly striking because they were delivered as part of a threat assessment to Congress that has customarily focused on issues like terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Mr. Blair singled out the economic downturn as “the primary near-term security concern” for the country, and he warned that if it continued to spread and deepen, it would contribute to unrest and imperil some governments.
“The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests,” he said.
It's great to get this kind of attention, but I fear that part of it is faddish. All it will take is one conventional interstate war or one spark across the Taiewan Straits, and the focus will shift back towards more conventional security threats.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.