Return to Normalcy

When Al Qaeda is defeated, can we have our liberties back?


Editor's Note: This column is reprinted with permission of the Washington Examiner. Click here to read it at that site.

Last week brought the unsurprising news that the Transportation Security Administration had terrorized yet another 6-year-old with a humiliating pat-down. Dog bites man, federal agent gropes child—we're getting all too accustomed to this sort of thing in post-9/11 America.

Meanwhile, even the administration's top terror warriors are starting to admit that Al Qaeda is a spent force. Two weeks ago, in his first public comments after moving from Langley to the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta noted that Al Qaeda's defeat was "within reach."

When we kill or round up some 10 to 20 remaining senior operatives, Panetta said, we'll "really cripple al Qaeda as a threat to this country." In fact, the Al Qaeda threat has looked anything but robust for some time now.

Last summer, Al Qaeda's online journal Inspire, a sort of Soldier of Fortune magazine for wannabe jihadis, suggested using "a tractor or farm vehicle in an attack outfitted with blades or swords as a fearsome killing machine"—perfect for "mowing down the enemies of Allah."

Among the treasure trove of materials seized from the Abbottabad compound was a missive from Osama bin Laden himself, condemning that scheme as "indiscriminate slaughter"—an odd objection, coming from a mass murderer.

Yet somehow, the terrorist mastermind missed the more obvious objection: The plan is utterly screwball—an embarrassment—the dumbest scheme since … well, since Al Qaeda operative Iyman Faris' 2002 plan to cut down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch. As I've said before, sometimes you get the sense that these guys aren't the sharpest scimitars in the shed.

The global intelligence firm Stratfor put it more politely in a recent analysis: "The jihadists seem to be having a problem … finding people who can master the terrorist tradecraft" and travel freely to the West.

They've been reduced to urging potential sympathizers who already live here to stock up at gun shows and shoot some infidels at the mall. But, as Stratfor observes, "the very call to leaderless resistance is an admission of defeat."

We may be winning, but don't dare imagine that "victory" will take the form of a restoration of lost liberties. That's "defeatist" thinking. I suppose that's why, shortly after SEAL Team 6 killed bin Laden, Congress and the president's autopen got together to reauthorize the Patriot Act. The threat recedes, but the surveillance state must live on.

And there can be no talk of beating porno-scanners into plowshares. The Department of Homeland Security recently warned that terrorists might "surgically implant explosive devices" in their bodies.

Slate.com reports that several firms are already hard at work on scanners that can look inside our bodies instead of just inside our clothes. Like all other bureaucracies, the bureaucracy of fear has a merciless logic of its own. It exists to exist, generating new invasions of privacy—and new federal contracts—however speculative the threats.

Ten days after the Sept. 11 attacks, in a speech to a joint session of Congress, President George W. Bush laid out his vision of Al Qaeda's demise: heirs to the "murderous ideologies of the 20th century," they'd end up "in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies."

Nearly a decade later, U.S. Navy SEALs pitched the head murderer's body off the side of the USS Carl Vinson into the North Arabian Sea—a watery grave that's a pretty close approximation of Bush's imagery.

Wired magazine defense analyst Spencer Ackerman asks the right question: "Why does the U.S. still need to devote such overwhelming resources worldwide against a force that's seeing history pass it by?"

As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, isn't it time we started thinking about a "peace dividend"?

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power (Cato 2008). He is a columnist at the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared. Click here to read it at that site.


NEXT: When's the Last Time the Feds Spent Just 18% of GDP? Hint: You Don't Have to Go Back to 1966

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

    1. Trompe le Monde sucked. No offense to the Pixies.

      1. Offense to the Pixies. They suck.

        1. Yup.

      1. Thank Jeebus, SIV. For minute there I was afraid you had linked to that fucking Marc Cohn song.

        1. I don’t even know who Marc Cohn is

          1. Apparently he is bullet proof

            Cohn is married to ABC News journalist Elizabeth Vargas, whom he met at the 1999 U.S. Open after being introduced by Andre Agassi.[3] They have two sons: Zachary Raphael, who was born on January 31, 2003, and Samuel Wyatt, who was born on August 16, 2006. Cohn has two other children from a previous marriage, a son, Max and a daughter, Emily.

