What is Hoffman talking about?

In an article for the National Interest, Bruce Hoffman talks about the threat of terrorism in the U.S. but I’m not too impressed.  He lists some new ‘disquieting trends’ that we’ve seen recently including…

…the conventional wisdom, which long held that the threat to the United States was primarily external and involved foreigners coming from overseas to kill Americans in this country again has been shattered. Third, the comforting stereotype that terrorists are poor, uneducated, provincial loners—and thus are both different from us and can be readily identified—has once more been compromised. And, finally, that the American “melting pot”—our historical capacity to readily absorb new immigrants—would provide something of a “fire wall” against radicalization and recruitment has now fallen by the wayside.

Geez…straw men everywhere!  Are there really a lot of people who still think terrorists are ‘poor, uneducated, provincial loners’?  Wasn’t that myth blown away in 2001?  I know every time there’s an attack or attempted one news organizations go with the ‘I’m shocked, SHOCKED to discover someone with an education would do this sort of thing.’ but what person even casually following terrorism doesn’t know that terrorists (and not just Islamic ones) commonly come from the ranks of the educated middle class? Yet, Hoffman goes on at length disputing ‘conventional wisdom’ that I’m not sure is all that conventional.

And that conventional wisdom.  There are somewhere between 1-5 million Muslims in the U.S.  Hoffman points to 2009 as a ‘watershed’ of “[a] record nine jihadi incidents, jihadi-inspired plots or efforts by Americans to travel overseas to obtain terrorist training, and one tragically successful attack at Fort Hood, Texas, that claimed the lives of thirteen persons, occurred.

Sorry, but I do have a problem calling a .00036% rate of terrorism among a population a ‘watershed’.

I know…I know.  It only takes one person to nuke a city, release weapons grade anthrax and kick our dogs from a secret moon base.  Let’s not make this out to be some mass movement, however.

But my main objection is his ‘evidence’ that the idea of the American melting pot as a bulwark against radicalism has fallen by the wayside.  Is he really basing that on a handful of incidents in 2009?  Holy crap, I like to engage in baseless speculation as much as the next guy but this is too much even for me.

Ah…but let’s whip up that fear machine again.  Don’t get too comfortable just because we haven’t had a significant terrorist attack in the U.S. since 2001.  Hoffman’s here to tell you it’s not a matter of if…it’s when.

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In this respect, what appears as “amateurish” may in fact be more a reflection of the attack having been rushed.

Yeah…Islamic terrorists have been so busy over the past nine years with keeping up with their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and putting out magazines that their problem has been that they haven’t had enough time to plan and execute an attack in the U.S.  If only they could get a prescription of Ritalin to help them focus they’d be launching highly effective, mass casualty attacks all over the place.

Perhaps it’s even more sinister than that.  Al-Qaeda inc. has a plan to just act completely incompetent.

…this is part and parcel of an al-Qaeda strategy that it also has pushed on other groups. It is a strategy that is deliberately designed to overwhelm, distract and exhaust the terrorists’ adversaries. Thus already stressed intelligence and law-enforcement agencies are deliberately flooded with “noise”: low-level threats from “lone wolves” and other jihadi “hangers on”—e.g., the “low-hanging fruit” that are designed to consume the attention of our national-security apparatuses in hopes that this distraction will permit more spectacular terrorist operations—such as the al-Qaeda-directed plot uncovered last September to attack the New York City subway system—to go unnoticed, sneak beneath the radar and therefore succeed.

Yeah, well I guess that strategy isn’t working out too well for them.  But, even if it were, he’s cutting those poor, stressed intelligence and law enforcement agencies way too much slack.  If they’re overwhelmed it’s because they choose to be, deciding to freak out every time some knucklehead upset from a custody hearing or whatever sends some soap shavings in an envelope to a courthouse.  That isn’t al-Qaeda’s doing.  That’s our doing.  We could refine our filters to ignore that ‘noise’ and pick off the low hanging fruit without obsessing over it but we don’t.  It’s too hard to do that.

He ends his piece with a number of questions we haven’t addressed and need to.  My favorite is the first:

What do we do when the terrorists are like us? When they conform to the archetypal American immigrant success story? When they are American citizens or U.S. residents? When they are not perhaps from the Middle East or South Asia and in fact have familiar-sounding names? Or, when they are “petite, blue-eyed, blonde” suburban housewives who, as the infamous JihadJane boasted, “can easily blend in” to our society to perpetrate terrorist attacks?

What?  Racial profiling might not work?  Oh, I guess I’m all out of ideas then.  Can we panic now?

Really?  Really?  ‘What do we do when the terrorists are like us?’  Yeah, I guess the 1960s and 1970s never happened.  I guess it’s also a good thing that criminals all are conveniently ‘different’ from us so they’re easy to identify.  Otherwise, how ever would we find them.

One Response to What is Hoffman talking about?

  1. Great post and thanks for crunching the numbers.

    Although I love the dramatic chipmunk or whatever he is, I think a more appropriate video would have been the song ‘Freak Out!’. That’s what I hear whenever there is the smallest inkling of a potential terrorist attack or just some Jihad Jane.

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