Ohio State Prof: “What Terrorist Threat?”
By Patrick Poole
Existential Space | October 26, 2006
With the fifth anniversary of 9/11 now behind us, I’m sure that few of us can forget the horror and uncertainty of that day. But despite the pervasive presence of that event in our collective memory, some in academia say we do not need to fight a war on terror because we are fighting “an enemy that scarcely exists.”
See as Exhibit A the lead article in the September-October issue of Foreign Affairs – published by the Council on Foreign Relations and considered one of the premiere sources of foreign policy for the East Coast Leftist and inside-the-Beltway establishments, where you will find an article by John Mueller, “Is There Still a Terrorist Threat?”, which is summarized as follows:
Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11. The reasonable – but rarely heard – explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.
This conclusion might strike most of us who pay attention to the news as patently bizarre, but Mueller is not some visiting lecturer at Antioch College or Berkeley; he is a professor at one of the largest and most respected public universities in the country: The Ohio State University (my alma mater). In fact, Mueller holds the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies, named after Ohio State’s beloved pugilistic and military historian football coach, and a professorship in the Department of Political Science (my undergraduate major).
Of course, in August the U.S., UK, and Pakistan foiled a terror plot to attack U.S.-bound airliners, potentially killing hundreds or thousands of Americans, but we find out that Mueller doesn’t let that fact get in his way. More to the point, there is evidence immediately at hand in Central Ohio to refute his ridiculous argument. In June 2004, Nuradin Abdi and Iyman Faris were arrested and charged with terrorism for plotting to blow up a Columbus-area shopping mall and making plans to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge. Faris, who admitted to receiving his orders directly from former al-Qaeda terror operations chief, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, pled guilty to the terrorism charges; Abdi’s case comes to trial this month at the Federal courthouse just a few miles from Mueller’s office.
Upon reading his argument that there is no terror threat to the US, I sent Professor Mueller an e-mail identifying myself as an Ohio State alum and Political Science graduate, politely asking him whether the revelations of this most recent plot to blow up US-bound airliners contradicted his thesis that there is no actual terrorist threat. Within a few hours, I received his single sentence reply:
“Why do you think it contradicts my thesis?”
In my response to his question I noted the fairly obvious conclusion that the existence of actual terror plots against the United States would flatly refute his contention that there are no terror plots against the US. That seems logical to me; but then again, Mueller is Political Science faculty, not Philosophy. Needless to say, since I pointed this out to him, I haven’t heard from Mueller again.
In his article, he gives evidence that logic is not his strong suit when he openly contradicts himself:
But if it is so easy to pull off an attack and if terrorists are so demonically competent, why have they not done it? Why have they not been sniping at people in shopping centers, collapsing tunnels, poisoning the food supply, cutting electrical lines, derailing trains, blowing up oil pipelines, causing massive traffic jams, or exploiting the countless other vulnerabilities that, according to security experts, could so easily be exploited? One reasonable explanation is that almost no terrorists exist in the United States and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad. But this explanation is rarely offered.
Given their previous history of striking when their media cache sinks, wouldn’t it be more likely that al-Qaeda would attempt another 9/11-style attack to demonstrate their potency and to mask their current “desperation, isolation, fragmentation, and decline,” much as he claims they did on 9/11?
Of course, there are a number of factors that have prevented al-Qaeda from striking America again, most importantly our military assaults against them abroad and vigorous law enforcement measures at home. This includes the destruction of Al-Qaeda’s Taliban safe haven, intensive signals surveillance and human intelligence gathering, the capture and dismantling of their terror cells around the world, the identification and freezing of their financial assets and disrupting their sources of income, and the U.S. military pushing what remains of al-Qaeda’s leadership into the remote mountain caves of Waziristan.
None of that fits into his assessment, however: if al-Qaeda actually intended to strike us again they would have successfully done so by now; therefore there is no real terror threat to the US, Mueller smugly concludes. Just who exactly is arguing for the “demonically competent” terrorist, Professor Mueller? But elsewhere he writes that al-Qaeda’s powers are “overblown” and “greatly exaggerated”; that they have reached the point of “desperation, isolation, fragmentation, and decline”; and that they “scarcely exist.”
