The Politics of Fear

This is very good:

…one might suppose that modern democratic states, with the lessons of history at hand, would seek to minimize fear ­ or at least minimize its effect on deliberative decision-making in both foreign and domestic policy.

But today the opposite is frequently true. Even democracies founded in the principles of liberty and the common good often take the path of more authoritarian states. They don’t work to minimize fear, but use it to exert control over the populace and serve the government’s principle aim: consolidating power.


However, since 9/11 leaders of both political parties in the United States have sought to consolidate power by leaning not just on the danger of a terrorist attack, but on the fact that the possible perpetrators are frightening individuals who are not like us. As President George W. Bush put it before a joint session of Congress in 2001: “They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” Last year President Obama brought the enemy closer to home, arguing in a speech at the National Defense University that “we face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States“—radicalized individuals who were “deranged or alienated individuals ­- often U.S. citizens or legal residents.”

The Bush fear-peddling is usually considered the more extreme, but is it? The Obama formulation puts the “radicalized individuals” in our midst. They could be American citizens or legal residents. And the subtext is that if we want to catch them we need to start looking within. The other is among us. The pretext for the surveillance state is thus established.

Posted on January 29, 2014 at 6:24 AM51 Comments


Bob S. January 29, 2014 6:38 AM

I think the change to focus on “radicalized individuals” in our midst” was a deliberate ploy to turn the spy machine inward.

Literally, we are all suspects now. And, you are right it’s a bi-partisan, dare I say, conspiracy?

How many of the military and defense lobby spy machine speak Farsi, Chinese, Romanian? That’s right a tiny fraction and so their efforts must be on English speaking peoples: Five Eyes Spies on Five Eyes.

Right now I favor a move towards strong encryption, distributed networks, and balkanization of personal data.

Our technical people must become warriors of the new century.

jbmoore January 29, 2014 7:00 AM

Who should you fear the most, the unknown radicalized” US citizen or the authorities? When Americans fear Americans, the country is doomed because there is no trust or common bonds or goals. As has been stated here, societies run on trust.

Wm January 29, 2014 7:11 AM

Yes! This was excellent. It bring to mind the argument that allowing law abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns would lead to Dodge City.

Andrew Wallace January 29, 2014 7:20 AM

We rely on the US government to risk manage and manipulate terrorist plots safely and securely.

Sometimes it goes drastically wrong and we see 9/11 and other plots make it to fruition.

Alexis January 29, 2014 7:30 AM

[Hermann] Göring: Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Clive Robinson January 29, 2014 7:32 AM

People should ask a fundemental question,

Why use fear as a tool?

Historicaly it’s known to fail, in the same way empires fail as well as all authoriterian organisations.

So what’s fears advantage that makes it so popular?

With out going into all the ins and outs it’s a very short term stratagie to move people quickly into a direction they would not go into if they had time to think and reason.

So it’s like screaming “Fire!” In a crowded auditorium people shut down their reasoning and scamper up the equivalent of the nearest tree as the “monkey brain” above their spine tells them to do.

People who shout Fire are under the illusion they have authority, they don’t. Anyone can scare unprepared people it’s not authority it’s “panic mongering” or “intimidation” both of which are illegal in juresdictions that once legislated sensibly. And as far as I’m aware is punishable by imprisonment and fine in all 5eyes juresdictions and Western Europe (I’m sure @ Dirk Praet will correct me if I’m wrong).

Authority is not based on fear at the end of the day it’s based on respect and trust, and the one thing we do know about both respect and trust once lost they are very difficult if not impossible to regain.

Use of fear also has another side effect it engenders hate, which builds up a counter response of revenge. Thus to maintain the status quo fear has to be not only ramped up it has to be seen to work. As has been found out you cannot ramp fear up to the point it will continue to work, you have to activly seak out and destroy those who want to shake of the opression of fear…

But even that fails so the question must be what is the “escape plan” for those who are inflicting fear? Or are they just the witting fools of others who have worked out a longer term stratagie?

aikimark January 29, 2014 7:45 AM

  1. Reminds me of The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein.
    Also worth watching is “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” episode of the Twilight Zone.

