Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why are we spending so much on anti-terrorism?

September 11, 2001 was a terrible day. A couple thousand Americans lost their lives in a flash and the most powerful country on earth was shocked into realizing that two oceans did not protect it from terrorism. How did the US react? It declared war on terrorism and began not only to hunt down the perpetrators of the terrorist attack, but also to incriminate the countries that harbored these terrorists. Front and foremost, Iraq. With claims that this dangerous country not only harbored and supported terrorists, but was also in possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), the US declared war on the country and invaded it. With Iraq "taken care of", the US began to concentrate on another supposed haven for terrorists: Afghanistan. And, thus, the next military campaign began.

In the years between September 11, 2001 and now, the US has not only prosecuted its war on terrorism overseas, but has also begun the process of fortifying its defenses against future terror attacks. The department of homeland security was founded, countless security enhancements to the nations airports and shipping ports were added, and Americans were stripped of rights and freedoms - all to keep us safe from the terrorists.

Enough for the history lesson. I want to pose a question:
Is the war on terrorism really being fought to rid the world of Al Qaeda or is it being waged in order to keep the US military and defense related industries in business?

Before you dismisses the question as too ludicrous or cynical, let's look at some points:
  • During the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the US spent hundreds of billions of dollars every year to build nuclear weapons, fighter jets, bombers, stealth planes, and hair-brained ideas such as Star Wars. Once the Soviet Union imploded, the trillions of dollars which previously flowed into the defense industry coffers began to flow less freely. But have you heard of any defense contractors going out of business?
  • No need for defense companies to fear: while the Soviet Union was in its death throes, Iraq - previously an ally of the US and whom the US even supplied with weapons (made by the same defense contractors that supplied the US military, of course) - became new enemy #1 when it invaded Kuwait. Phenomenal amounts of military munitions were spent (and subsequently needed to be replenished) in Operation Desert Storm.
  • The second Iraq war and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan cost - and continues to cost - the American tax payer trillions of dollars. Almost none of it is actually going to the Iraqi or Afghan people. Most of it goes into the coffers of the defense contractors to pay for the weapons that destroyed - and continues to destroy - those countries. And it goes to defense contractors to "rebuild" the countries' infrastructure which their weapons previously destroyed.
  • At home, we're spending billions of dollars more on supposed anti-terrorist technologies and processes. There are the full-body-scanners at airports, the thousands of new cameras in our cities, the various emergency response centers, computers that monitor all telephone conversations for subversive words, etc.
Now, one has to ask oneself: why does the US tax payer put up with these enormous expenditures? Because they're told that all these things will make them safer. And Americans, after 9/11 felt terribly unsafe. The ever-present "terrorist" bogey man was the perfect mechanism through which to keep up the fear and justify almost any expenditure.

I think the expenditure on anti-terrorist activities are way out of proportion to the dangers posed by terrorism. We're told that countless terrorist acts have been prevented because of the job our government does to protect us, but we don't know whether this is true. And even if it is, what kinds of terrorist acts are being prevented? An envelope with poison being sent to a politician is an act of terrorism, but do we need to spend trillions of dollars to protect a few citizens? European countries have faced constant terrorist acts for 50+ years without driving themselves bankrupt. How are they doing it? Not by invading other countries or waging a futile, never-ending war on an elusive, intangible enemy. Instead, Europeans have tried to prevent major terrorist acts and, more importantly, have tried to address some of the root causes of terrorism. It is much more cost effective to prevent someone from becoming desperate enough to turn into a terrorist than to prevent terrorist acts.

What are the root causes of terrorism against the United States? I don't know. But I suspect that the Israel-Palestinian situation is a major contributor. For the past half century, the US has stood as the staunchest ally and protector of Israel, a country which came into existence at the expense of the Palestinian people. A country that continues to deny the Palestinian people basic human rights. I imagine that a people whose plight is ignored by the world at large for half a century can be desperate enough to turn to terrorism.

Am I way off the mark? I invite any discussion on the subject.

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