Mueller’s Overblown Assertions

Scott Krummey

The visit by renowned political scientist John Mueller to Colgate last Thursday was just as promised: bold and thought-provoking. Many of Mr. Mueller’s assertions of American foreign policy and counterterrorism efforts are particularly relevant as we move past the fifth anniversary of September 11.

The foundation of Mr. Mueller’s assertions is that counterterrorism efforts in America are largely misguided; they are a product of opportunistic capitalists and politicians who seek to gain from a perpetual game of faux safety measures. For anybody who has missed a flight due to randomly administered security searches, has been restricted from entering a government building, or has contemplated the inanity of a color-coded threat system, this is certainly a fair consideration.

In concert with Mr. Mueller, I think it is reasonable to question the paradigm of public counterterrorism security efforts. Given that a major Islamist attack is likely to come from homemade devises made of legal components, we must ask if any of the special security measures being employed would actually prevent an attack. It seems much more logical, and historically precedented, that effective counterterrorism strategy is rooted in solid intelligence, not security. In fact, Mr. Mueller cites a yet-unpublished study that maintains that such amplified security measures only increase public anxiety about terrorism.

As encouraging as it was to hear these ideas from Mr. Mueller, this is where our magical pathway of agreement meets an expansive crevasse. The second part of Mr. Mueller’s argument is that the modern terrorist threat to America is a work of fiction – in reality, he says, Islamist terrorism poses no more of a threat than any other type of crime or domestic violence. He even asserts that the reason there has been no major attack on American soil since 2001 is that “there are no terrorists.”

After considering this idea a great deal, I feel that this contention is, above all else, an easy way out. Diminishing any Islamist threat and believing that the War on Terror is a function of some self-serving neoconservative conspiracy allows any number of sinister plots and personal agendas – mainly, opposition to war in Iraq – to be conveniently inserted into the story.

From a more theoretical standpoint, Mueller’s argument is a flat-out rejection of the Clash of Civilizations hypothesis, which asserts that Western culture and Islam are engaged in a long-lasting, worldwide struggle for dominance. Although the scope of the Clash hypothesis will be judged over the upcoming years, failing to at least engage it on some level is, in my humble opinion, simplistic.

Most Americans forget that September 11 was one of several major attacks by Islamists against the West that were executed or foiled since the 1990s. What I think is more convincing evidence of the attitude of a building cultural clash comes from the last two years: both Mohammed cartoons in Denmark last year and the historical references made by the Pope last week were met with apocalyptic rhetoric from Muslim leadership, violent demonstrations and destruction of Western buildings and churches. These reactions demonstrate that, in the minds of Muslims around the world, that they are under siege from the West, and their culture must be fiercely defended.

This collective reaction also substantiates the notion that, in the best shade of reality, many Muslims are willing to turn violent against Western institutions and symbols within a group setting and presumably as many are sympathetic to those on the fringe who wish to partake in large-scale violence against the West.

This grim reality makes the Clash-type struggle salient to many around the world, and renders the whole of Mr. Mueller’s theory nothing more than his description of the War on Terror – overblown.