  2. Fear is a more basic reaction and, therefore, much easier to invoke.

TheHighAndMighty January 29, 2014 7:47 AM

A recent leader of that large religious organization in an Italian city, once said that the church would not be taken down from without (from outside the church) BUT from within (its own membership). Thus, the church hierarchy works very hard to control the laity, whom they fear more than god or the devil. What they fail to realize is that while true that downfall will come from within, it is the hierarchy, not the laity that will be the cause.

Thus, as it goes, each nation, or those that govern such nations, follow the same edict: downfall will come from within, with the same failure to recognize that downfall is due to governmental flaws, not the citizens themselves (by governmental, I mean those “elected” officials working for their own behalf rather than for the citizenry).

Clive Robinson January 29, 2014 7:52 AM

@ Wm,

    It bring to mind the argument that allowing law abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns would lead to Dodge City

Stop it, that misrepresentation or “straw man” argument has been debunked so many times you would have thought people would stop trotting it out.

The real argument is not one of “dodge city” but risk of accidents, negligent behaviour and uncontroled emotional response. If nobody had a gun nobody would get shot is one end of a risk line the other is a small proportion of the percentage of people carrying guns concealed or otherwise. The proportion has a strong correlation to the training of the individuals, the better the training the lower the proportion, but it does not get to zero as long as guns are carried.

And the spurios argument it would lower crime involing guns has also been debunked, the criminals that can think just change tactics the don’t just say “oh this is to risky I’ll give up crime” it’s the same reason chucking criminals in punative prison regiems dosen’t work.

Rev_Crypton January 29, 2014 8:05 AM

Praise our invisible Lord Jesus, that mischeiveous elf, lurking in the control rooms of the NSA. The leaker of Secrets.

Make no mistake, the “the terrorists are among us” theme was established by the Bush-era security community. This is what makes the whole war on terror so dangerous. The war on drugs criminalized citizens, but left them citizens, meanwhile it was conducted on a war footing outside the country. The war on terror strips citizens of their basic rights at home, and makes the entire globe an equivalent theater of information warfare. No longer an us vs them triabalism, we Americans vs the barbarian other, but totalitarianism: equality before the law redefined as the right to be subject to immeasurable secret powers, forced to bend and nurse private, inexplicable wounds. This is the Horned God.

nobodyspecial January 29, 2014 8:42 AM

It’s not Bush email, it goes back to the 20s when anyone foreign was a suspect anarchist terrorist – it’s just that then we scared of the Irish and Italians

Vinzent January 29, 2014 8:51 AM

deranged or alienated individuals – often U.S. citizens …

Yeah, anyone else who immediately thought “White House”?

Autolykos January 29, 2014 8:56 AM

The way I see it, something like this was bound to happen, one way or the other (that nobody called it out back then doesn’t change the inevitability).
The United States are a declining empire, and these are pretty much the only entities that have rational reasons to wage war, even if perfect information is assumed and attackers aren’t inherently favored by technology (it’s basic game theory; they know their position will only get worse, so they can be better off if they cut others down to size now rather than waiting for them to catch up).
This requires them to consolidate their political power and create a common enemy first.

Bin Laden was just the first one to notice this who had an interest in the US starting wars all over the place – mainly to gain supporters and isolate the US diplomatically, which seems to work out fine for his successors. And getting someone who wants/needs to start a war to actually do it is as easy as poking a hornet’s nest. On the other hand, the results are just about as easy to control and contain as the poked hornet’s nest, for players as well as bystanders.

I currently assume that nobody is in control of that mayhem (in the sense of having the power to do anything about it), and perhaps nobody ever was after the first few days. Our politicians are now locked into the game by their own “War on Terror” rhetoric, since admitting such a costly mistake would be political suicide, especially with the masses still in fear about the invisible terrorists hiding everywhere. Even if all political actors were to decide they had enough of it (ain’t gonna happen, it works too well), the panic would probably continue for decades out of sheer inertia and fueled by the justifications for previous mistakes.