            On August 7, 2005, Cohn was shot in the head during an attempted carjacking in Denver, Colorado, following a concert with Suzanne Vega. The bullet struck him in the temple but did not penetrate his skull. Cohn was hospitalized and released the next day. His remaining concerts on the tour were canceled

            1. attempted carjacking

              I’m pretty sure the shooter was trying to avenge good taste. Or was aiming at Suzanne Vega, but was a little… left of center!


  1. But reading the Conthitution ith *tho* hard, and it wath written *tho* long ago…

    1. Eating out Maddow’s pussy will do that to you, Ezra!

      1. Madcow has a pussy?

        Who knew?

        1. And itth inthatiable.

  2. Terrorism is the pretense, don’t confuse if for a reason.

    1. Something something…reason


  3. We will never get our liberties back. In the wake of 9/11, cowards handed almost infinite power to the federal government to protect us. Muslims will be thought of as terrorist still for a long time, and like the Japanese, they’ll probably get an “I’m sorry” letter 60 years from now for all the unlawful detainment. The USA PATRIOT Act will never be repealed, and the president will continue to have the power to assassinate US citizens long after Obama is out of office.

    1. the president will continue to have the power to assassinate US citizens long after Obama is out of office.

      The president has always had the power, but before they had to cover it up in some kind of fig leaf to avoid admitting what they were doing. Now they just look at the world and say “Yeah, we whacked ’em. So what?”

    2. “almost infinite” power?

      1. We need Fusion Power… and Flying Cars!

      2. Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? – Job 41:1

    3. O yes we will, hte populace is reaching a tipping point, we will no longer stand for an intrusive unlawful goverment.

      1. the sheeple? dont make me laugh. overweight whitehairs aint much of a revolution.

        1. Considering that you’re the type of person they allow in the army I’ll put my money on the whitehairs.

          1. im a combat vet who weightlifts & plays rugby. maybe id die fm laughter watching the fat whitehairs wheeze into the fray. hahahahahahahaha

            1. Can you outrun a bullet, Internet tuff gai?

              1. many tried. all missed. and they were enemy soldiers not wheezing fat whitehairs

                1. Doooshbag! Send address. We will send whitehair. If you are still around, come back and post here.

            2. “Taking fire” doesn’t count if it’s from the “Iraqi Prone” position. Especially if it was an AK

            3. Most of the whitehairs, the males at least, are combat vets too. Don’t go thinking you’re the only veteran on H&R.

  4. “But what are the chances that we’ll get our liberties back once Al Kaline is defeated”?

    Too freakin’ funny.

    First of all, don’t conflate Al queda, in particular, with terrorism, in general. Once one understands this distinction, one will be able to grasp that the PTB may proclaim victory over Al-queda while simultaneously reminding the sheople that the WOT must contimnue.

    Second, the WOT will never end.

    Does that answer the question?

    1. HEY! Don’t be hatin’ on [one of] the greatest Tiger[s] ever as part of your snark!

      Al Kaline is a NICE MAN. Al Kayda? He’s a jerk.

      1. Then there’s the Inuit terrorist group, al Kayak.

        1. Yeah, but Obama sure put Ole Sammy’s Bin Ladles out of business!

  5. When Al Qaeda is defeated, can we have our liberties back?

    What? And give out our precious security? Nonsense!!!

    1. “Do you promise to covet property, propriety, security, surety, and not hurt the State?”

  6. The threat recedes, but the surveillance state must live on.

    And there is your answer: No, it will not be rolled back.

    1. we will always be at war with east asia

  7. Seems relevant: Has anyone read An Act of Self Defense advertised in the H&R sidebar? I downloaded it, but I’m wary of it just being a Tea Party Left Behind.

    Either way, it’ll have to wait until I finish A Dance with Dragons.

    1. Yes, I read it. An interesting idea overall (small-group revolution with the aggression directed at the congressional level); but in implementation, a gee-whiz compilation of wishful thinking, I’m afraid. You’ll see what I mean when you read it.


