Perverse Politics of Counter-Terror

Just a quick addition to my post from yesterday on the efficacy of counter-terror measures–I think a natural follow-up to the argument that the government is massively inefficient in the counter-terror field is to ask the question of why the US government continues to pursue counter-terror policies that may have limited or even negative consequences in terms of preventing terrorist activities and/or saving lives.

I think the most logical answer is, (naturally), politics. By their very nature, terrorist attacks are highly visible, shocking, and attention-grabbing events. In contrast, the examples that I have proposed in past posts that present more cost-effective methods of saving lives are much, much less visible. As such, so long as there is a non-zero possibility of a terrorist attack occurring on American soil (and there always will be), the political dynamics of national security don’t really allow a President to put pressure on the National Security bureaucracy to become more cost-effective.

Think about it this way–the rationale for cutting $40 Billion from the National Security budget to return capabilities and spending to a pre-9/11 level ($10 Billion from the Intel budget and $30 Billion from the increase in DHS spending over the last 13 years), and to divert that spending to a more cost-effective life-saving policy (let’s say outfitting cars w/ sensors that prevent inebriated individuals from driving them) is entirely apolitical–the rationale is good governance, On the flip side, were a terrorist attack to occur during the administration of a President that had publicly cut national security funding (and, I don’t see how that information would be able to remain confidential,) then it would be an absolute political disaster. Not only for that President’s re-election bids, but for that President’s legacy–that President would forevermore be known as the President that irresponsibly allowed a terrorist attack to occur on American soil. The key here is that this President would suffer from this political dynamic regardless of whether the attack would have been prevented by maintaining our current levels of security spending. With that political dynamic, why would a President ever cut national security spending, even if it would lead to, on average, more beneficial policy? The only way to cut spending in this political dynamic would be through a universally despised, politically neutral mechanism like sequestration.

Update: It seems as if terrorist organizations understand American political dynamics and that overreach and inefficient spending in response to infrequent attacks are part of the terrorists’ goals.

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