Walter E. Williams

"On Sept. 11, one in 3,000 New Yorkers perished, but in the same year, over one in 1,000 urbanites were murdered in three major cities in the Western Hemisphere alone," according to Russell Seitz in his article "Weaker Than We Think" in The American Conservative (Dec. 6, 2004). He adds that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon reign supreme among media events not because of the strategic impact of hijacked planes but the power of the media.

 Seitz, formerly of Harvard's Center for International Affairs and a Los Alamos National Laboratory consultant, has written extensively on weapons of mass destruction and proliferation. He argues: While information about WMDs is all over the place, functional expertise is relatively rare. Building a nuclear weapon, even in the absence of sanctions, entails hundreds of Ph.D.s directing a small army of people. Seitz also says, "Stealing hydrogen bombs, like breaking into Fort Knox, is hard work; the score is still zero despite a half century of trying."

 There's no doubt whatsoever that al-Qaeda and other Middle East terrorist groups harbor hate for the United States and intend to do great harm to Americans whenever they can. The important point that Seitz makes in his article is that "policy must consider the capacity for action, not intent alone."

 According to Seitz, London's International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that since Sept. 11 Osama bin Laden has recruited 18,000 men, while some U.S. Department of Defense officials say he's down to his last 3,000. Seitz says that the average al-Qaeda grunt is not a bright young jihadi but a high school dropout who lives at home. In the wake of a withering attack by a hyperpower and its allies, al-Qaeda's main preoccupation is with its own security and survival and not its anti-western strategy.

 Seitz concludes, "However tall bin Laden may loom as a scourge of civilizations, it is increasingly clear that his arsenal is as phony as his army is small -- its shelves are bare of expertise and materiel alike." Don't get me wrong. Neither Seitz nor I seek to minimize the terrorist threat that we face, but it surely should be evaluated realistically. Why? It's a resource-allocation question. It's non-optimal to either underestimate or overestimate the terrorist threat. I'm sure that some might argue, "Williams, the government can't make us too safe from terrorist threats!" That's not smart.

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
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