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Terrorizing Ourselves: Why U.S. Counterterrorism Policy Is Failing and How to Fix It

About the Book

Terrorizing Ourselves dismantles much of the flawed thinking that dominates U.S. counterterrorism policy today and lays out alternative approaches informed by experience, deliberation, and the well‐​established norms of a free society.

Leading experts in the field contributed to this important new book, which shows that politicians use fear for political purposes and spend vast sums of money on dubious security measures. These experts explore the nature of modern terrorism, explain and decry our panicked responses to it, and offer sober alternatives.

Beyond specific proposals for disrupting terror cells and improving homeland security efforts, Terrorizing Ourselves documents the many ways in which a climate of fear‐​mongering exacerbates the threat of terrorism.

Terrorists, the authors note, get their name for a reason. Fear is their chief tactic. Political forces push U.S. policymakers to hype this fear, encouraging Americans to believe that terrorists are global super villains who can wreck American society unless we submit to their demands. This book shows that policies based on this fantasy are self‐​defeating and bring needless war, wasted wealth, and less freedom. The authors explore strategies to undermine support for these policies. They also sketch an alternative counterterrorism and homeland security strategy—one that makes us safer and plays to Americans’ confidence rather than our fears.

The book’s chapters:
(1) Defeating al Qaeda by Audrey Kurth Cronin
(2) Terrorism as a Product of Choices and Perceptions by James J. F. Forest
(3) Are There ‘‘Root Causes’’ for Terrorist Support? Revisiting the Debate on Poverty, Education, and Terrorism by Mia Bloom
(4) Don’t You Know There’s a War On? Assessing the Military’s Role in Counterterrorism by Paul R. Pillar and Christopher A. Preble
(5) Assessing Counterterrorism, Homeland Security, and Risk by James A. Lewis
(6) Assessing Measures Designed to Protect the Homeland by John Mueller
(7) The Economics of Homeland Security by Veronique de Rugy
(8) The Atomic Terrorist? by John Mueller
(9) Assessing the Threat of Bioterrorism by Milton Leitenberg
(10) Managing Fear: The Politics of Homeland Security by Benjamin H. Friedman
(11) The Impact of Fear on Public Thinking about Counterterrorism Policy: Implications for Communicators by Priscilla Lewis
(12) Communicating about Threat: Toward a Resilient Response to Terrorism by William Burns

About the Editors

At the Cato Institute, Benjamin H. Friedman is the Research Fellow in Defense and Homeland Security Studies, Jim Harper is the Director of Information Policy Studies, and Christopher A. Preble is the Director of Foreign Policy Studies. They all reside in the Washington, D.C. area.

What Others Have Said

“The authors and outlooks collected in this volume represent the clearest, most realistic, most penetrating thought about America’s response to terrorist threats. The wider the audience is for views like these, the closer the country will come to an effective, sustainable policy for protecting its people and defending its values.”
—James Fallows,
National Correspondent, The Atlantic Monthly

“For far too long we have let fear, ignorance and partisan rancor drive our counterterrorism policies—with predictable results. The editors have organized a group of experts who bring light to the discussion, rather than just heat. At its core, Terrorizing Ourselves posits that the American public is ready for an adult conversation about terrorism and sustainable responses that protect both security and American values. Let’s hope someone in government is listening.”
—Mike German,
Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and Former FBI Special Agent

“This intelligent and nuanced book shows clearly that aggressive U.S. military action provides motivation and ideological ammunition to terrorists who portray America as waging a war against Islam and Muslims. The authors convincingly argue that there is a strategic logic to terrorists’ actions, and that Americans lack full understanding of this logic. To deny terrorists the oxygen and nutrients that sustain them, U.S. strategy must guard against overreaction and construct proportional, dispassionate, and analytical approaches to countering terrorism. Terrorizing Ourselves must be required reading for the Obama security team and for foreign policy specialists and media analysts and commentators.”
—Fawaz A. Gerges,
Professor OF International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science,
and Author of The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global