    Oh. This isn’t the Friday Funny?

    1. Al Kaline is awesome, baby!

      If Major League Baseball ever did its own version of the Top 100, all time, Kaline is incontrovertibly on the list.

    2. It is funny.

      In a sick, perverted masochistic kind of a way.

  9. I’ll give you your liberties back when you pry them from my cold, dead hands!
    -Uncle Sam

  10. I didn’t realize this, but apparently Canada has implemented the porno-scanners too. And, in true Canadian fashion, people seem to be placidly submitting.

    I flew into/out of Canada last week and opted for the pat down instead. It wasn’t as invasive as the reported TSA pat down (which I’ve never experienced) as there was no between the legs touching. (Could have been because I was wearing rather short shorts and there’s just not much that could be hidden therein.) They weren’t dicks or anything, but the whole thing was very disjointed and unclear as to what was required, what one’s rights were, etc. I think I prefer the no holds barred assholeism of the TSA- makes it easier to hate them/reach a critical mass of public opinion.

    1. At least you’re lucky for that. I pretty much live in skinny jeans which doesn’t adequately conceal my wallet let alone some sort of dangerous object and I got my balls prodded not once, not twice, but 4 times. That TSA agent sure did love feeling up the inner thigh.

      1. Maybe a dude in skinny jeans sends the wrong signals.

        1. Probably didn’t help that my flight was to San Francisco either…

          1. Maybe it was like the Larry Craig foot-tap. You might have missed out on the TSA time of your life. I know polyester and a brutish ignorance are a turn-on for some.

            I wonder if I can request a TSA hottie next time, rather than some guy. I would whisper in her ear so softly, “Allahu Akbar, baby… I wanna declare jihad on your cervix…”

            1. has canada even armed their checkpoint agents yet? i heard they were going to.

              i know in the recent past, they have been ORDERED to abandon their posts and hide in the main building when a dangerous felon approaches

              1. Good GOD, that is some cowardly bullshit.

      2. WTF? Are they unsure as to what balls feel like? I suggest they hire Barry Zuckerkorn as a consultant.

        1. The TSA have gotta be ball connoisseurs at this point. They could probably tell my age and lineage just from a quick squeeze.

          The other weird thing was the guy did a waistband check, which involved him putting his fingers into my pants and going alllll the way around.

          Seriously, a grown ass man stuck his hands down my pants. WTF doesn’t even begin to describe it.

          1. really? did he smell his fingers after, seems a run on the outside, as deeming and unlawful as that is would suffice, no need to moleste you!

            1. Hoo boy. I haven’t flown since about 2005, before the full development of a hydrocell in my scrote. By the end of a long day, it’s about the size of a good sized orange (left side only).

              No telling what’ll happen when some TSA-hole finds THAT hanging between my legs.

      3. “I pretty much live in skinny jeans”

        Whatever you got, you deserve much worse.

    2. I was wearing rather short shorts and there’s just not much that could be hidden therein. They weren’t dicks or anything, but the whole thing was very disjointed

    3. damn – I was planning to drive over to Canada to fly out.

  11. Sorry Gene. It ain’t gonna happen. That whole thing is a scam. The TSA nonsense is only for one thing . To find out how much they can get away with without stirring up the hornets nest. Much like the illegal immigrant marches which were allowed for only one reason: to determine the possible amount of resistance they would encounter in a civil conflict. Basic war tactics 101. Obama pulled troops back stateside cause he is aware that too much is going on in the world and stateside and is preparing for a possible civil war. Especially with the impending debt ceiling issue and too many bubbles that are going to burst.

    1. Exactly. We’re all coming back home to do to good people like you just what we’ve been doing to Ali and Najibullah.

      Jesus Christ on a pogostick. What the hell is wrong with you?

    2. Hey LJ, your tinfoil hat might be too tight.

    3. I may have to agree with Lj.Most of you are probably too young to remember may 4th 1970.I was there.in fact nothing seems to have changed about the military except they have about a gazillion ways to kill now.

