Fareed Zakaria warns in Newsweek that Al-Qaeda was significantly more incompetent that Americans believed in the aftermath of 9/11, and the result is a “national-security state” that threatens civil liberties. Any other time of year, comments like this would be controversial at best, especially from the mild-mannered Zakaria. So close to the anniversary of the most painful event in recent American history, it borders on the callous.
In one of his final columns in Newsweek (Zakaria will be soon moving to Time), Zakaria questions whether the American government should have increased spending in national security after 9/11, since “Al Qaeda is simply not that deadly a threat.” He notes that the US spends “more than the rest of the world spends put together” and that the Department of Homeland Security and it’s satellite organizations “produce 50,000 reports a year—136 a day!—which of course means few ever get read.” Imagine that– the United States spends more money on national security than other countries; given the open-endedness of his point, this means we should probably be shocked that the US is spending more money on national security than, say, Switzerland or Vanuatu.
He then tries to soften the edges around his argument by pointing out that, aside from that one time that they took down the World Trade Center and crashed a plane into the Pentagon, Al Qaeda is mostly a failure. “Today,” he writes, “Al Qaeda’s best hope is to find a troubled young man who has been radicalized over the Internet, and teach him to stuff his underwear with explosives.” He also highlights that he condemns Al Qaeda despite their incompetence (“I do not minimize Al Qaeda’s actions… I question its capabilities”) and rallies support from the texts of Founding Father– he quotes James Madison as saying, “of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded,” referring to the dangers of the War on Terror.
Zakaria’s argument is not completely disposable the way it will likely be portrayed (and, in fact, in Fox News’ coverage of the piece below, it is treated as such). There’s an element of foreign policy libertarianism in his argument that otherwise would shield him from blanket attacks from the right– especially when he brings up examples from the ’80s and ’90s that “the United States has been right about the evil intentions of its adversaries but massively exaggerated their strength,” and when he evokes the founders to warn of big government overreach in civil liberties. But it’s neither the time nor the place to tell Americans, who are all, in varying degrees, victims of the attacks, that Al Qaeda and, by extention, the events of September 11th were not something to get in such a tizzy over.
Below is the commentary from Fox News’ America Live today– radio host Mike Gallagher leaves the timeliness of the article out of it, but condemns Zakaria (and Newsweek) for such a “scurrilous” attempt to evoke “shock value”, and challenges Zakaria specifically on whether or not Al Qaeda is competent:
Have a tip we should know? firstname.lastname@example.org