Commentary: Playing politics with terrorism makes us all losers

The Myrtle Beach SunDecember 1, 2009 

Dana Perino, who served as White House press secretary for President George W. Bush and has been nominated by President Obama to serve on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, said something on Fox News recently that perked up the ears of those on the left.

"We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush's term," she said while asking why the Obama administration won't call the Fort Hood massacre terrorism.

Bush was in office during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Perino said she wasn't playing politics, which is good, because it would be easy for Bush critics to do the same thing.

But playing politics with terrorism is dangerous. It can be taken in a variety of directions. The right can blame Obama for the soldiers killed at Fort Hood. The left can blame Bush for the 3,000 deaths on Sept. 11.

The right can give Bush credit for foiling all subsequent attacks. The left can credit Obama for keeping the nation safer in his first year than Bush did during his.

Or those who recognize the pettiness of playing politics with terrorism will place the blame for all attacks precisely where they belong - on the terrorists and those who support them.

As the authors of "Super Freakonomics" noted: "The beauty of terrorism - if you're a terrorist - is that you can succeed even by failing."

Terrorists fail maybe more than 99 percent of the time, in part due to incompetence and luck, as well as incredible diligence by those charged with keeping us safe, conservative and liberal alike.

It's a pipedream, though, to believe every attack can be prevented. But terrorists succeed even when they fail because of how we respond. Terrorism attacks are rare. Extremely.

"The probability that an average American will die in a given year from a terrorist attack is roughly 1 in 5 million; he is 675 times more likely to commit suicide," the authors wrote.

I have a better chance of winning a $50 million jackpot.

Terrorism works because it is designed to create fear and suspicion. Murder is a means to an end, not terrorism's ultimate purpose.

Take Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an airplane with a shoe bomb. He failed, was convicted (in civilian court) and is now in prison.

But his attempt has "levied a tax that is the time equivalent of 14 lives per year" because of the airport procedure changes that resulted, according to "Super Freakonomics."

And there were a host of unintended consequences from our response to Sept. 11.

"In just three months following the attacks, there were one thousand extra traffic deaths in the United States," the authors wrote. "One contributing factor is that people stopped flying and drove instead. Per mile, driving is much more dangerous than flying. ... These fatalities were more likely than usual to involve drunken and reckless driving. These facts, along with myriad psychological studies of terrorism's aftereffects, suggest that the September 11 attacks led to a spike in alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress that translated into, among other things, extra driving deaths."

It even contributed to the recent economic downturn because "at least 140 U.S. corporations exploited the ensuing stock-market decline by illegally backdating stock options."

Too many of our law enforcement resources had been redirected towards anti-terrorism efforts to stop those business practices.

And our response led to two wars - one is winding down, the other is about to be escalated - that have left tens of thousands dead or severely wounded.

Terrorists know they can't murder all 307 million of us. That's not what they are trying to do.

They want to make us more afraid and more fearful. They want to make us less American. If we aren't careful, they will succeed without succeeding.

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