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Here in this little western valley where we live there is going to be an earthquake, a big one if the scientists who study these things are right. Pretty much everyone above the age of ten has heard the warnings. Not very many of us have made any changes in our lives related to that threat. The threat is real enough, but by moving here we have made a choice. That choice includes living in an area of the country where earthquakes can happen at any time.

The science of earthquake prediction is new and accuracy is low. The idea that a big one will come this year hasn’t penetrated the shields of denial that most of us use to live here without freaking out too frequently. The optimism/denial method of dealing with threats to life and limb is a truly beneficial human trait when it is applied to things like earthquakes over which we have minimal control. Why have we stopped using it in relation to Terrorism? The idea that our government can effectively stop terrorism here by waging war half a world away is almost comical in its tragic lack of a connection to reality.

Granted, there are few if any politicians who would dare tell us that there is little that can be done to prevent terrorism. This essay is not an attack singling out Bush in particular; most of our leadership suffers from the same lack of good sense in regard to terrorism and forces of nature. But terrorism, like earthquakes, cannot be ended, it can only be contained. It will certainly not be ended by waging war in Iraq. I have an idea; perhaps we should declare war on earthquakes. Our economy is lagging, it might help. Of course it would do nothing to prevent earthquakes. Our little neo-confident adventure in Iraq has about the same likelihood of success in preventing terrorism as a war on earthquakes would provide against the shaking that we will eventually get here.

Does that mean that we should do nothing? Of course not! It means that once we understand that war in Iraq cannot end terrorism we can actually devise some sensible ways to deal with this problem. In the short term we would have been far better off using the money we are wasting in Iraq making our nation more secure at the local level. $90 billion would have done a lot more to enhance our security if we had spent it here than it has by spending it to demolish and rebuild Iraq. We could have spent it creating rapid response teams to react quickly to terrorism which is more like fire in how it occurs than like war. Terrorism is an act of concentrated violence unlike war which is an enduring level of violence.

In one day the evil acts of 19 mostly Saudi men raised the level of fear in this nation high above the level of reason. From our fear came anger, so we started a war with Iraq. The connection is tenuous at best. We can largely protect ourselves against Terrorism at home. We cannot end “terror” caused by people who embrace death. People like that should only scare us a little unless they are actually present in the room with us. Then we should kill them. People here will not continue to live in greater fear than is necessary to deal with this issue, not at least unless they are badly led. They will begin to apply denial and optimism to the problem before long. As that trend continues the aggressive isolationism of Bush in Iraq will look worse and worse as a response to the problem of terrorism here at home. War fought alone is a lonely enterprise indeed.

We can limit Terrorism’s impact by reducing the attractiveness of various targets and responding quickly to predictable events. For instance, terrorists would love to disrupt the Democratic National Convention in Massachusetts. In that they are much like the Republican Party’s most rabid adherents. Kerry’s election would quite possibly lead to more effective leadership here and more effective international coalitions fighting terrorists. Terrorists would never want that to happen. Bush’s aggressive isolationism is the ideal reaction from our nation for their purposes. It provides terrorists with the enemy of their dreams. In Iraq we are quickly becoming a flailing giant. We will soon look blind and destructive enough to enrage even those in Islamic nations who would never otherwise support terrorism.

Certainly we can scare some of the people who might commit acts of terrorism with our military might, especially those with something substantial to lose like various national leaders. We had scared Saddam out of the terrorism business long before we removed him. That is obviously true in spite of the blatant lies we have been told about his connections to al Queda and Usama. There was clearly no command and control system for managing terrorists in Saddam’s government. Those lies were told in order to gain our acceptance for our government’s war in Iraq. We are there now and it is going to cost us a lot more than $90 billion before we get out. Recruitment and support for Jihad is at an all time high and we have a “War President” in charge here. If Bush is reelected four more years of occupation are the minimum that we need to prepare for in Iraq.

The earthquake is coming and when it hits it will probably be a real blast. Homes will collapse and buildings will suffer damage and everyone will talk about it for a month or so, then we will rebuild. A few may die, a few more will leave and the rest of us will just keep on keeping on with our lives. The same is going to eventually be true of the War on Terror. Once Iraq is settled one way or the other the world will just go on rotating the way it always has. War will linger in Iraq for a time and then the resolution will become obvious to everyone. Live our lives and let others live theirs unless they try to kill us, then kill or capture them and make them stop it. God bless you all and help you keep you and yours safe in this dangerous world.

Posted by Henri Reynard at April 27, 2004 5:12 PM