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January 11, 2010

Fareed Zakaria: Would You People Please Stop Worrying So Much About Terrorism!

I donít know why but Fareed Zakaria annoys the hell out of me. No, itís not because heís brown (thatís why Iím afraid of him, a very different deal). I think itís because he says and writes dumb stuff, a lot of dumb stuff, yet heís hailed as a deep thinker. He also bothers me because heís a younger (and yes browner) Thomas Friedman. Since thereís simply no point in taking out after Freedman anymore, I guess Iíve turned my ire to Zakaria.

What got me going today is his column about terrorism in the wake of the Underwear Bomber.

First, thereís the annoying and predictable, 'if we overreact or even really react at all, the terrorist will have won'. The funny thing about liberals is, no matter what we do (fight back, increase security, etc) the terrorist win. Apparently in Zakariaís mind the only way we can win is to simply take what the terrorists do and pretend it never happened. Quite frankly, Iím not sure Zakaria actually gets the concept of Ďwinningí.

More annoying is this bit.

Is there some sensible reaction between panic and passivity? Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission and later a senior State Department official in the Bush administration, suggests that we should try to analyze failures in homeland security the way we do airplane catastrophes. When an airliner suffers an accident, major or minor, the National Transportation Safety Board convenes a group of nonpartisan experts who methodically examine what went wrong and then issue recommendations to improve the situation. "We approach airline security with the understanding that it's a complex problem, that we have a pretty good system, but that there will be failures -- caused by human beings, technology, or other factors. The point is to constantly fix what's broken and keep improving the design and execution," says Zelikow.

Imagine if that were the process after a lapse in homeland security. The public would know that any attack, successful or not, would trigger an automatic, serious process to analyze the problem and fix it. Politicians might find it harder to use every such event for political advantage. The people on the front lines of homeland security would not get demoralized as they watched politicians and the media bash them and grandstand with little knowledge.

This plays into Aceís earlier post on Brooks and the Tea Party crowd.

Liberals always seem to think we need to take decisions out of the hands of individuals who are answerable to actual voters. Some how the world would be rainbow filled if only we had more experts in charge of things, insulated from the passion of the moment or the will of the people.

Funny thing is, those experts always seem to want to do what the liberals default to anyway. The left knows their positions arenít all that popular so they either have to hide what they really want (see Campaign Of, Obama, B.H., 2008) or move it to the friendly and popularly unaccountable judiciary (see, Abortion, Same Sex Marriage, etc.).

Worst of all, Zakariaís example of airline accident investigation doesnít illustrate his point as he might think. Short version is, when thereís a plane crash the NTSB investigates. They are generally apolitical forensic investigators who almost always get the cause of a crash. ButÖthey have no enforcement power. If the NTSB says, ĎHey, this crash was caused by an airline's poor maintenance (or a manufacturer's defect)' they canít do anything about it other than forward it on to the FAA. The FAA however is a very political agency. They are curiously charged with oversight and promotion of the aviation industry. Before they take an action (like a grounding or fining) they consider the effect on their stakeholders (airlines, manufacturers, etc). The NTSB experts have often been overruled or ignored by the FAA so the non-security aspects of air travel are more politicized than Zakaria seems to imagine (here is one of many examples).

Now, thatís not always a bad thing, someone should be looking at the whole picture and consider the costs as well as the benefits. Yes, occasionally that may lead to things being swept under the rug but often these are not cut and dry decisions, they involved weighing various factors that subject matter experts, like a crash investigator, may not be equipped to judge.

There is also a check on the FAA. If things go wrong or too many people are ignoredÖcongressional and political oversight comes into play. Thatís the mechanism that allows the wider community to weigh in on the costs and benefits of a decision. Once you cede all of this power to subject matter experts, the wider community loses the ability to influence the course of policy.

The idea that something so basic as national security is beyond the purview of the sovereign people (through their elected representatives) is essentially authoritarian in nature and far outside the American norm.

Itís not as if we are simply talking about choosing between a particular method of screening passengers at a checkpoint or some other technical decision, weíre talking about very different world views on how to approach this problem (law enforcement vs war). This is clearly something the people have to decide, no matter how messy or inconvenient the process is.

The self anointed experts donít worry about that because in their ideal world, the right people (the educated class, which they coincidentally belong to) will be consulted and carry the day. No need to check with the little people about their thoughts on the matter. Itís a hell of deal, so long as you are on the right side of the tracks.

FTR-While my degree from a mediocre state university doesnít qualify me for membership in the Ďeducated classí, Iím also not a populist. I donít think all wisdom resides in one group or the other. I believe in the clash of ideas leading to, if not the best, at least a reasonable course of action that a majority or strong plurality can support.

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posted by DrewM. at 03:33 PM

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