Being the good social scientist, Mueller finally retreats to the data, equating the risk to individual Americans of being killed in a terrorist attack as being hit by a meteor or drowning in the bathtub:
But while keeping such potential dangers in mind, it is worth remembering that the total number of people killed since 9/11 by al Qaeda or al Qaedalike operatives outside of Afghanistan and Iraq is not much higher than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States in a single year, and that the lifetime chance of an American being killed by international terrorism is about one in 80,000 — about the same chance of being killed by a comet or a meteor. Even if there were a 9/11-scale attack every three months for the next five years, the likelihood that an individual American would number among the dead would be two hundredths of a percent (or one in 5,000).
If we were to take Mueller’s argument to its logical conclusion, since the annual fatality rate for car crashes in the US is 14 out of every 100,000 people, we should stop having law enforcement patrol highways. And since the lifetime risk of dying in an airplane crash is a staggering 1 in 8 million, the U.S. government should close down the National Transportation Safety Board, because there really isn’t much of a threat statistically speaking. But what comfort would Mueller’s cold calculus be to a grieving widow or widower that lost their spouse on 9/11 that their death was little more than a statistical improbability?
It is interesting to note that one scholar that Mueller cites in support of his argument is Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East studies professor at Sarah Lawrence College, who argues that militant Islam is an invention of the West and that radical Islam had for the most part abandoned violence prior to 9/11 for politics. As Jonathan Calt Harris of Campus Watch explained in the National Review in 2003, Gerges has a habit of trying to hold mutually exclusive positions – all to the detriment of the foreign policy and national security of the United States:
Gerges feels America is wrong for taking militant Islam seriously, wrong for aiding Arab states against militant Islamic opposition and wrong for not aiding Arab states against Israel. America should not “collectively punish,” yet should deny aid to a state based on the actions of its unelected ruler. America should not act “hegemonically,” yet must “push along” Islamist groups to democracy, and “literally push” Arabs and Israelis to a solution. America cannot escape its “blood legacy” for supporting Saddam decades ago, yet now it is perpetrating a “unilateral military onslaught” by removing him.
Mueller not only quotes Gerges approvingly, but heartily embraces his “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” approach to radical Islam and terrorism. For both, it is as if 9/11 never occurred and that there really is no enemy for us to protect ourselves against – except the Bush Administration, which in their mind is a cross between the Khmer Rouge and Italian fascism. Thus for these “scholars”, any terror-related intelligence gathering, investigations, or (heaven forbid) arrests of terror suspects are gross human rights abuses and war crimes.
The only other scholar cited by Mueller in his Foreign Affairs article is Georgetown law professor David Cole, who has recently received awards from the Communist Party USA-founded National Lawyers Guild (who Erick Stakelbeck has described as “Cheerleaders of Terrorism”), the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (which openly supports suicide terrorist attacks against Israel), and the American Muslim Council (whose chairman was imprisoned in 2003 for terrorism-related charges). In addition, he serves as the legal affairs correspondent for the far Left magazine, The Nation.
Last year, Cole complained to U.S. News and World Report that the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team was conducting radiation monitoring at 120 sites, including mosques, in the Washington D.C.-area and five other cities to prevent a nuclear attack against the US. Cole asserted that driving by these places each day with a Geiger counter was a violation of the most basic constitutional protections. This past May he protested the fairness of the conviction of Palestinian Islamic Jihad support, Sami al-Arian, and defended al-Arian’s innocence, despite the fact that al-Arian eventually pled guilty to the charges.
Cole is also a volunteer staff attorney and sits on the board of the George Soros-financed Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). The most recent publication by the CCR is the book, Articles of Impeachment of George W. Bush, and their most recent legal victory was securing civil liberties for the captured terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Again, Fawaz Gerges and David Cole are the only two scholars cited by Mueller, both of whom play to the conspiracy-mongers among the Daily Kos and Democratic Underground crowd. Is it any wonder then that Mueller’s Foreign Affairs article is laced with very familiar Leftist catch-phrases (“the ill-considered U.S. venture in Iraq”), politically-charged indictments (“The FBI embraces a spooky I-think-therefore-they-are line of reasoning when assessing the purported terrorist menace”) and completely over-the-top comparisons (likening US terror investigations to the Japanese-American internments of WWII)?
Professor Mueller’s opinion is sure to be sought out by eager New York Times reporters digging for quotes and his Foreign Affairs article cited in the press releases that stream endlessly from Howard Dean’s office at the Democratic National Committee, but what does it say about academia in America today that recognizing the deadly obvious terror threat to our country is considered a Copernican heresy by the faculty of our some of our most prominent colleges and universities? If 9/11 wasn’t sufficient to convince these academics that terrorism exists and that the US is the prime target, it’s doubtful that another attack will.
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