Why, absent any evidence of a serious domestic terror threat, is the War on Terror so enormous, so all-encompassing, and still expanding?
The fundamental answer is that al Qaedas most important accomplishment was not to hijack our planes, but to hijack our political system. For a multitude of politicians, interest groups, professional associations, corporations, media organizations, universities, local and state governments and federal agency officials, the War on Terror is now a major profit center, a funding bonanza, and a set of slogans and sound bites to be inserted into budget, project, grant and contract proposals. For the country as a whole, however, it has become a maelstrom of waste and worry that distracts us from more serious problems.
Consider the congressional response.
In mid-2003, the Department of Homeland Security compiled a list of 160 potential terrorist targets, triggering intense efforts by representatives, senators and their constituents to find potential targets in their districts that might require protection and therefore be eligible for federal funding. The result? Widened definitions and blurrier categories of potential targets and mushrooming increases in the infrastructure and assets deemed worthy of protection. By late 2003, the list had increased more than tenfold to 1,849; by 2004 it had grown to 28,364; by 2005 it mushroomed to 77,069; and by 2006 it was approximately 300,000.
Across the country, hundreds of interest groups recast their traditional objectives and funding proposals to reflect the new imperatives of the new war. The National Rifle Association declared that the War on Terror means more Americans should own firearms to defend against terrorists. The gun control lobby argued that fighting the War on Terror means passing stricter gun control laws to keep assault weapons out of the hands of terrorists. Schools of veterinary medicine called for quadrupling funding to train veterinarians to defend the country against terrorists using foot-and-mouth disease to decimate cattle herds. Pharmacists advocated the creation of pharmaceutical SWAT teams to respond quickly with appropriate drugs to the victims of terrorist attacks.
According to a 2005 report by the Small Business Administration (SBA) inspector general, 85 percent of the businesses granted low-interest SBA counterterrorism loans failed to establish their eligibility. The SBA authorized 7,000 loans worth more than $3 billion, including $22 million in loans to Dunkin Donuts franchises in nine states.
With a half-billion dollars in homeland security funds available for bulking up the counterterrorist and intelligence capabilities of state and local police and sheriffs departments, jurisdictions throughout the country scrambled to expand lists of potential threats. By 2006, thanks to this flood of federal funding, more than 100 police departments had established some type of intelligence unit.
Other cities found more imaginative ways to combat terrorism. In May 2007, Augusta, Ga., officials authorized spending $3 million to protect fire hydrants against terrorist tampering. This spending decision was recommended by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, which cited a 2004 government report labeling hydrants a top vulnerability. Not surprisingly, the American Waterworks Association warmly endorsed the idea of spending nearly $60 billion to protect fire hydrants nationwide.
Universities also have benefited from the ready availability of new grant and contract funds, creating graduate programs in homeland security, institutes on terrorism and counterterrorism, and proposals for academic conferences.
It is difficult to blame scientists and researchers for responding to government appeals to devote their talents to the War on Terror. In 2004, I attended a lecture given by the official in charge of encouraging scientists to shift their research activities in this direction. We were told that no matter what topics we worked on, and whether we were natural scientists or behavioral scientists, our work likely could help in the fight against terrorism. The official strongly encouraged us to submit grant proposals for projects based on outside the box thinking because, he said, there was plenty of money available.
Officially, the terrorist threat level is always and everywhere no less than elevated. The threat is constantly dangled before us: ports, border crossings, the milk supply, cattle herds, liquid natural gas tankers, nuclear power plants, drinking water, tunnels, bridges, subways. The result: continued support for ever-increasing funding.
Within little more than half a decade America adjusted psychologically, politically and militarily to the Soviet enemy and its capacity to incinerate our cities on a moments notice. We came to know the Soviet enemy very well and were able to adopt prudent, realistic and successful policies in the face of genuine threats of national destruction posed by Moscows nuclear arsenal.