Ken H. January 29, 2014 9:33 AM

Richard Rhodes documents a long history of the politics of fear in his book “Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race” which analyzes the cold war and the constant push to over-estimate the capabilities of the Soviet Union in order to justify building more arms, despite any reasoned argument that both sides were way past overkill. Interesting to note is the chain of connection from Paul Nitze (who conducted the first Soviet estimates after WWII and was later Reagan’s arms negotiator) and his connections with Teller, Perle, Wolfowitz and Cheney. Unfortunately, these tactics have been demonstrated as effective over decades of application here in the US.

AlanS January 29, 2014 9:49 AM

Social relationships are an endless negotiation of risks. And it will forever be so.

Risk gets heightened into a panic when control is difficult to exert. The cannibals in the next valley is the oldest ploy in the book. Even better, if they might be hiding in our midst waiting to lunch.

BlackAngel January 29, 2014 10:10 AM

Wow, that is one outstanding article. A tour de force on the subject.

So glad these voices are getting heard.

Eldoran January 29, 2014 10:14 AM

As President George W. Bush put it before a joint session of Congress in 2001: “They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

In a way he succeeded – as he has declared: the only way to be safe is to give up those freedoms those bad people hate.
I would call that a Pyrrhic victory, but it might work if the premise was correct. Thus far it might not have worked, because the bad people didn’t know that america wholeheartedly tried to appease them. Unfortunately they had to lie to their own citizen about it, so it might not be well known enough.

[sarcasms off]

I’m pretty sure those causes are completely wrong, just as the actions taken to react. So it is no wonder, it didn’t work out.
Unfortunately the whole debate around those topics has mostly deteriorated to ideology wars.

Carpe January 29, 2014 10:16 AM

Insiders have always been the main threat. The problem is, that when you are a military industrial complex out of control, and public awareness has the potential to upset your power, the awareness of the public becomes the “insider threat”.

I’m so tired of the pendulum argument, where people say things ebb and flow and with time we will swing to a more democratic republic, but this argument ignores the increasingly stark possibility that, just maybe, someday that pendulum is going to go beyond a point of no return.

What happens when the empire dominates every “other”? It turns inward. Thus the greedy .01% ensure the destruction of the middle class because it’s the last place left to extract wealth from, and with technological advances I think they have determined that now is the time for a global power play.

giant.squid January 29, 2014 10:49 AM

“Praise our invisible Lord Jesus… is the Horned God.”

A subtle means of control comes from characterizing evil as coming from a demon.

If the polar opposites of good and evil are both cast within a supernatural frame of reference, then even Satanists reaffirm the validity of the Biblical interpretation of reality.

What the religionists fear more than Satan is a person who rejects supernaturalism in all its forms.

Such an individual is “alienated”, and since they have gone to the root of things, they are “radical”.

Clive Robinson January 29, 2014 11:06 AM

As many know “Obama the Great Fear Monger” was given a Noble peace prize, which alway struck me as out of whack.

Well it appeares Ed Snowden who has done a lot to lift the lid on the conciquences of the fear mongering has been nominated for a nobel peace prize.

So hopefully it will give it a reverse whack back to were it should be.

NobodySpecial January 29, 2014 11:51 AM

@Ken H – Even more ironically effective. Russia sold Alaska to the USA because it’s military convinced the leaders that the British could land an Army in eastern Canada, march it across the continent, up through Alaska, across the Bering straight, then the full length of Mongolia and Siberia and attack the Crimea from the rear.

which makes the claim that Iraq had WMDs that it could use in 45mins seem almost plausible!

John G January 29, 2014 11:57 AM

Stalin used the same tactic for the purges.

Everyone was supposed to spy on his/her neighbour and report.
It very quickly becomes a rat race to the bottom, as everyone lives in fear that their neighbour will be the first to report something on them.

It feels like 30ties again.

