One of my news feeds this morning popped up a breathless piece from ABC about new, “ingenious” liquid explosives being used by Al Qaeda plotters. Inside the hype, there was some discussion of a large, “strategic-level” attack (whatever that means–any terrorist attack is by definition strategic; they are attempting to use terror to achieve an end. But far be it from the news media to understand the difference between “tactics” and “strategy.”), which was apparently some discussion of using a vehicle bomb to attack a US Embassy. This was the comm chatter that reportedly justified closing down 21 US Embassies and consulates on Aug. 4th. I’ll get to the counterproductive nature of such an act in a moment.
First of all, let’s look at “liquid explosives.” The media, TSA, and various “experts” are going on about this as though it’s something new. Remember the last time you went through airport security and were asked if you had any liquids or gels? Remember why that started? Another scare about liquid explosives on airliners in 2006. There is nothing new here.
An article in the Jakarta Post also discusses Islamist terrorists using nitroglycerin. They at least have the knowledge to mention what’s being used. Guess what? Nitroglycerin was first synthesized in 1847. Yes, it has been around for 166 years. It is not new technology, any more than ANFO is new or even that hard to make.
Along with breathless prose about the “new” threats from Al Qaeda, there are clips and pictures of more and more tac-ed out mall ninjas at airports and other public places, trying to stop this nebulous coming attack. There are references to the new Emir of AQAP, who was involved with the infamous “Underwear Bomber,” who managed to accomplish the devastating attack of setting his own trousers on fire before he was dogpiled.
Now, there are those who would say I’m being overly dismissive. After all, a good number of my posts on here have been about various jihadist movements. I do believe they are a threat–I’ve fought them enough to know that much.
However, at the same time, looking at all of this tail-chasing, I’ve got to agree with those who have said that the jihad does not present an existential threat to the US. And it doesn’t, any more than any other outside enemy we’ve fought since 1783. That is not to downplay the very real threat they pose to our people and our interests. It’s just fact. The only existential threat to this nation itself is its own people and politicians.
This has been the case for any nation, state, city-state, etc. since the beginning of history. The classic example is Rome. The Republic fell because the majority of the people got lazy and entitled, and rallied behind a would-be despot because he gave them bread in the streets. The Empire fell because the Roman citizenry got lazy and entitled and steadily stopped giving a fuck. The last, best hope of the Western Empire, Flavius Stilicho, wasn’t even a Roman–he was a Vandal.
Why am I ranting about Rome? What does this have to do with breathless fear-mongering, mall ninjas in airports, and broadcasting weakness to the entire world? Because this is one more example of how we have become our own worst enemy.
Our populace is confused and ignorant. One week Al Qaeda is defeated, the next they are such a threat that we have to lock everything down. Everything is somehow a “new” threat that we have to put all sorts of new measures in place to protect against, even if the tech is almost two centuries old. We have gone on the permanent defense, with no real impact on the enemy, and most of the people neither understand why this is a bad idea, nor do they care. Hardly an “informed electorate.”
No, Al Qaeda and its ilk do not present an existential threat to the United States. That does not mean they should be ignored. No power has ever maintained itself by ignoring those who would prey on its people or its interests. Too often, those who believe in fighting this insidious Islamist movement tend to overstate the case.
But there is a difference between fighting a threat and living in perpetual fear and terror, with fat guys in black with M4s standing around airports while everyone is damn-near strip-searched. Defense is a losing proposition. As we’ve discovered over the last almost 12 years, going after them in limited engagements within limited theaters is a losing proposition. Most importantly, trying to fight the means rather than the perpetrators is lunacy.
There will always be ways for the violent to be violent. Be it simple explosives cooked up with kitchen chemicals, black market firearms, crude garage-built firearms (honestly, the AK is only about a step above this), clubs, knives, rocks, etc., the means will always be there. Just as with any violence, the key is making its use a losing proposition. The British managed this with piracy in the late 18th to early 19th century. The Romans managed it with outside enemies as well as servile rebellions. The lawmen of the American frontier managed it with the gangs of outlaws who preyed on the settlers, the towns, and the railroad.
When what you’re doing isn’t working, you need to change what you’re doing. This does not mean you necessarily have to reinvent the wheel (though that keeps some of these new detector companies in business); on the contrary, as I mentioned above, similar situations have been dealt with effectively in the past. Study what’s actually worked, such as the British eradication of piracy in the Atlantic. It can’t be worse than this mess.
Unfortunately, the odds of anything changing effectively in the near future are slim, if not non-existent. Much of our populace doesn’t know and couldn’t care less, our public servants are idiots or otherwise have an interest in maintaining matters as they are.