Rather than let our fears and anxieties of Muslim fanatics drive policy, we need the same sober approach to the real but lesser threat posed by terrorists.
The Hill (Washington, D.C.)
Ian S. Lustick is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Professor of Political Science and Director of Graduate Studies in the Political Science Department at the University of Pennsylvania, where he holds the Bess W. Heyman Chair.
William F. Shughart II is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, Frederick A. P. Barnard Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Mississippi, and editor of the Independent Institute book, Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination.
P. Halbrook, Ph.D., J.D., is Research Fellow at The Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif., and author of the forthcoming book, The
Founders' Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms, as
well as the books, That
Every Man Be Armed (Independent Institute) and Freedmen, the Fourteenth
Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms.
Donald A. Downs is Professor of Political Science, Law, and Journalism at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Research Fellow at The Independent Institute.
Mike Moore is Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, former editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and author of the book, Twilight War: The Folly of U.S. Space Dominance.
John Semmens is a research fellow at the Independent Institute, a research project manager in the Arizona Department of Transportation Research Center, and contributing author to the Independent Institute book, Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship and the Future of Roads, edited by Gabriel Roth.
S. Fred Singer, an atmospheric physicist, is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, and former founding Director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. He is author of Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warmings Unfinished Debate (The Independent Institute, 1997).
Dr. James L. Payne is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Director of Lytton Research and Analysis and author of numerous books, including A History of Force: Exploring the Worldwide Movement Against Habits of Coercion, Bloodshed, and Mayhem,and he has taught political science at Yale University, Wesleyan University, Johns Hopkins University, and Texas A & M University.
Ernest C. Pasour is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University, and author of Plowshares & Pork Barrels: The Political Economy of Agriculture (with Randy Rucker) and Agriculture and the State from the Independent Institute.
Randal R. Rucker is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University, and co-author (with E.C. Pasour, Jr.) of Plowshares & Pork Barrels: The Political Economy of Agriculture.
Charles V. Peña is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute as well as a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, and an adviser on the Straus Military Reform Project.
William Ratliff is Adjunct Fellow at the Independent Institute, Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and a frequent writer on Chinese and Cuban foreign policies.
Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Full Biography and Recent Publications
Jonathan J. Bean is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at Southern Illinois University, and editor of the forthcoming book, Race and Liberty: The Classical Liberal Tradition of Civil Rights.
Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute. He earned
his bachelor's degree in American history from the University of California
at Berkeley and gave the undergraduate history commencement speech in
2003. In addition to his work with the Independent Institute, he regularly
writes for numerous news and commentary web sites, including LewRockwell.com,
Future of Freedom Foundation, and the Rational Review.
Dominick T. Armentano is professor emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford (Connecticut) and a research fellow at The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. He is author of Antitrust & Monopoly (Independent Institute, 1998).
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is director of The Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute. He is a native of Peru and received his B.S.C. in international history from the London School of Economics. He is widely published and has lectured on world economic and political issues including at the Mont Pelerin Society, Naumann Foundation (Germany), FAES Foundation (Spain), Brazilian Institute of Business Studies, Fundación Libertad (Argentina), CEDICE Foundation (Venezuela), Florida International University, and the Ecuadorian Chamber of Commerce. He is the author of the Independent Institute books The Che Guevara Myth and Liberty for Latin America. Full biography and recent publications.
Gabriel Roth is a transport and privatization consultant and a research fellow at the Independent Institute, where he is editing a book on private-sector roles in the provision of roads, Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads.
Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute,
author of Against Leviathan and Crisis and Leviathan, and editor of the
scholarly quarterly journal, The Independent Review. Click
here for a bio on Dr. Higgs, the noted economist and historian.
William Marina is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus of History at Florida Atlantic University.
T. Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, Associate
Professor of History at the University of Alabama, and co-editor of
the book, The
Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society.
For further information, see the Independent Institutes book on wasteful farm programs, Agriculture and the State: Market Processes and Bureaucracy, by Ernest C. Pasour, Jr.