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Sham Security Theater

This is one of the many reasons that I disapprove of George Bush. Not to say, of course, that I expect either of the "change" candidates on offer to change it.

During one secondary inspection, at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, I was wearing under my shirt a spectacular, only-in-America device called a "Beerbelly," a neoprene sling that holds a polyurethane bladder and drinking tube. The Beerbelly, designed originally to sneak alcohol--up to 80 ounces--into football games, can quite obviously be used to sneak up to 80 ounces of liquid through airport security. (The company that manufactures the Beerbelly also makes something called a "Winerack," a bra that holds up to 25 ounces of booze and is recommended, according to the company's Web site, for PTA meetings.) My Beerbelly, which fit comfortably over my beer belly, contained two cans' worth of Bud Light at the time of the inspection. It went undetected. The eight-ounce bottle of water in my carry-on bag, however, was seized by the federal government.

On another occasion, at LaGuardia, in New York, the transportation-security officer in charge of my secondary screening emptied my carry-on bag of nearly everything it contained, including a yellow, three-foot-by-four-foot Hezbollah flag, purchased at a Hezbollah gift shop in south Lebanon. The flag features, as its charming main image, an upraised fist clutching an AK-47 automatic rifle. Atop the rifle is a line of Arabic writing that reads Then surely the party of God are they who will be triumphant. The officer took the flag and spread it out on the inspection table. She finished her inspection, gave me back my flag, and told me I could go. I said, "That's a Hezbollah flag." She said, "Uh-huh." Not "Uh-huh, I've been trained to recognize the symbols of anti-American terror groups, but after careful inspection of your physical person, your behavior, and your last name, I've come to the conclusion that you are not a Bekaa Valley-trained threat to the United States commercial aviation system," but "Uh-huh, I'm going on break, why are you talking to me?"



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Carl Pham wrote:

Wait...why does this make you disapprove of the President, Rand?

Crouching behind a Maginot Line drawn through every airport is the Democratic "terrorism is a law enforcement problem" position. The default Bush position is far more forward-based, i.e. go find them and kill them where they live, Waziristan, et cetera, using such unpopular techniques as listening in on international phone calls without a warrant, and waterboarding useful information out of shitheads in Guantanamo.

I'd think the evident threadbareness of the TSA defense, coupled with the fact of no successful terrorist attacks in 7 years, would point to the remarkable success of the "Bush Doctrine" and the notion that the best defense is a strong offense.

It's true, of course, that Bush himself was not a whole-hearted convert to the Bush Doctrine, and proposed creating the TSA himself. Leaving aside the fact that he's never been the warmongering imperialist his critics suggest, what else was he going to do? Imagine the response of the Democrats had he not proposed some kind of security theater.

It's interesting, however, that we got the same response to the latest financial hoohah. A real solid conservative would have just faced it down. Yeah, lots of folks on Wall Street apparently made some bad decisions and are about to go seriously broke. An interesting lesson there. What? No, I don't think it's appropriate for government to interfere with their karma.

However, instead we got the equivalent of the TSA and Dept of Homeland Security, the massive Paulson plan. And this is the most libertarian President we are likely to see in the first half of the 21st century!

Jardinero1 wrote:

"the fact of no successful terrorist attacks in 7 years, would point to the remarkable success of the "Bush Doctrine" and the notion that the best defense is a strong offense."

Ever hear of the induction problem?

Carl Pham wrote:

Ever hear of the induction problem?

Sure, ever hear of common sense?

It's true that if I flip a coin a hundred times and it comes up heads every time, I have no proof that the coin is not fair. But that's how the smart money bets.

Or, let's look at it another way. The recent financial mess happened after eight years of the Bush Administration. Is it reasonable for Bush defenders to have the burden of proof that it isn't Bush's fault? Most people would say it is. If you want to presume bad stuff that happens after eight years of Bush is Bush's fault, intellectual consistency demands that you equally presume that good stuff that happens after eight years of Bush is to Bush's credit.

Jardinero1 wrote:

The only conclusion I draw is that successful terrorist attacks don't happen very often in the USA with or without the Bush Doctrine.