  12. I don’t think it’ll ever happen without some sort of sociopolitically unconventional, or radical, event: armed revolution, elections en-masse of constitutionalists/libertarians/republicans/minarchists, secession, or some other point-of-no-return occurrence.

    At this point, I wouldn’t mind violent deposition.

    1. “I don’t think it’ll ever happen without some sort of sociopolitically unconventional, or radical, event:…republicans…”

      Was the small “r” intentional?

      1. Yeah. It was intentional. I was talking about actual, true American republicans, the closest candidates to that in the presidential race being Johnson and Paul. Most big-shot Republicans aren’t republicans at all — they’re just statist shitheads. And that sucks.

        1. Except for Obama.

    2. I’ll take any of those. I just want the world to be interesting again.

      1. ‘may you live in interesting times’

  13. I was thinking more like ‘when Barack Hussein Obama is defeated can we have our liberties back?’

    “Because the Only Good Progressive is a Failed Progressive”

    1. Yes, back to the halcyon days of the Bush era! Fuck Obama and his USA PATRIOT Act!

      To the Team Redmobile!

      1. What has Team Blue done to rescind the “patriot” Act?

        Both Teams suck.

  14. The TSA thing is minor. I don’t quite see the uproar. There are so many other ways in which our lives are monitored by our government, it makes the TSA issue a piker. Also, you are all kidding yourselves that anything short of a revolution will get us back to anything resembling liberty. Just wait until the first nuclear device is exploded in a major city. People will run to spread their cheeks for Uncle Sam.

    1. “””There are so many other ways in which our lives are monitored by our government, it makes the TSA issue a piker.””

      True, but if you don’t see it, it can’t hurt you. 😉

      The government has the ability to monitor us to the level they can thanks to our willingness to use social media. Facebook, and dating sites are a treasure trove of data. Twenty years ago people would be appalled about anyone’s ability to track their movements. No we run out to buy the news smartphone that has that capability built in.

      I believe that within 50 years, the right not to self incriminate will be moot. Data will tell them everything they need to know.

      1. exactly 100% this. the old skool meme was ‘fear big brother’. the modern reality is that big bro (the govt.) doesn’t have but a tiny fraction of the personal data little brother (businesses) have on you. much of that is given over voluntarily (shopper discount cards so they know every single thing you buy), etc. but some of it, like private video cameras, are there whether you like it or not

        regardless, i can tell you when the cops seek out good intel on somebody we access private company databases e.g. intelius, because they have, and can store legally, all sorts of info on people that we can’t

        myspace and facebook are also treasure troves.

        look at all these people who “check in” at places via foursquare. you might as well turn over to the govt. your exact itinerary every single day.

        1. “look at all these people who “check in” at places via foursquare. you might as well turn over to the govt. your exact itinerary every single day.”

          Every time I see that shit, it reminds me of those family stickers people are so fond of putting on the back of the SUV.

          If I was a murderer or a thief, I’d leave a fucking thank you note for making my job that much easier.

          1. I regularly flip off NSA satellites.

            1. show me the google map or it didn’t happen!!!

              1. That footage goes straight into my case file, I’m sure.

        2. “the modern reality is that big bro (the govt.) doesn’t have but a tiny fraction of the personal data little brother (businesses) have on you. ”

          You’re a fucking idiot.

  15. the Transportation Security Administration had terrorized yet another 6-year-old

    Hyperbole is not the language of libertarianism.

    1. its is when unionz, the TSA, & due process is involved.

    2. the Transportation Security Administration had terrorized yet another 6-year-old
      Hyperbole is not the language of libertarianism.

      No, it is not. When you were six years old what would your reaction be to a stranger grabbing you away from your parent and touching you in an overly familiar way? Confuse not the modern meaning of terrorist with the actual word, terror.

      1. I know, I know, don’t feed the trolls. But I haz to do it I tell you, haz to!

      2. a stranger…touching you in an overly familiar way

        You mean like a doctor? I’d be terrified! No, wait…terrorized!

