Can we declare the war on terrorism over?
Or at least stop spending so much money on it?
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Is it time to start thinking about spending less on counterterrorism?Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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Certainly, part of the safety US citizens enjoy has had to do with the steps taken by the Bush and Obama administrations since 2001. In the past year, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces in Pakistan, and Abu Yayha al-Libi, an important cleric for Al Qaeda, was killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan in just the past week. Vast sums have been poured into everything from airport security to intelligence. The decade since 9/11 was the longest ten-year stretch without a major terrorist attack on US soil since the 1960s as $1 trillion was poured into various initiatives.
The panicked warnings of politicians after the shock of 9/11 (former New York mayor and self-appointed terrorism expert Rudy Guiliani said in 2005 "Any one of these security experts, including myself, would have told you on Sept. 11, 2001, we're looking at dozens and dozens and multiyears of attacks like this") turned out to be driven more by fear than reason.
So one argument is, the money we're spending is working so we should keep on spending it. Perhaps. But at what other costs?
Last year, John Mueller of Ohio State and Mark G. Stewart of Australia's University of Newcastle, coauthored a paper looking at the costs and benefits of counterterrorism spending. What they found should fill any fiscally conservative politicians heart with glee: Based on our spending, we're grossly overestimating the risks of terrorism on US soil.
"We find that enhanced expenditures have been excessive: to be deemed cost-effective in analyses that substantially bias the consideration toward the opposite conclusion, they would have to deter, prevent, foil, or protect against 1,667 otherwise successful Times-Square type attacks per year, or more than four per day," they write. "Although there are emotional and political pressures on the terrorism issue, this does not relieve politicians and bureaucrats of the fundamental responsibility of informing the public of the limited risk that terrorism presents and of seeking to expend funds wisely."