One of the most common themes in post-9/11 politics is for public figures to campaign based on the public’s fear of terrorism. Candidates from across the political spectrum regularly point to “increased threats from terrorists at home and abroad” as the reason you should elect them so they can keep you safe.
While combating terrorism is important and a crucial part of the nation’s national security strategy, the State Department’s annual Country Reports On Terrorism, which was released late last week, shows that its importance as a leading topic of public concern may be overstated. McClatchy’s Warren P. Strobel notes that the State Department report finds that only 25 American civilians were killed by terrorism worldwide last year:
There were just 25 U.S. noncombatant fatalities from terrorism worldwide. (The US government definition of terrorism excludes attacks on U.S. military personnel). While we don’t have the figures at hand, undoubtedly more American citizens died overseas from traffic accidents or intestinal illnesses than from terrorism.
Once again, the threat of terrorism is a serious national security concern and should be seen as such. But given its relatively low fatality rate in comparison to other threats to humanity — the State Department’s report found that 58,142 people were killed by terrorist attacks worldwide in 2009, a fraction of the three million children who died from easily preventable malnutrition and hunger a year before — a more reasoned assessment of our priorities is needed.
So tell me again why we are in Afghanistan? And for how long beyond the first decade?