The â€œsystematic failureâ€ in the nationâ€™s security that President Obama referred to Tuesday derives from the war metaphor itself and from the assumption, begun with Bushâ€™s irrational invasion of Iraq and extended with Obamaâ€™s escalation in Afghanistan, that terrorism is a military rather than a criminal threat. The terrorists are not rebel fighters rooted, as are the Taliban and the remnants of the Iraq insurgency, in their homeland struggles and subject to being defeated on conventional battlefields.
Rather, they are rootless cosmopolitans of violence, alienated from any stated homeland and free to move easily about the world, armed in almost every instance with valid passports, visas and money to exploit our inability to seriously evaluate our own intelligence data. They can count on our top government officials ignoring blinking red warnings, as the Bush White House did before 9/11, or the alarm of a well-connected and properly concerned Nigerian banker-father.
Preventing terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland has nothing to do with occupying vast tracts of land or winning the hearts and minds of backward villagers whom we falsely depict as surrogates of an evil empire, as we did in Vietnam and are now doing in Afghanistan. What is needed is smart police work to catch these highly mobile fanatics, and that begins with actually reading and then acting on the readily available intelligence data. It requires detectives with brains and not generals with firepower.
The ballooning of the defense budget after 9/11 has proved a great boondoggle for the military-industrial complex, which suddenly found an excuse to build weapons and deploy conventional forces against a superpower enemy that no longer exists. But our stealth fighters and bombers designed to defeat Soviet defenses that were never built are a poor match against a terroristâ€™s stealth underwear.