        1. Most kids understand what a doctor is, does, and looks like. The big giveaway is being in a doctor’s office, not in a public place where most parents tell their kids “Don’t let go of my hand”.

        2. Apparently, you’ve never brought a young child to the doctor’s office, or through a TSA groping.

          The gov’t sanctioned pedophiles are not quite as gentle and reassuring as pediatricians. And way more intrusive.

  16. “When Al Qaeda is defeated, can we have our liberties back?”
    Sure, no problem!

  17. The only reason 9/11 was successful was because, at the time, the government and the airlines told everyone to cooperate with the terrorists (hijackers). They were all afraid that someone might get hurt.

    Since 9/11 everyone who flies knows that cooperation does not work so passengers attack instead. This explains the terrorists’ lack of success post-9/11. The TSA pat downs (bad touch, daddy, bad touch) and porno-scanners do nothing to make anyone safer.

    This perfectly illustrates the difference between statist and market solutions. The statist solution is expensive, invasive, takes away our freedoms and does not make us any safer. The market solution works in spite of the statists.

    1. thats not the ONLY reason. we also had the chinese wall between international intel agencies and internal ones (the ones that police US), such that the FBI and CIA were effectively completely prohivited from sharing info, comparing notes, etc.

      being overly simplistic doesn’t help anything

      1. The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center was successful because the passengers did not fight back. When the passengers realized (through experience) that the government suggested response was the exact wrong thing to do then all of the subsequent attacks were successfully stopped (shoe bomber, underwear bomber, Pennsylvania).

        The 9/11 attack MAY have been prevented if the chinese wall didn’t exist.

        The TSA pat downs (bad touch, daddy, bad touch) and porno-scanners still do nothing to make anyone safer.

        When government is the problem, more government is NEVER the answer.

      2. “thats not the ONLY reason. ”

        Yes, actually, it is. Fuck off and die now.

    2. Thank you! I say this all the time, and even people in their 30s (and older!) literally cannot remember how much terrible advice we got from the “experts” for decades. Any “terrorism expert” a certain age or older should get several questions every time he claims any expertise: “Why did you give such stupid advice, why was it wrong at the time, why is it still wrong, and how is your advice different enough now that we would want to listen to it?”

  18. “can we have our liberties back?”


  19. If we get our liberties back, the terrorists win!

  20. Got your liberties RIGHT HERE.

  21. Surely it has dawned on someone that our overseer’s motives are not necessarily what they are claimed to be. The driving force behind the war on “terror” is not to defeat “terror” anymore than the underlying purpose of the “war on drugs” is to eliminate recreational drug use. Both drugs and terror are excuses for perpetuating a vast industry which enriches a handful at the expense of the rest. Just like virtually everything else coming from government.

  22. Third party terrorism is an effective means to attack America. All you need to do is invest a several $10millions in cooking up a general religious fervor and then a few more $millions will set up the militant arm capable of attacking America.
    A terrorist entity is a weapon created for less money than the cost of one Su-30 that is way more effective at penetrating American defences. And it is the ultimate in stealth weaponary, its been 10 years since the 911 attacks and no one who funded Al Qaeda has been caught.

    The TSA and other mass surveliance is the best defensive system against terrorist attacks. America is going to need the TSA as long as there are strong religious establishments and people able to safely fund militarization from those.

    Offensive methods to take care of the religious establishments and/or the money men may exist, but the sacrifices needed to do that are way more inconvenient than groping a few 6 year olds.

    1. Absolutely. The wholesome obliteration of constitutional principles and the foundations of liberty and justice themselves are completely justifiable if it protects us from the terrorists. Where can I sign up to your newsletter?

  23. Passing through airport security frequently, it occurs to me that there are two kinds of people in this world; 1. People willing to submit silently to the TSA and their mindless scanning and groping in the name of “safety”. 2. People who outwardly resent being reduced to the lowest common denominator. I have often been vocal in my protests to these mindless TSA agents requesting some kind of common sense approach to scanning. Its really not that hard to distinguish between threatening people and non. Only our Federal Government could be so lame in the area of human cognition.
    I miss my liberty more than I can adequately express.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.