Carl Pham wrote:

The only conclusion I draw is that successful terrorist attacks don't happen very often in the USA with or without the Bush Doctrine.

Really? Slept through the 1990s, did you?

Jeff Medcalf wrote:

There is a wonderful — well, an informative and well-written — book called The Cell, by a journalist who covered NYC from before the first WTC attack until after 9/11. I believe he worked with Brokaw, but don't remember the details of his biography and don't care to take the time to look them up. In any case, the book was a work of non-fiction, looking at a particular jihadi cell and its various connections in and around NYC. It is an incredibly useful look at how the jihad actually works, and how the different connections between groups cause a large terror attack to emerge from a lot of small actions that are not, in and of themselves, particularly dangerous. In addition, it shows how the government prefers not to devote resources to these little penny-ante things, because they won't make the bureaucrats' career, are a difficult-to-justify budget item, aren't rising to the level of notice it would take to be taken seriously, and so forth.

Given all of this, I think that it's pretty clear that the Bush administration picked an extraordinarily effective set of actions to tackle the problem. Domestically, there is a serious law enforcement effort on finding these cells (many of which have no direct connection to the central jihadi groups) and tracking the connections between them. This is why we keep hearing of terror plots being disrupted, including 9/11-scale attacks, and why we then see a couple of kids in court whose lawyers keep saying that just because they had jihadi propaganda and were illegally procuring arms for some other group, that doesn't make them terrorists; and besides, no attack was carried out. (There were at least three different groups that, had they been arrested, would have looked just like this, yet would have broken critical links in one or both of the WTC attacks.) Against the jihadi core groups, there are both overt and covert military actions. Against the states that fund and support the jihadis, there are banking actions and sanctions, including those that come automatically merely by being on the terrorism supporters' list. Against the jihadis' use of safe havens, there is a military presence in Afghanistan, and there are military operations in Africa and SE Asia. Against the jihadi ideology, there is Iraq. (That may require a little explanation: in brief, if your ideology says you cannot lose, and you are losing, that's a problem for your ideology.)

What Bush has failed at is explaining why those particular actions are necessary, how they work, why they are useful as a package even when as individual efforts they sometimes look unimportant, and how in general the jihad works. Since he's failed to explain that — apparently in an attempt to avoid alarming us, which is ironic considering how often he is accused of trying to scare us — he is frequently undermined by arguments that are easily disposed of, and it is unlikely that, no matter who wins the election, his very effective policies will survive his administration intact.

This is all to the point that Jardinero1 has clearly missed how terrorism works, and what is required to fight it, as shown in his deliberate obtuseness or lack of decade old historical knowledge, or possibly both.

Carl Pham wrote:

What Bush has failed at is explaining...

Jeff, fair enough, but...ask yourself this: if the empirical fact that his policies, whatever they are, have worked isn't going to convince someone that they're effective -- why would any long chain of Sherlock Holmes argumentation?

When you're dealing with complex events involving huge numbers of people, anyone can come up with a plausible theory about whether x should cause y. Financial reporters do it all the time when they're covering the stock market. Stocks rallied today because investors were thinking blah blah blah. And then some other analyst comes along and says No, stocks were up because of foo bar baz.

Generally it's all bullshit. It's easy to come up with a convincing chain of logic that gives you whatever conclusion you want, when dealing with such a very complex and poorly understood system. It's easy to explain how and why the Bush Doctrine worked -- and just as easy to explain how and why it can't possible work. That's how flexible and powerful logic and reason are, in the face of insufficient data.

So, surely, in the face of so much uselessly contradictory theory, we should turn to measurement. The bottom line, for a rational person not in love with spinning airy theories, is whether there has been a decrease in terrorist activity following implementation of the policy. For such a person -- and Bush may be one of them himself -- convincing "explanations" about why what happened happened are not nearly as important.

Jardinero1 wrote:

If there was a successful terrorist attack today, would the Bush doctrine be a success or a failure?

Carl Pham wrote:

It would still be a success, but less of one.

And if there were no more attacks for another eight years, it would stay at that level. On the other hand, if there another attack six months later, and then another, it would become less and less of a success and at some point turn into a failure.

You see how it works now?

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on October 20, 2008 6:21 AM.

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