I continue to be amazed at the enormous amount of time our presidential debates spend on the "War on Terrorism", and the assertions among some politicians that the terrorist threat is the greatest our nation has ever faced. It's a little long in the tooth as these things go, but Bill Maher has an excellent rebuttal to that claim beginning about half way through this clip. The entire show is really worth a view, with priceless moments like one of his guests imagining asking the presidential candidates if they would do what needed to be done to stop a terrorist attack it it meant having sex with a man. But Maher's summary is a priceless, mercilous attack on the idea that these groups pose any kind of great threat to America:
"We are the most powerful nation on earth, with the largest economy, and the best military, and we're made to act the fool by a few thousand cave dwellers who still put out their video on VHS...we have become the most insecure paranoid superpower ever."
I want to attack the claim at the basic level much more than he did. It seems people need a refresher on what makes someone a terrorist, because many seem to have forgotten that terrorists are, by definition, weak.
A terrorist is, roughly, someone who attempts to influence political change by enticing fear in the population. Fair examination of this tactic should make it clear that it is a strategy for people who are weak. Powerful actors do not have to influence political change. They create it through military force. Those without that power must resort to terrorism to effect unilateral change. It is not a coincidence that the side in our war with Al Qaeda that has the least military might is also the side that favors terrorist tactics.
So sure, Al Qaeda and other groups east of Egypt want to enforce their way of life on the entire world, including the United States, and yes, their fervor is comparable to that of the Nazis and Soviets who had the very same goal. But motive and opportunity are not enough: one must also have the means, and neither Al Qaeda, nor Iran, has anything remotely resembling the means that was possessed by the Nazis and the Soviets. It is high time our politicians get called on this fact when they start that "greatest threat this Nation has ever faced" bullshit. It isn't a patch on the ass of the Cuban missile crisis, WWI, WWII, the cold war, the civil war, and that nasty nasty winter at Valley Forge. Sure 9/11 was a scare and an embarrasment and one hell of a big bucket of cold water on our complacency. But a little perspective please.
Maher hit the nail on the head when he said "As a species we are failing at survival trick #1: prioritize the threats" with this all-terror-all-the-time rhetoric. Terrorism is not the greatest threat this nation has ever faced, and it might not even be the greatest threat this nation faces right now. It's time the politicians got that message and started talking about issues besides terrorism and who's got what freaky flavor of piety, because the next president is going to need to understand a lot more than that. A lot more.