May 27, 2008

Fear Inflation

The War on Terra narrative is starting to break down.

In the beginning, it was only security experts trying to calm people down, and recognize that WTC attack was unique, not replicable, and that al qaeda did not have the resources to pose a serious threat. Bruce Scheier, for example, was one of the voices of calm, as James Fallows pointed out earlier this week (after, ahem, I reminded him about Bruce's work. Aha. I also see he read the same article in the Times I read yesterday.)

When I say the narrative is breaking down, I mean that legacy media people like Fareed Zakaria are writing (and getting stories past their editors) about the excess of fear has been driven by the US government brazenly exaggerating the terrorist threat. In this case, the Bush administration has done so by counting civilian deaths in Iraq as victims of terroism:

[T]here is a reason you're scared. The U.S. government agency charged with tracking terrorist attacks, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), reported a 41 percent increase from 2005 to 2006 and then equally high levels in 2007. Another major, government-funded database of terrorism, the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terror (MIPT), says that the annual toll of fatalities from terrorism grew 450 percent (!) between 1998 and 2006. A third report, the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), also government-funded, recorded a 75 percent jump in 2004, the most recent year available for the data it uses.

The Simon Fraser study points out that all three of these data sets have a common problem. They count civilian casualties from the war in Iraq as deaths caused by terrorism. This makes no sense. Iraq is a war zone, and as in other war zones around the world, many of those killed are civilians. Study director Prof. Andrew Mack notes, "Over the past 30 years, civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Bosnia, Guatemala, and elsewhere have, like Iraq, been notorious for the number of civilians killed. But although the slaughter in these cases was intentional, politically motivated, and perpetrated by non-state groups—and thus constituted terrorism as conceived by MIPT, NCTC, and START—it was almost never described as such." To take just two examples, Mack pointed out that in 2004, the Janjaweed militia killed at least 723 civilians in Sudan (as documented by independent studies). The MIPT recorded zero deaths in Sudan from terrorism that year; START counted only 17. In Congo in 1999, independent studies identified hundreds killed by militia actions.

If you subtract out the war victims in Iraq, terrorist incidents are down.

But Bush is still flogging the War on Terror meme, still insisting that Iraq is the front in the a war directed at the United States by a few thousand stateless, resourceless people hiding in caves.

So is McCain. Obama is going to have to confront this directly.

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