Samir’s Selection 06/11/2013 (a.m.)
Why we spy: The war on terror is Obama’s Vietnam | The Economist
Terrorism is basically a political communications strategy. The chief threat it poses is not to the lives of American citizens but to the direction of American policy and the electoral prospects of American politicians…
For the president the war on terror is what the Vietnam War was to Lyndon Johnson: a vast, tragic distraction in which he must be seen to be winning, lest the domestic agenda he really cares about (health-care, financial reform, climate-change mitigation, immigration reform, gun control, inequality) be derailed. It’s no surprise that he has given the surveillance state whatever it says it needs to prevent a major terrorist attack…
At least three parties stand to gain from exaggerating, rather than minimising, our reactions to terrorist strikes. The first is the media, which wins viewership by whipping up anxiety over terrorist strikes. The second is politicians seeking partisan advantage, since panic over foreign-backed terrorism tends to increase voter turnout… Finally, the third party trying to exacerbate our responses to terrorist attacks are the terrorists themselves, who have generally proven quite effective at choosing targets that provoke widespread media coverage…. Politicians do not want to have to deal with these sorts of surprises. They have very strong incentives to go along with intelligence organisations that say they need ever-more-powerful surveillance programmes to see what the terrorists are up to.
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