Andrew Wallace January 29, 2014 12:00 PM

@Clive Robinson

It is my belief the Snowden revelations are out there because the Obama administration are trying to reverse the wrongs of the Bush administration era policies.

Anura January 29, 2014 12:11 PM

@Clive Robinson

But even that fails so the question must be what is the “escape plan” for those who are inflicting fear? Or are they just the witting fools of others who have worked out a longer term stratagie?

Well, this whole scene has been one multi-decade long string of diversions. The fear of communism subsides, and so we create new enemies, such as terrorists. We then moved away from terrorists and focused on internal diversions – Democrat vs Republican. The politicians aren’t even the ones spreading the fear, now; fear has gone viral, and hardliners outside the inner circles of the parties are now telling you that the policies of the other party are going to destroy the nation.

Sure, people are upset with Congress, but they see Congress as catering to their ever-more-extreme voters; it’s democracy in action. You have extremist liberals trying to turn America into a nation of marxist takers, battling the religious right who want to make women second class citizens whose sole purpose in life is to become pregnant. This is not something being publicly pushed by politicians, but instead by the media and the blogosphere.

Andy January 29, 2014 12:16 PM

These are the same fear tactics that were used in East Germany. First it was fear of the west, then it was fear of your neighbor. It’s a fast ride downhill from here. The thing that bothers me the most is that we have all these watch lists and no fly lists yet people on the lists are still allowed to maintain a “green card” and live in the U.S. If they are that much of a threat that we can’t let them on a plane, why have they not been deported?

Brian M. January 29, 2014 2:06 PM

If they are that much of a threat that we can’t let them on a plane, why have they not been deported?

But then we’d have to put them on a plane… :p 😉


“All aboard for the slow boat to someplace else that isn’t here!”

Bitter Clinger January 29, 2014 2:11 PM

Wm • January 29, 2014 7:11 AM
Yes! This was excellent. It bring to mind the argument
that allowing law abiding citizens to carry concealed
handguns would lead to Dodge City.

Didn’t you get the memo? When it comes to gun control as a security theater measure, all the thoughtfulness usually exhibited by members of this forum goes out the window. “Be afraid, for the children!” “Fear the right-wing militias!” “Terror!” “The sky is falling!” etc. etc. etc.

On a related note, when the Colorado legislature was considering a bill to prohibit those licensed to carry a concealed handgun — an extremely law abiding group — from doing so on college campuses, the primary sponsor of the bill admitted that

“I don’t know how on Earth they can draw a causal relationship. I make no assertion that this bill either increase or reduce violent crime. That is not the premise of the bill.”

– Claire Levy (Democrat – Boulder) (video)

Yet HB13-1226 included the usual fear-mongering language:

SECTION 4. Safety clause. The general assembly hereby finds determines, and declares that this act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety.

The Colorado House passed the bill anyway, but it was defeated in the state Senate when Democrats told a rape victim that she was too stupid to know how to defend herself, and should be denied the choice. So now the campus ban is going to be a ballot measure this year. At least they did ban boxes with springs in them (HB13-1224).

The very same”safety clause” in HB13-1226 was also included in HB13-1303, Colorado’s new “Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act”. About 75% of all Colorado legislation has that “safety clause” attached to it, so we must be in a constant state of emergency, or something.

BlackAngel January 29, 2014 2:32 PM

Speaking of fear politics, Clapper just finished a “scorching” speech against Snowden as part of his congressional overview, saying Snowden should give back all the data he stole.

Funny how you do not see the CISO of Target or Michael’s going prime time. Where is the old Heartland Payment Systems CISO? We all know when a corporation gets hacked, the people in charge at the time go on the primetime circuit.

Question is: Why does Clapper still have his job? (Though we know he is leaving soon.)

Seems to boil down to it isn’t just Clapper who was asleep at the wheel. It was Obama. It was the Senate, it was the House.

Bad political play.

They should clean house, take responsibility, not scapegoat, and fix the transgressions against constitutional rights, the law — and hey, maybe even fix their systems and start to guard them?

