David R. Henderson  

Matt Yglesias's Best Post Ever

Sobering Thoughts on Federal D... What is Opportunity Cost?...

It's short and so I'll quote the whole thing:

One doesn't want to lean too heavily on human tragedies to make political points, but since a lot of our politics rightly concerns itself with how to minimize the occurrence of tragic events, it is necessary to try to see what can be learned. And to that end, it seems worth taking note of the fact that the weekend's bombing and massacre in Norway should remind us once again that "safe havens" in Pakistan and Afghanistan are neither necessary nor sufficient to undertake mass casualty attacks in the west. Indeed, the one thing you can say for sure about a wood-be [sic] killer located in Afghanistan is that he's not in a western country and thus has no ability to mount a major attack in the west. Any "safe haven" abroad is, by definition, too far away to open fire on a summer camp.
This also shows us -- as did the plotting of the 9/11 attacks themselves by a cell in Hamburg -- that generalized establishment of good governance is not sufficient to foil terrorist attacks. Germany and Norway are among the best-governed countries on earth. We would be lucky if the United States were to achieve the level of orderliness efficient administration that they have. It's simply not going to happen for Pakistan or Afghanistan in this lifetime. But at the same time, conventional law enforcement does have a pretty good track record of busting up plots. There's no perfect security, but these things are hard to get away with. But precisely the problem we don't have is the need to establish rough military control over large swathes of far-away foreign countries. This is both extremely difficult to pull off and largely unrelated to domestic security goals.

I'm reminded of an e-mail I received from a libertarian economist friend on September 12, 2001. It was a propos of George W. Bush's statement on September 11, "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."

The e-mail read:

We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them. The bombing of Florida begins tomorrow.

HT to Tyler Cowen.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (11 to date)
Staunch writes:


There's a difference between a lone nut and organizations that span countries, raise millions of dollars, purchase military equipment, conduct military training and exercises, conduct negotiations with sovereign states, and utilize propaganda to convert other to their cause.

Sonic Charmer writes:

So let me summarize: (a) not literally all terror attacks originate from planners operating out of, or with the assistance of folks in, safe havens/failed states/rogue states, and (b) one shouldn't knee-jerkingly apply an algorithmic rule such as 'if terrorists planned their thing in Country X we automatically bomb Country X' when constructing a defense policy.

Got it. Cuz we all totally thought otherwise till Matthew's post. Lessons learned!

The new war is not against radical Islam, it's against technology. Technology empowers everyone, including embittered losers. Two thousand years years ago one would have needed the resources of a medium-sized kingdom or an empire's army to kill three thousand people. Today, all it takes is eighteen partners and nineteen airplane tickets. We are coming up to a world where you will need a background check to study microbiology or chemistry.

Duane Moore writes:

David, thanks for the link. However, the URL to which you link for the original post from Yglesias is not correct. Looks like the correct URL is here.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Duane Moore,
Correction made. Thanks.

Pat writes:

"Harbor" implies knowledge. Are you arguing that Afghanistan didn't know?

David R. Henderson writes:

Good question. I didn't think that "harbor" implied knowledge. But you might be right.
So, as to whether Afghanistan, by which I assume you mean the head politicians in Afghanistan, knew, I'm not sure. Yes, they knew that Osama bin Laden was there. But it's possible that they were not sure that he was behind the 9/11 bombings. Recall that the government of Afghanistan offered to turn over bin Laden to the U.s. government after 9/11 if Bush could show them sufficient evidence that bin Laden was behind it. Bush refused.
Do I believe bin Laden was responsible for 9/11? Yes. But what I believe is more extensive than what I can prove?

English Professor writes:

Does anybody really believe that "conventional law enforcement does have a pretty good track record of busting up plots"? I sure don't. I'm not in favor of much of the increased security machinery, but that statement strikes me as nonsense.

sourcreamus writes:

Do you believe the offer by the Taliban to turn over OBL and the rest of the Al Queda leadership to the US if sufficient evidence was turned over was made in good faith, or was it attempt to find out what the US knew and how they obtained that knowledge?

David R. Henderson writes:

Good question. It's hard to know the answer. Remember that the U.S. government had a good relationship with the Taliban as late as May 2001, when Colin Powell gave them a bunch of our stuff. At the time, the government was pretty sure the Taliban was hiding bin Laden, who was already on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted.

Shane writes:

The "Troubles" of Northern Ireland killed 3,528 people between 1969 and 2001:

For a comparison, from 1980 to 2005, 3,178 people were killed in terrorism in the United States, including those killed on 9/11:

The Northern Ireland conflict involved no real safe haven (unless those fund-raising and arms-running from Libya or the US). Both Ireland and UK tried to crush the paramilitary groups operating on their own grounds, for the most part. This terrorism, taking place overwhelmingly on British and Irish soil, was still significant and highly destructive. Remove all the safe havens in the world and there will still be radicals recruiting amongst us.

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