Every year, on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the media ask the same question: Are we safer now?
The answer, often given by homeland security experts and military commentators on the media, always seems to be, “Yes, but … .”
These talking heads, while wanting to report the progress their professions have made in combating evil, have a vested interest in describing terrorism as a menacing, very real threat. They want to do more interviews, after all.
But sensational media are far from reality. The average American is more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed in a terrorist attack.
Many Americans, witnessing global terror events from the comfort of their living rooms, make the understandable mistake of thinking terrorism poses them an imminent threat. Statistical experts call this phenomenon “probability neglect.”
In actuality, if an individual wants to live a long life, he should forget about terrorism and wear his safety belt, exercise, eat healthy foods and refrain from smoking. Mundane things like greasy foods pose a statically greater threat to American citizens than terrorism.
Since 2001, 282 U.S. citizens have, on average, been killed each year in acts of terrorism committed around the globe. The nation’s population is more than 300 million.
Further, the country, intrinsically secure because of the oceanic moats separating it from centers of world conflict, has always been difficult for terrorists to reach. This was true before 9/11 and remains so today.
The killing power of terrorist groups — even today’s well-endowed Islamic State — pales in comparison to that of vastly wealthier and better-equipped nation states.
The one thing Americans should be concerned about when it comes to terrorism is not terrorists; it’s our government’s meddling in foreign affairs.
Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, of all people, understands this, having argued during his nomination acceptance speech that the U.S. ought to abandon its unneeded, expensive and counterproductive policy of overthrowing unfriendly dictators and performing nation-building throughout the Middle East.
The roots of al-Qaida began growing during the administrations of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, both of which funded radical Islamist fighters against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Then, George H.W. Bush incensed Osama bin Laden by needlessly leaving American troops in Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein had ended. When his son, George W. Bush, after 9/11 insisted al-Qaida had attacked America because of its freedoms, bin Laden angrily retorted, noting that his group had primarily attacked because of America’s Middle Eastern interventions, including its support of Arab dictators who abused their people. After the attacks, the younger Bush did exactly what bid Laden wanted: He overreacted and invaded Iraq, an action that ultimately led to the creation of the brutal Islamic State.
All this is not meant to justify what was a horrendous, unjustified attack. But it is meant to illustrate why the U.S. government should quit making people take off their shoes at the airport and focus instead on reducing its footprint in the Muslim world.
Doing so will make the chances of blowback terrorism occurring even more remote.
Ivan Eland, the writer of this analysis, is the director of the Center for Peace and Liberty and a senior fellow at the Independent Institute.