But, hey, they will get lots more money from defense contractors and military and intel favor. After all, no one to call anyone on this (so far).

Even Hoover is remembered fondly. His name still graces the main FBI building.

… goes to show politics and fear goes hand in hand… though that can be a two way street. Democrats fear one thing, Republicans another.

Few seem to be able to walk that line where actual thinking is required.

Just politics on a pure instinctual level. The same sort of thing that moves herds of cattle.

foo January 29, 2014 4:02 PM

Andrew Wallace

“It is my belief the Snowden revelations are out there because the Obama administration are trying to reverse the wrongs of the Bush administration era policies.”

If that were true, why has the Obama administration, and the President himself, been such a strong supporter of current NSA policies? Why has it stifled dissent by prosecuting more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined? Why did it keep Bradley Manning in solitary confinement for so long before trial? Why did it throw its weight around trying to get to Edward Snowden, revoking his passport and forcing the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales to land in Austria, keeping him confined on the ground for 14 hours?

Since taking office, Obama has not done any one thing that I can point to that shows any clear dissatisfaction with or concern about the overreach of these surveillance programs. His administration seems singularly unconcerned with protecting the civil liberties of Americans, and seems to be completely happy to trample their 4th amendment rights into the ground and chill free speech. If anything, Obama is just annoyed that his secret spying apparatus got outed, and is now trying to do cosmetic changes to convince people he is doing something about the issue. He doesn’t seem interested in real reform.

FriendlyAlien January 29, 2014 4:06 PM


“why have they not been deported?”

Because it justifies surveillance inside the “Homeland”

3jrk4jnfjk3k January 29, 2014 4:07 PM

More logical titles:

-Why negative political science from thousands of years ago is still allowed to work.

-Why there are only two states of primitive politics, and how plutocracy prohibits any innovation

-Why a country represents freedom when it’s political infrastructure is openly adopted from that of historical slave traders

-How to refine population control in plutocratic states with naturally discontent demographics

-How and why discontent in plutocratic civilizations is labeled negatively: eg: Darwinism

bigmacbear January 29, 2014 4:33 PM


Abuse of the “safety clause” (in other states it is called the “emergency clause”) is rampant. All it really does is bypass the normal waiting period for the law to take effect, which depending on the jurisdiction may be a set number of days from passage or the end of the legislative session.

Bauke Jan Douma January 29, 2014 8:29 PM

Note that this is almost word for word what Chomsky has been saying the past ten years.

Bagosag January 29, 2014 10:21 PM

A speech before both houses of congress and a speech to the NDU are not comparable. I’d be the first to say there’s not much difference between these two presidents on this issue, but this is a very weak argument. In fact, I’d say it borders on intellectual dishonesty.

Daniel January 29, 2014 10:47 PM

There is a much more prosaic explanation for why Obama looks in and Bush looked out–personality. Obama identifies as an Introvert and Bush as an Extrovert. Indeed, Obama wrote in his autobiography how he had developed an innate distrust of people that he had to learn to overcome. Obama sees the need to defeat “the internal other” because that struggle has been the story, in part, of his own life.

Part of the reason Obama’s approach hasn’t gone down as well as Bush’s is because America remains fundamentally an extroverted country. Americans generally are not known for their bouts of introspection. So “spying on the brother” doesn’t play as well as “killing the foreigner”.

t January 29, 2014 10:52 PM

My 20 yr old daughter apparently killed herself in August this year.
My 20 yr old niece, trying to comfort me, wrote in email to me about signing up for a class on the history of the Silk Road this week.
She’s an ART Major. She lovingly thought she and I should someday travel to Tibet and beyond.

When I responded, I could not bring myself to use the words “Silk Road”—for you that haven’t payed attention there was a bitcoin fed case using that same word this week. I WAS AFRAID of being drag netted into an unrelated thing.

