On Fearmongering and Overreaction
by Christopher Paul Meyer
This first appeared in The Havok Journal December 27, 2016. The topic discussed remains just as relevant today.
You know, when you read about Russia threatening NATO or sending subs off our coasts, or when you hear about Iran testing ballistic missiles they promised they wouldn’t test or when you learn details about China’s mega-hack of the OPM database or Daesh’s viral radicalization efforts inside the US, it’s almost enough to make you think that a lot of people are at war with us.
But that would just be fearmongering. And if there’s one thing we have no tolerance for, it’s fearmongering — because fearmongering leads to the dreaded prospect of “overreaction.” In fact, the only kind of fearmongering we tolerate is fearmongering about fearmongering.
Of course, if you’re against fearmongering, you’re not really against fearmongering. Maybe you want to monger fears about different targets: climate change, police-involved shootings, Volkswagon recalls; but at the end of the day, one person’s fearmongering might simply be another person’s insightful forewarning.
But then, jihadists killing people in the homeland tend to spark a lot more fearmongering than any pundit or politician can generate. Fortunately, our president only mongers disinterest, often reminding us that we have nothing to fear but the overreaction to fear. He worries, lest angry mobs start an anti-Muslim kristallnacht or mindless rubes demand a full-scale invasion of the Levant. According to his defenders, his greatest fear is not whether terrorism strikes in the US, since that is deemed inevitable, but whether we revisit the Iraq invasion of 2003. And, when viewed through the statistics of terrorism-related deaths, it’s easy to think this whole “radical Islam” thing is really overblown and categorically degrade it to the level of street crime.
Of course, if we’re just looking at death statistics, the Cold War wasn’t nearly as big a deal as the Salvadoran Civil War, the Mozambican War of Independence or that whole Bloods/Crips thing. While only a handful of terror plots have ended in innocent deaths, why should we ignore the incredible volume of thwarted and pending attacks? Just because we’ve been far more successful at stopping attacks than not (although that may change soon) does that mean we should ignore terrorism until it becomes more deadly on a more regular basis?
Naturally, giving terrorists an unlimited number of shots on goal increases their odds of success. So, at some point, Americans start to wonder why we’ve allowed Daesh to metastasize into something that can affect lives in San Bernardino, UC-Merced, Oklahoma and Chattanooga. At some point, Americans figure that the best defense is a good offense. At some point, Americans want their military to start killing bad guys. And that is the point at which the President cautions us about “overreacting.”
But is overreaction really the capital sin of our foreign policy?
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