David R. Henderson  

A Pessimistic Prediction

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In which the author predicts an attack in or near Las Vegas.

A few weeks ago I made a few optimistic predictions and a few pessimistic ones. My optimistic ones tend to be about how even semi-free markets will solve what otherwise could be big problems. My pessimistic ones tend to about how out-of-control governments mad with power will create or exacerbate problems. The pessimistic prediction I'm about to give is squarely in the latter category. Here it is:

Sometime in the next five years, there will be a terroristic attack in or near Las Vegas.

The reason? Creech Air Force Base, near Las Vegas. That is one of the places from which Air Force employees operate drones that are making life a living hell for a number of people in the Middle East. It seems unlikely that people in the countries whose people are attacked will simply sit back and take it. You might argue that there's a big moral difference between what the U.S. government does and what the putative terrorists will do. First, there's not as big a difference as you might think. Read this article by Glenn Greenwald to see why. Second, to the extent there is a difference, it's because of the huge amount of capital and labor that the U.S. government devotes to this so that it can target possibly guilty people. The terrorists are not so capitalized. So they try to terrorize people.

I don't think it works for them with Americans. Americans have tended not to ask why terrorists "hate us" or have asked but accepted glib answers like that of that noted Middle East scholar, George W. Bush, who said within hours of 9/11 that they attacked our "freedom." Condi Rice, as National Security Advisor to Bush, didn't help when she persuaded the networks not to show the complete videos in which Osama bin Laden explained why he was attacking.

So I'm not predicting that the terrorist attack(s) will necessarily work. I'm simply predicting that there will be such an attack or such attacks.


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COMMENTS (13 to date)
Ray writes:

Doubtful. That would be far too tactical. Terrorists want to kill and scare civilians. I don't think terrorist leaders are really out to "win" by defeating or even attempting to defeat an opponent militarily -- they maintain control by keeping the "hatred" stirred up and their adherents distracted from the real problems that plague their societies.

For that you need a (plausibly) strong enemy on whom all problems can be blamed.

To the extent that this attitude exists on both sides? Don't buy it. Yes, we in general see terrorism as a foe to be defeated and are guilty of making some broad generalizations and oversimplifications... but more in the security sense (they attack us) rather than the "without terrorism I'd be wealthy and have a better quality of life" sense.

Andreas Moser writes:

If terrorists want to find a target or a "reason" to strike, they can find either or both on any given day in any state of the US and any country of the Western world.
They don't need to venture all the way to Nevada.

The reason we haven't seen more terror attacks is not the lack of targets, but that Al-Qaeda has become more and more incompetent: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/diy-terror/

Bryan Willman writes:

Sadly, the murder of innocents has always been a part of war, and a huge part of war at least since then 1930s. Is killing innocent villagers actually any different than killing vast numbers of Japanese or German civilians with air attacks?

And just as the people, innocent or for that matter guilty, surely respond to the drone attacks with hate, anger, fear, a desire for revenge, their feelings are likely not very different from those of large numbers of people in WWII. Surely the Japanese or the Germans would have loved to be able to conduct air raids over the US mainland.

One important difference of the current misdirected conflict with prior global conflicts is that in the past there were understandable conditions for victory, and that after victory, the active slaughter stopped. In a "war" on what amount to criminal gangs built around a cult, there is no clear condition for victory, and so there is no clear circumstance in which the killing of innocents would stop.

It's neatly contrived to be very tragic, very costly, and to go on for a very long indeterminate time.

The "other side" isn't well directed either, and so attempts at spectacularly tragic attacks of limited tactical significance will remain the greatest risk. If there's an attack in Nevada, it won't be airbase - they'll try a spectacular attack on the strip instead.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Bryan Willman,
"If there's an attack in Nevada, it won't be airbase - they'll try a spectacular attack on the strip instead.
That’s what I was thinking. Which is why I wrote “in or near Las Vegas."

Bryan Willman writes:

Actually David, I don't think Las Vegas is any more likely a target due to proximity to an air base. If it's a more likely target, it will be because gambling is somehow a symbol like the WTC was a symbol.

I suspect the more likely targets are sky scraper districts of large cities - Chicago, NYC again, etc.

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

If there's an attack in Las Vegas, it's likely to be because some puritanical muslim sees it as our Sodom and Gomorrah.

But, the drone attacks are actually much less destructive to innocent civilians amongst whom jihadis try to hide themselves, than any other option; carpet bombing by B-52s, say.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Patrick Sullivan,
You wrote:
"If there's an attack in Las Vegas, it's likely to be because some puritanical muslim sees it as our Sodom and Gomorrah.”
I doubt it. They’re typically focused on changing the policy of a government that interferes in their affairs. The bombing of the Spanish train was a perfect example of that: they wanted to affect the outcome of an election and they did. The result was that Spain’s government pulled out of the coalition in Iraq.
The person who has laid this out extensively is Robert Pape.

John M writes:

A terrorist attack on Las Vegas? Yes, probably a terrorist attack somewhere in the USA at some point in the intermediate future.

BTW, if it were a "terrorist" attack on a military base that controls the drones, that would not be an actual terrorist attack. A terrorist attack would be against a strong symbol, such as the World Trade Center. The attack might include an additional hit, such as the hit on the Pentagon, also a strong symbol. The hit on that secondary target would be a mild tap, done in a way to minimize damage, but make the criminal look like a victim.

Echos of the Carol Stuart murder in Boston, Fall 1989.

It's most likely to occur when Democrats in Washington begin to develop a spine, or come to reflect the angry Left that's spreading across the country. (Fall of 2001, there was serious talk of going after the Felonious Five, and the Democrats were seriously beginning to develop a spine then.)

Michael Bishop writes:

Want to bet? I'll give you 2:1.

Thomas writes:

"Their affairs"? I wasn't under the impression that the terrorists in Spain were of Iraqi origin. Wikipedia has the terrorists as Moroccan, Syrian, and Algerian in nationality. Was the attack to get the US out of Algeria?

Judging by their revealed preference, terrorists really hate people they think won't fight back.

Erich Schwarz writes:

"I don't think it works for them with Americans."

It can be pretty suicidal with Americans, particularly those of the Jacksonian sort.

Liam Mcdonald writes:

Interesting supposition. I agree with you that the religious aspect would have zero influence (No Sodom and Gomorrah effect) and also there is a precedent in that there has been an attack on the drone team in Afghanistan (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126246258911313617.html). Plus Middle Eastern Terrorist groups are not stupid and they are highly trained so they would know that an attack on Vegas would cause a temporary halt in the nearby drone program.

However I think this would not happen since there are other ways in which to avoid the drone attacks (Human shields, camouflage, disguise) and the cost would not justify the result as it would be temporary. If I was a terrorist intent on revenge with limited resources I would ensure that there should be measurable results and not in body count either. Most of the people killed by drones are civilians and that would have little direct affect on me except for helping in my recruiting. I would only consider this attack in tandem with another where the drones would be used for detection I needed to bypass.

I think they only see drones as a nuisance much as they way they see satellites which they are already very good at hiding from. And I know they talk about these “silent” drones but 98% of them are quite loud even from a high altitude.

Now a Cyber attack on the drone base? That would be much more effective but I doubt they have the resources.

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