Peggy Noonan and Movie-Plot Terrorist Threats
Peggy Noonan is opposed to the current round of U.S. base closings because, well, basically because she thinks they’ll be useful if the government ever has to declare martial law.
I don’t know anything about military bases, and what should be closed or remain open. What’s interesting to me is that her essay is a perfect example of thinking based on movie-plot threats:
Among the things we may face over the next decade, as we all know, is another terrorist attack on American soil. But let’s imagine the next one has many targets, is brilliantly planned and coordinated. Imagine that there are already 100 serious terror cells in the U.S., two per state. The members of each cell have been coming over, many but not all crossing our borders, for five years. They’re working jobs, living lives, quietly planning.
Imagine they’re planning that on the same day in the not-so-distant future, they will set off nuclear suitcase bombs in six American cities, including Washington, which will take the heaviest hit. Hundreds of thousands may die; millions will be endangered. Lines will go down, and to make it worse the terrorists will at the same time execute the cyberattack of all cyberattacks, causing massive communications failure and confusion. There will be no electricity; switching and generating stations will also have been targeted. There will be no word from Washington; the extent of the national damage will be as unknown as the extent of local damage is clear. Daily living will become very difficult, and for months—food shortages, fuel shortages.
Let’s make it worse. On top of all that, on the day of the suitcase nukings, a half dozen designated cells will rise up and assassinate national, state and local leaders. There will be chaos, disorder, widespread want; law-enforcement personnel, or what remains of them, will be overwhelmed and outmatched.
Impossibly grim? No, just grim. Novelistic? Sure. But if you’d been a novelist on Sept. 10, 2001, and dreamed up a plot in which two huge skyscrapers were leveled, the Pentagon was hit, and the wife of the solicitor general of the United States was desperately phoning him from a commercial jet that had been turned into a missile, you would have been writing something wild and improbable that nonetheless happened a day later.
And all this of course is just one scenario. The madman who runs North Korea could launch a missile attack on the United States tomorrow, etc. There are limitless possibilities for terrible trouble.
This game of “let’s imagine” really does stir up emotions, but it’s not the way to plan national security policy. There’s a movie plot to justify any possible national policy, and another to render that same policy ineffectual.
This of course is pure guessing on my part. I can’t prove it with data.
That’s precisely the problem.