Wednesday, August 1, 2012

the last book I ever read (Man Hunt, excerpt eight)

from Man Hunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden--From 9/11 to Abbottabad by Peter L. Bergen:

Despite the abject failure of al-Qaeda's strategy on 9/11, a number of prominent writers, academics, and politicians in the West claimed that the attacks on Washington and New York were the beginning of a war with a totalitarian ideology similar to the murderous ideologies the United States had done battle with in the twentieth century. Certainly "Binladenism" shared some commonalities with National Socialism and Stalinism: anti-Semitism and anti-liberalism, the embrace of charismatic leaders, the deft exploitation of modern propaganda methods, and the bogus promise of utopia here on Earth if its programs were implemented. But Binladenism never posed anything like the existential threat that communism or Nazism did. Still, the conviction that "Islamofascism" posed as great a threat to the West as the Nazis or Soviets had was an article of faith for some. The influential neoconservative Richard Perle warned that the West faced "victory or holocaust" in its struggle with the Islamofascists. And the former CIA director James Woolsey because a constant presence on television news programs after 9/11, invoking the specter of World War IV.

But this was all massively overwrought. The Nazis occupied and subjugated most of Europe and instigated a global conflict that killed tens of millions. And the United States spent about 40 percent of its GDP to fight the Nazis, fielding millions of soldiers. Communist regimes killed 100 million people in wars, prison camps, enforced famines, and pogroms.

The threat posed by al-Qaeda is orders of magnitude smaller. Despite bin Laden's hyperventilating rhetoric, there is no danger that his followers will end the American way of life. In almost any given year, Americans are far more likely to drown accidentally in a bathtub than to be killed by a terrorist. Yet, few of us harbor an irrational fear of a bathtub drowning. Al-Qaeda's amateur investigations into weapons of mass destruction do not compare to the very real possibility of nuclear conflagration the world faced during the Cold War, and there are relatively few adherents of Binladenism in the West today, while there were tens of millions of devotees of communism and fascism.

Despite the relative insignificance of the threat posed by al-Qaeda and its allies, the War on Terror was a bonanza for the American national security industrial complex. On 9/11, the annual budget for all the U.S. intelligence agencies was about $25 billion. A decade later it was $80 billion; and by then almost a million Americans held Top Secret clearances, and six out of ten of the richest counties in the United States were in the Washington, D.C., area. If the War on Terror was, in the end, as much about bringing bin Laden to justice as anything else, it is sobering to observe that American intelligence agencies consumed half a trillion dollars on their way to that goal.

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