I read Ron Suskind’s new book “The One-Percent Doctrine” over the past week; it’s a compelling read, and one that probes deeply into the dilemmas of decision-making in the war on terror. Kevin Drum’s commentary on the book summarizes the key themes of the book accurately, and my general reactions to the book were similar to his.
The book focuses tangentially on homeland security, chronicling the circumstances behind the December 2003 “Code Orange” (the threat alerts were based on false steganographic analysis of the al-Jazeera “crawl” at the bottom of the screen) and the August 2004 financial sector alerts. And it leaves a general impression that many senior leaders in the government believe that homeland security is a futile effort. From page 212:
These hard facts matched badly with another area of futility: a realization that the American mainland is indefensible. Despite necessary and regular public assurances to the contrary, there was no senior official in the government who doubted it. When pressed, the closest anyone would come to speaking such a dispiriting truth would be to say, as Tom Ridge did at a congressional hearing, “We can set up hurdles to make their job tougher, but we can’t stop them.”
Suskind leaves the impression that this ‘futility’ has caused leaders in the federal government to shift their attention to the ‘offensive’ side of the war on terror. (The budget allocations for DHS since 2003 support this hypothesis).
But is this the right decision to make? Is protecting the homeland really “futile”? Or is it instead the case that the United States simply hasn’t made the investments and put in place a system that would make it possible to effectively stop or deter attacks (at least the catastrophic ones)? I think there’s a strong case to be made that spending on certain homeland security missions (e.g. domestic intelligence, chemical plant security, border security, rad/nuc detection) has a greater antiterror ROI at the margin in comparison with many other areas of activity in the broader war on terror today.
Overall, Suskind’s book is a very good read – well worth picking up.