America’s greatest risk: Terrorism or itself?


In Newsweek’s Special Edition – Issues 2010, Stephen Flynn writes about how America’s greatest risk is itself: the danger that the American government will overreact to the terror threat, and hence disrupt how America has been operating all this while.

Flynn argues that “the greatest peril today is not of an attack but the danger the country will overreact”. A terrorist attack might make huge headline news and cause much panic and trouble, but it seems like the government is in the meantime neglecting other disasters that could potentially claim as many, if not more, lives. For instance, hurricanes and earthquakes or even H1N1 and avian flu. The threat of terror certainly remains, but overreaction could cause huge trauma on top of the damage already done by the terrorists. The blockade of the US economy thanks to the grounding of all flights and closing of all borders post-911 would have accomplished exactly the economic damage that the terrorists aim to inflict upon America.

Flynn then proposes that the government should abandon the “muscular but unrealistic ‘protection at all costs’ approach”. Bush may have claimed that “terrorists need to get things right just once, the nation’s defenders have to be right 100% of the time”, but this is an “impossible standard” since no government in history has ever accomplished this. Singapore may be close to this, but only in recent history: one only needs to think back to the Konfrontasi period in the 1960s when the Indonesians struck the McDonald House to recall that Singapore has not been exactly immune to acts of terror (in particular, one inflicted by the government of an opposing force).

In essence, the government needs to get the citizens involved and not just be the big nanny and take charge if and when terror strikes. Flynn states that “terror works only if it convinces people they are vulnerable and powerless”, so if the government can give people ways to “address their vulnerabilities”, terrorism might not be as “terrifying” as perceived to be. The citizens should “share the responsibility for preparing the nation to cope with man-made and natural disasters”, so that people will become better able to “withstand, recover and adapt to catastrophic risks”.


  1. Consider too: Obama had recently announced the spending freeze in America’s Budget, on most aspects of the economy, except Defense Spending. How America handles her Budget Deficit, in the near/and long-term future, will have an impact on geopolitical distributions of power (politically and economically).

    David E. Sanger reports:
    “By President Obama’s own optimistic projections, American deficits will not return to what are widely considered sustainable levels over the next 10 years. In fact, in 2019 and 2020 — years after Mr. Obama has left the political scene, even if he serves two terms — they start rising again sharply, to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. His budget draws a picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.

    For Mr. Obama and his successors, the effect of those projections is clear: Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors. Beyond that lies the possibility that the United States could begin to suffer the same disease that has afflicted Japan over the past decade. As debt grew more rapidly than income, that country’s influence around the world eroded.”

    This is important because with weak spending power necessarily comes a diminution of international political clout. The US will do better to mitigate her budget deficit as a longer-term security strategy – because the security issues are not in-situ: at the moment, spending more on defense is economically inefficient.

    Yglesias adds:
    “But I think it also illustrates that for all the vastness of its budget, the Department of Defense has a limited relevance to the international relationships that really matter. When you think about the impact of China on the lives of Americans, the complicated interplay between trade flows, budget deficits, and currency value is far, far, far more significant than this business about how China’s defense budget isn’t fully transparent. But that’s all the Treasury Department’s problem.

    This in turn highlights the fact that it seems pointless to try to draw a budgetary distinction between “security” and “non-security” agencies. Our interests around the world are inherently connected to the impact of the world on events inside our borders.”

  2. America’s Department of Defense / Homeland Security is too taxed out in too many aspects. Inevitable given the behemoth America has become and its desire to continue wielding its hegemony in the world. There needs to be focus somewhere but the key question is on what.

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