Twenty-two years after the September 11 attacks, the threat of jihadist terror is not a major concern for most Americans. But it has not gone away. Noah Rothman examines the ongoing dangers of al-Qaeda and other groups based Afghanistan—despite the White House’s insistence that they are not a serious cause for concern. He then turns to a larger problem:
A lot has changed since 9/11. The West has developed a robust counterterrorism apparatus, which has proven proficient at intercepting communications and signals intelligence regarding potential plots and interdicting them either directly or via a global network of state partners. But those capabilities are eroding. Afghanistan has once again become a permissive environment in which terrorist groups operate openly, recruit and train operatives directly, and plot extensively.
Moreover, a sense of complacency has descended over lawmakers in Washington. . . . A similar complacency is evident in the political landscape to which American lawmakers are uniquely attuned. One representative essay published in the Washington Post last week by Jessica Petrow-Cohen, whose formative early-childhood experiences were forged in the wake of 9/11, maintained that the fears of terrorism she grew up with “were valid but misplaced.” The real, acute threats weren’t Islamist radicals bent on mayhem and murder, she argued, but the “environmental toxins released during and after the World Trade Center attacks” and the domestic officials who failed to mitigate that menace.
That would be a comfort, but the global terrorist threat has not degraded all on its own. It has been degraded actively and only as a result of persistent effort. We have become adept at detecting terrorist plots, good at interdicting them, and very lucky in the pursuit of both objectives. “There’s no such thing as perfect security,” George W. Bush said in 9/11’s wake. “To attack us, the terrorists only have to be right once. To stop them, we need to be right 100 percent of the time.” The Islamist terrorist threat hasn’t receded so much as we have grown fatigued with the obligations associated with defending against it. Our enemies are not above exploiting our exhaustion.