Second, often plots of this kind are foiled by good intelligence and police work. Overwhelming military force is a pretty blunt instrument in dealing with a diffuse and decentralized threat. If overwhelming military force were the main ingredient in stopping terrorism, Israel would be the safest place in the world.
Third, the unnecessary war in Iraq has made the US less rather than more safe. The money and human resources consumed by the war—around $320 billion that we know about—could better be spent elsewhere. Supporters of the war often claim say “If we don’t fight them there, they’ll attack us here.” The recent threat is more proof that it isn’t a case of either/or.
Fourth, the spending and policy priorities of the nation’s leaders are seriously skewed and may do little to make us safer. As James Surowiecki points out in the August 7 and 14 New Yorker
…we have a defense budget that is over half a trillion dollars, forty percent higher than it was in 2001. More than half the federal government’s discretionary spending goes to the military, and, while a sizable chunk goes toward the fight against terrorism and the Iraq war, too much has nothing to do with the demands of a post-9/11 world.
Much defense money is being spent Cold War era high tech weapons systems that may well have once put the fear of God into the Soviet military but do little to counter the kinds of threats we face today.
The flow of lots of money to corporate defense contractors has been a boon to war profiteers but may have the effect of making us less safe:
…often in recent times expensive weapons projects have been given priority over mundane improvements that would help the military here and now. Earlier this year, for instance, the Senate cut funding for night-vision goggles for soldiers, while adding money to buy three new V-22 Ospreys, a plane that Dick Cheney himself tried to get rid of when he was Secretary of Defense. Similarly, we might have been able to afford appropriate body armor for the troops, and plates for the Hummers in Baghdad, if we were building only one new model of multi-billion-dollar jet fighter, instead of two.
The article also notes that the Congress recently eliminated $650 million for port security and $100 million for preventing the use of nuclear weapons in the US, all of which are less than a third of the cost of building a new destroyer.
Fifth, the mania for military outsourcing isn’t helping. In Joseph Heller’s classic Catch-22, Milo Minderbinder said “Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry.”
What was once a laugh line is becoming a reality. Since 2002, the 16 percent of Defense Department spending for Iraq and the war on terrorism has gone to contractors who often do what military personnel once did, provided of course that they actually do what they are paid to do.
This is, alas, not a given. As Business Week puts it,
The U.S. military has lost billions to fraud and mismanagement by private contractors in Iraq who do everything form cooking soldiers’ meals to providing security.
The article reports that payments to contractors “who provide food, shelter, security and other services” has jumped from $53 billion in 2000 to $104 billion in 2005. The article quotes Jeffrey Smith, former CIA general counsel, as saying “Iraq has attracted patriots and crooks—and there were probably some crooked patriots.”
This ideologically driven mania for privatization can have deadly consequences when profit trumps troop or public safety.
Sixth, the administration's fixation on tax cuts aimed mostly at the wealthy, which incredibly cost more than the the Iraq war, deprive the country of both needed services and legitimate security measures. If a jetliner explodes, it affects first class travelers too.
So, yes, there is a threat. But, yes, there have to be better ways of dealing with it.