Last week I quoted a couple of arch-liberals saying that we should ignore terrorism because, with the exception of September 11, terrorists kill fewer people annually than lightning.
This was the official response to terrorism prior to September 11 - some efforts were made to reduce it but it did not drive foreign policy. Now it is the primary factor in the Bush administration foreign policy. Is this an over-reaction?
First of all, the risks posed by lightning are well understood and people take basic precautions such as going indoors during thunderstorms.
More important, lightning is a constant. Terrorism is not. The severity of terrorism depends on a range of factors. A big factor is how many people the terrorists can kill with the means at their disposal.
The interim Staff Report from the September 11th commission said that al Qaeda originally meant to hijack ten planes hitting both coasts. This was scaled back because they did not think that they could carry off such a large operation. If they could have they would have killed many more than the 3,000 people they did murder.
Also, the report confirmed that al Qaeda is very interested in dirty bombs, biological and chemical weapons, and nuclear devices. Given the means, they would prefer to kill millions rather than thousands.
Let me repeat that - the only thing keeping terrorists from killing millions of Americans is that they do not currently have the means and they are trying to acquire them.
If we do not keep actively disrupting their activities then they will eventually manage to do something much, much worse than September 11th.