The Politics of Terror


Yesterday, John Brennan made some very sensible points in USA Today about the irrationality of conservative responses to terrorism:

Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill. They will, however, be dismantled and destroyed, by our military, our intelligence services and our law enforcement community. And the notion that America’s counterterrorism professionals and America’s system of justice are unable to handle these murderous miscreants is absurd.

Unfortunately, he slapped onto that the idea that “Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda.” This echoes John Ashcroft’s shameful post-9/11 notion that complaining about the Bush administration was per se giving aid to the enemy. The faux-outraged being ginned up about this from the right has no credibility, but it was still overkill.

Besides, conservatives are will to say the really damning stuff all by themselves. Here’s Bill O’Reilly and Newt Gingrich talking about how terrorist attacks help Republican candidates win elections:

O’REILLY: Brown, in Massachusetts said he was for waterboarding, I mean in the most liberal state in the union.

GINGRICH: Well, and I think he was enormously helped by Christmas Day. Because on Christmas Day, think about it, on Christmas Day of all days, you suddenly have in the middle of the day off with your family, this specter of a terrorist, who is trying to blow up an airplane over the city of Detroit to maximize collateral damage.

I think that’s precisely correct. In the United States and elsewhere, right-wing political parties have a serious incentive problem when it comes to coping with terrorism. More terrorist attacks lead to more electoral wins for right-wings and right-wing shifts in public opinion and public priorities. You can see this dynamic very clearly in Israeli politics where the main impact of Hamas violence is to boost the fortunes of the Israeli right. And I think there’s reason to believe that this is no accident. It’s remarkable how infrequently people mention the CIA’s judgment that Osama bin Laden’s autumn 2004 tape was designed to help re-elect George W Bush.

The issue isn’t that conservatives are helping terrorists by undermining our blessed unity. They’re locked in a dysfunctional codependent relationship with terrorist leaders—attacks on America boost the fortunes of the American right, and the American right’s preference for brutal tactics, aggressive militarism, and rum-amok nationalism boost the fortunes of the Islamism’s most aggressively violent fringe.