So there you have physical evidence: censorship censors private free speech. I was afraid to use my free speech because I am deathly afraid that my nieces email to me flagged me as being part of some fed case surrounding bit coin drug cases! And I don’t even KNOW if bit coin is guilty of anything. I don’t shop on the ‘silk road’ online. I have no connection to them, but the words in email to me would lead a database search to believe so …possibly.

Sorry guys, they shut me up, when all my niece and I wanted to do was talk about her history class.

Maybe I’m overreacting, sure. But that is all it takes, and now I am an example: free speech will be influenced by draconian government tactics–I sure as hell wanted to talk freely with my sweet niece, but I did not feel safe.
I did not want to face any more consequences of surveillance.

I found a very dumb cartoon in this past weeks’ washington post–the characters said they would let a guy move in but he had to close the door when he used the bathroom. I thought wow, of all the assholes I’ve heard say, and IN TECH Support “I have nothing to hide”, well neither do I , but I still close the door when I go to the bathroom.

sigh sigh sigh

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons January 29, 2014 10:53 PM

When the quote-in-quote “leader of the free world” expressed a shameful binary view of the world I knew we were done.

GW in late September 2001…”You are either we us, or against us.” My reaction, “I’ll have another Guinness!”

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons January 29, 2014 11:13 PM

@ Bagosag
In fact, I’d say it borders on intellectual dishonesty.

Borders? Hell, it is the house, hamlet, city, county, state, country, planet, solar system, and universe of intellectual dishonesty.

Aspie January 30, 2014 9:03 AM

@jones … The Politics of Fear

Good link. Worth seeing, even – I venture to submit – for those who already feel they have full and complete information surrounding these events. At the very least another viewpoint worthy of serious consideration.

The worst of much of this is that all parties believe they are in the right. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor their backgrounds are; even highly intelligent, well-educated people with just about every advantage that the pinnacle of human comfort and civilisation can provide can produce dolts who can think themselves into tiny blind boxes.

I’ve travelled though countries whose people walked miles for clean water and these people are amongst the most valued, compassionate and kindest I have ever met.

They knew what it was to be poor and hungry. They knew fear and insecurity. What they didn’t know was this “god given right” to be the masters of everyone else’s happiness and to be handed, gratis, the tools, privileges, money and connections to make it happen.

Ivy league edumacation has its purposes. And its limits.

Skeptical January 30, 2014 10:29 AM

The article is written by someone very sensitive to the subject of security, and it’s read here by people very sensitive to the subject of security. And everyone agrees that we’re deluged in being told about the dangers of the world and of terrorism – because if you’re reading lots of stuff about security, and perhaps about the NSA, then you’re also going to hear a lot about terrorism.

Stepping outside the circle of people who spend hours each day reading about security, security programs, and terrorism, however, terrorism as a public policy concern ranks behind the economy, health-care, and other issues (though terrorism continues to be perceived as an important issue) for most. Indeed, even just after the Boston bombings, <a href=″>Americans feared random violence more than terrorism.

The tired comparisons of the number of deaths due to terrorism and the number of deaths due to (cancer, motor vehicle accidents, etc.) are meant to argue that we spend too much time on terrorism, and that our shock at 9/11 should occur each time we encounter something that causes an equivalent number of deaths over a year.

And the comparisons are silly. We spend nearly 20% of our GDP on health-care – or nearly 3 trillion dollars a year. We spend huge sums on motor vehicle safety each year, ranging from training and testing new drivers to requiring manufacturers to make products to certain specs to designing and testing roadways to maintaining roadways to inspecting vehicles to enforcing traffic laws.

When your main topic of conversation is “the security state”, then via the availability heuristic it will be easy for one to suppose that public thoughts are dominated by the “security state” and that we’re all much too focused on it.

But, if you look at what we actually spend most of our money and time on, that’s actually not the case. We’re all much more concerned about our family’s health, our health, our bills, our employment, etc., than terrorism.

