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Twice a day

Mickey Kaus is not a guy I count on to get it right that often, but his endorsement of Kerry is rooted in a clarity of vision that I’ve seen from barely any pundit. I’m gonna go ahead and quote this, since he doesn’t have permalinks:

What’s at stake isn’t how to give millions of relatively healthy Americans better health care. It’s how to stop millions of relatively healthy Americans (and other humans) from eventually dying at the hands of aggrieved groups who will in coming decades a) find it easier and easier to organize, thanks to the Web, and b) be increasingly be able to get their hands on increasingly destructive weapons, especially bioweapons. I get this basic framework from my colleague Robert Wright’s excellent series on terrorism, available here. (For appropriate accompanying atmospherics, I recommend the unsuccessful but eerily prescient film Twelve Monkeys.) Currently the dominant threat is Islamic extremist terrorism. But after that it will be some other flavor of terrorism—environmental radicals, perhaps, or animal rights fanatics, or separatists, or superempowered Columbine nihilists, or all of them at once.


In the larger war on terror, however, it’s no contest. Both candidates will hunt down and kill existing terrorists. The issue is how many new terrorists are we creating—as Donald Rumsfeld famously wrote, “Is our current situation such that ‘the harder we work, the behinder we get.’?” Let’s say that n is the number of net new terrorists who’ll come online in the next four years. Isn’t it obvious that n is a lot lower if Kerry is president than if Bush is president? Even if you think the Iraq war was worth fighting, as it may well turn out in the long run to have been, it’s hard to deny that it has angered millions around the world, and that Bush is a focal point of their anger. A tiny but definitely non-trivial percentage of these people will be angry enough to try to do us harm, and as the years go by technology will make it easier for them to accomplish this. We lower the volume of lethal hatred simply by thanking Bush for his efforts and retiring him.


I’m continually amazed that bloggers, of all people, don’t appreciate the way intensely motivated individuals, operating without centralized state (or any other) control, can be empowered by new technology to do us tremendous harm. To put it in mundane current blogospheric terms, when it comes to preventing future attacks, the terrorists will more and more come to resemble bloggers in their pajamas and America will come to resemble CBS. That’s not a position we should be comfortable in. (Yes, it may be hard for small groups of non-state bloggers to develop nuclear weapons. But it might not be hard to acquire nuclear weapons. And bioweapons may well be developable by alarmingly small groups.)

Yeah, that’s what I thought.


  1. anonymous anonymous

    I agree with all of it, except for the crux of the whole argument:


  2. Well, sure. All Kerry’s done is spend six years taking down BCCI. Against significant pressure from both Democrats and Republicans, but people always seem to forget that when they talk about how wimpy Kerry is.

    And… Kaus actually does try to support his assertion. The mistake you’re making is the assumption that all terrorists are bullies and thugs. This is not the case; a significant, large percentage of terrorists are angry people making stupid decisions. Which is Kaus’ point.

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