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July 19, 2005

CALEB CARR WRITES ON TERRORISTS AND THE SMELL OF FEAR:

What common elements can we establish among these societies at the given moments that they were victimized?

Of paramount interest is the fact that each nation had recently exhibited a weakening public determination to aggressively meet the rising challenge of Islamist terrorism. Consider the U.S. of 2001: The Clinton administration had left behind a record of essentially ignoring those few terrorism analysts who asserted that full-fledged military action against al Qaeda's Afghan training bases, backed by the possibility of military strikes against other terrorist sponsor states, was the only truly effective method of preventing an eventual attack within U.S. borders. President Clinton himself, we now know, at times favored such decisive moves; but opposition from various members of his cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and finally (as well as most importantly) a general public that would not or could not confront the true extent of the Islamist problem generally, and al Qaeda specifically, forced him to confine his responses to occasional and counterproductive bombings -- even as the death toll from al Qaeda attacks on U.S. interests abroad rose dramatically. Correctly sensing that the new president, George W. Bush, was treating the terrorist threat with a similar attitude of denial, al Qaeda's Hamburg-based subsidiaries launched the 9/11 operation. . . .

In all of these examples, then, the "trigger" for terrorist action was not any newly adopted Western posture of force and defiance. Rather, it was a deepening of the targeted public's wish to deal with terrorism through avoidance and accommodation, a mass descent into the psychological belief, so often disproved by history, that if we only leave vicious attackers alone, they will leave us alone. It is hardly surprising that by actively trying -- or merely indicating that they wished -- to bury their collective heads in the sand, the societies were led not to peace but to more violent attacks.

Indeed.