No, unfortunately I am not writings about terrorism ending. Our friends in the mountainous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan have not spontaneously had an attack of conscience and decided to stop blowing up schools and cars. Rather I am writing about the end of terrorism as a rhetorical device in America.
Strange as it may seem, people used to not care about terrorism. For instance, on Oct. 23, 1983, Islamic Jihad blew up a Marine Barracks in Lebanon. Rather than starting a war over this, President Reagan simply pulled American troops out of Lebanon. In the 90’s, terrorists struck targets including U.S. embassies, warships, and the World Trade Center, which was bombedon Feb. 26, 1993. The public was not aroused, and when President Clinton launched missiles at Al Queda camps in 1998, his enemies responded by implying that he was only trying to distract attention from the Lewinsky sex scandal.
That all changed, and of course it’s not hard to pinpoint the date of the change: September 11, 2001. From that day forward terrorism was the rhetorical device of choice for both parties, but most particularly the Republicans. The party line was that we were in a war for the future of civilization. Based on this, the Republicans justified invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, massive military build-up, the Department of Homeland Security (which they had opposed when the Democrats called for it in the 90’s), attacks on Constitutional rights, and so forth. Even irrelevant things like agriculture subsidies were put forward on the basis of protecting us from terrorism.
Perhaps must notably, Repubs used the threat of terrorism to keep their own people in line. Repubs were strong on terrorism while Dems were weak, the theory went, so you had to vote Pub even if President Bush and Congress were spending trillions, regulating business, and generally violating conservative principles right and left. This political rhetoric worked pretty well for a couple election cycles. Even in 2008, the Republican Presidential candidates were trying to one-up each other by vowing to torture suspects the most mercilessly, double the size of Guatanamo, and so forth.
What a difference three and a half years makes! Today, as the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack approaches, not a single Republican anywhere is focused on terrorism. Even though some of the candidates today are the same people who were mouthing off about it in 2008, they’ve changed their tune. Terrorism is rather like disco music or Friendster; it still exists, but the cultural mainstream no longer cares about it.