Now that Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Buckley have endorsed a ginormous conservative pow wow, I have no doubt that as many as twelve disgruntled interns will show up to participate. Perhaps RedState’s Erick Erickson would be willing to pass along a few tips on promoting civil discourse.
In all seriousness, I think the proposed ideological slugfest is a great idea, and I hope that the blogosphere will double as an impromptu conference room. John Schwenkler and Rod Dreher have already added their two cents, and both lists are chock-full of good ideas for conservative reform. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll add one important suggestion: I’d really like the Republican Party to reconsider the entire “War on Terror” framework. Realistically, I can’t expect conservatives to immediately abandon their infatuation with America’s expansive overseas presence, but continued support for robust counter-terror operations is not incongruent with a recongition that Al-Qaida and its Islamist affiliates do not pose an existential threat to the United States.
Since 9/11, we’ve never stopped to ask ourselves why – despite the obvious incompetence of our homeland security agencies – Islamic terrorists have been unable to mount any sustained campaign against Western targets. Yes, we’ve suffered isolated (and devastating) attacks, but despite countless amber alerts and the continued proliferation of Al-Qaida’s menacing home movies, the American homeland remains unscathed.
I’m sure the National Review crowd would argue that this a) vindicates the Bush Administration’s counter-terror strategy and b) proves that fighting terrorists over there ( and by “over there,” of course, they mean Iraq) is better than fighting them over here. As to the first point, the Department of Homeland Security’s disastrous inception and subsequent bungles are fairly eloquent rejoinders, and the fact that we have yet to foil a plausible terrorist plot against the homeland also says something about Al-Qaida’s diminished capabilities (and no, this sort of thing doesn’t count). The Iraq argument also falls apart upon closer inspection. Given how inexpensive the 9/11 attacks were for Al Qaida, why couldn’t a group that supposedly poses an existential danger to the United States simultaneously plan, fund, and implement suicide bombings in Baghdad and another hijacking at Heathrow?
It’s not that I think terrorism is unimportant. Non-proliferation efforts are certainly critical (the acquisition and use of a nuclear weapon by an extremist group is the one plausible terrorism scenario that threatens irreparable damage), and continued international cooperation will remain a top priority. But the sort of thing that does the most to minimize the risk of terrorism – intelligence gathering, arms control agreements, asset tracking, police investigations, and the occasional military operation – rarely makes the evening news.*
I also believe that living in a free society entails a certain amount of risk, and that terrorism – like any other issue – should be subjected to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis to determine an appropriate response. Open, democratic countries have survived terrorist attacks without collapsing (just ask the Italians or the Germans). Despite all the hullabaloo, Al Qaida does not have the ability to seriously undermine our government or our economy. The various terror groups we face are diffuse, disorganized, and frequently at odds with one another. Critically re-examining our massive defense expenditures would also go a long way towards restoring fiscal sanity.
So yes, declaring victory sounds like a damn good idea to me. Certainly, continued vigilance is called for. Common-sense measures to reduce the risk of future attacks will always be necessary. But government paranoia, the growth of the surveillance state, and imperial over-reach aren’t doing a thing to protect the homeland. It’s time to reconsider our entire approach.
*Incidentally, I thought John Edwards’ proposed counter-terror Interpol was one of the better examples of the sort of ceative, low-key thinking we need to minimize the risk of future attacks.