Is watching over your shoulder here to stay? GRI looks at America’s vulnerabilities to terrorism post-San Bernardino.
A lot has happened these past weeks to American vulnerabilities which have taken a hit thanks to Syed Farook and Tasfeen Malik, the San Bernadino terrorists.
Coupled with the terror attacks led by jihadi extremists in Paris, the ingredients of change when terrorism occur become a reality. These scenarios on two different continents equate to various adjustments to the state here and there.
Not only is human life and infrastructure at stake, but what we also need to be aware of are the vulnerabilities that don’t get much play, or are criticized.
Terrorism presents and creates public policy challenges, constitutional vulnerabilities, and fear upon the human psyche, subjects that will briefly presented here.
The psychology and anatomy of terror
Vulnerability is the state of being open to injury; in these instances we’re talking about how terror impacts the political process and human nature, an injury to the soul and to political well-being.
Terror is the state of fear and submission by terrorization. Therefore we prepare ourselves for these moments knowing that no matter how the US fortifies itself against external or indigenous terrorism, people should knowingly prepare for an inevitable attack on the homeland, post San Bernadino.
To bolster this statement, the latest data from the New York Times and CBS poll shows Americans more fearful now than ever before.
There’s even more concern that another attack may take place in only a few months. US Secretary of State John Kerry also emboldened the notion of an attack by saying that a Paris-style assault is a strong possibility in the United States.
A view that doesn’t bode well coming from a figure within national security circles and the Obama Administration. It is these signs that make us fearful of attacks happening again and skeptical of what government can do to protect society.
Much has been written on the effects of terror on the human psyche that equates to how we protect ourselves but also how the psychology may translate to what people do on a day by day basis.
In other words, Americans do submit to the notion of terror, to the point where the public may avoid venues that they believe are soft targets to those who are willing to kill themselves in name of Allah or Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The ability of the Islamic State to strike indiscriminately may possible stick in people’s minds. The American Psychological Association agrees that, “the violent actions are random, unprovoked and intentional, and often are targeted at defenseless citizens,” which bolsters the conventional thinking that the idea of avoiding certain venues makes sense.
Terror defines public policy changes and challenges
The United States is a reactionary republic that does not create law or policies until changes are necessary due to circumstances.
The terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and subsequent events have helped execute new policy changes to current legislation while adding new laws to the books and creating new bureaucracies while increasing budget shares to intelligence, law enforcement, and defense spending.
Our policy processes has become more vulnerable to the scales balancing security and liberties. Now more than ever has the argument of the balance between safety and privacy been so robust and apparent.
There is legitimate public concern questioning whether measures have made us safer or have skewed the system of checks and balances, a basic foundation of U.S. democracy, while seeing a consistent increase on budgets for intelligence and defense.
It should be noted, as Klovens and Gockerman have presented, that prior to 9/11, there was not a Homeland Security Department. The CIA was responsible for gathering, analyzing, and conducting covert operations outside of the United States.
The FBI was responsible for internal investigations of a criminal nature. And, there was a legal barrier preventing the CIA and the FBI from sharing information. Reorganizational reforms post 9/11 resulted in the establishment of Homeland Security and, at least formally, the barrier on information sharing between the CIA and FBI was removed.
Damn if you do, damn if you don’t: terror defines leadership
All indicators point to national security becoming the new qualification for president in the 2016 campaigns. As a result of the Paris terrorist attacks and the terrorist killings in California, American presidential leadership will be tested again in the future leaving the meaning of leadership in a vulnerable spot because citizens expect their president to exude leadership in times of catastrophes, particularly post-traumatic incidents.
Being an effective leader is no easy task because it is a rather abstract concept that is informed by one’s experiences. Being a leader means defining and exhibiting moral and ethical courage and setting an example for everyone in the country.
Being a leader and leadership is the ability to inspire or influence others towards the leader’s goal; at this point in time, I am not positive Mr. Obama has delivered the message of courage to the American people in relation to Syria, ISIS and terrorism.
Herein lies the problem. In the case of a president, the problem is the expectations a sovereign people seek from its leaders, which in this instance is the US president’s effectiveness in fighting terrorism and punishing those that commit attacks and protecting the country from future attacks.
Is vulnerability to terrorism here to stay?
A country can be vulnerable not only to physical destruction or to homeland security gaps but by abstract thought in terms of presidential leadership, public policy, and human fears.
From a public policy perspective, helping to provide security for the public regardless of the potential impact laws potentially have on liberties prior to or after a terror attack. In examining public fear one cannot go too far from recent polls. According to a published poll after the November 13 Paris attacks conducted by Reuters/Ipsos, 63 percent of Americans fear that an attack like those in Paris could happen near them.
In fact, they were more afraid of the possibility than they were immediately after the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013. For some in New York who had endured previous terrorist attacks; the violence in Paris served as a reminder of the need for a heightened awareness, until the San Bernadino killings occurred.