At first I was a bit bemused by the author’s perceptions, and found them interesting purely from a psychological vantage, but then he took a turn into paranoid territory:

He writes: As Scahill describes the results, the United States Special Forces kill lists of seven targets gave rise to kill lists of hundreds, which in turn gave rise to kill lists of thousands today. Does it not occur to the United States that the drone strikes and assassinations are creating more terrorists than they are neutralizing? Perhaps it has, but the calculation has been made that it does not matter. The newly minted enemies can be used to gin up more fear, more restrictions on our freedoms, and so the cycle goes.

This is a fairly bizarre diagnosis of the use of targeted killing, that the US knows it will create more terrorists than are neutralized, but the US doesn’t care because the US wants to sustain a war on terror because… I don’t know, POWER.

The air strikes the author speaks of occur in countries where the government has lost control of some of its territory; from within those areas, certain groups plan, prepare, and execute attacks on local/host government forces and officials, and often on American and allied forces and officials. Policymakers have an array of choices, ranging from “do nothing” to “offer lots of money for the attacks to stop” to “launch invasion.” None of those choices is a silver bullet. A campaign that focuses on disrupting key networks and knowledge holders by targeted strikes, while, to the extent possible, encouraging host governments to extend rule of law and aid into the uncontrolled areas (often funded by US dollars), is about the least bad choice available to them.

But it has nothing to do with deliberately fostering fear in order to continue a war.

Mike January 30, 2014 1:55 PM

Obama’s problem is, he has all these military industrial types feeding him FUD. All in an attempt to bolster their budgets and pay their corporate contractors.

More people die from car accidents and slipping in the tub, than terrorist attacks. The same might not be true in Iraq, but we’re different from Iraqi’s.

For example, most Americans don’t think that anyone who doesn’t believe in their religion, is an unworthy infidel that must die.

America is a different culture. Yes we have our mass shootings, but I believe that has more to do with bullying and money issues most of the time.

Even so, it’s a small number compared to car accidents and industrial chemical plant explosions due to poor management and profit seeking cutting of safety/training corners.

Catiline January 30, 2014 3:16 PM


I agree with you that this author seems a bit paranoid. I believe his case could be made more strongly by asking not “How can I spend one dollar most efficiently to reduce life lost?” but “How can I spend one ADDITIONAL dollar most efficiently to reduce life lost?” The author would presumably argue not that driving school is a better use of dollars than having an army, but rather that if some marginal dollars were diverted from the army to driving school, overall life lost would diminish.

I also think that the author’s attack on targeted killings and your defense are equally based more on sentiment than evidence. Whether any high-value targets remain, the amount of hatred incited by collateral damage, and the availability of alternative methods of neutralizing known plotters are all difficult questions to evaluate… the utility of the targeted killing policy is unknown, and a question, perhaps, for experts like Bruce Schneier to ponder?

Given these difficulties, an intelligent person might wonder at the motivations of a politician who, whenever the question of counterterrorism policy arises, invokes the specter of another 9/11 to justify the disbursement of huge sums of taxpayer dollars on controversial policies. Is he motivated by campaign dollars? Populism? Jingoism? Or is he merely ignorant or dismissive of the potential costs of his policies to the health of democracy?

I suspect these questions are the ones the author is trying to articulate.

oops January 31, 2014 12:52 AM

“The other is among us” – this is the stuff of the community organizer. Who was elected President. Who then told us that half the country is ‘radical’ or acts in bad faith. Who then used/and uses the IRS to persecute political ‘enemies’.. Ah never mind it couldn’t happen here..

vas pup February 4, 2014 11:39 AM

@Alexis: Thank you!
@Skeptical: “least bad choice available to them”. That is not only to them, but for us when we participate in election process.
General: (1)fear is used to bring you into emotional state when your capacity to rational thinking is decreased, but ‘suggestability’ increased, and as result easy manipulation without applying direct force: you are doing what is not good for you, but for manipulator.
(2)radicalization inside the country is like kidney stones, meaning you can’t just remove them and problem is resolved, they are symptoms of internal malfunction which should be analyzed and cure.
(3)allocation of money is often based on prevention of psychological risks (feel safe) rather than objective level of risk based on statistics (being safe).

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.