Friday, August 22, 2014

Today in security studies: The perfect front page

This home page from Thursday afternoon is Fox in a grain of sand. The downpage stories are perfect: there's a little reactive devaluation (sexual harassment in the military is a fey librul plot, until our side mentions it), some primal race-baiting (just go read the comments) and a reminder that 2016 is always in season ("the claims about Clinton's cigar preferences follow a string of reports about Bill and Hillary Clintons' sky-high speaking fees and special requests while on the road"). But the real gem is the lead story:

Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that his Justice Department is opening a criminal investigation into the brutal execution by Islamic State militants of American journalist James Foley, in the latest move by the administration to use the criminal justice system to pursue terrorists.

The announcement comes as the Obama administration steps up its airstrike campaign against the same militant organization -- and mulls additional American boots on the ground in Iraq.

That might strike you as a bit of a contradiction. If you keep up with Fox, you know that pretty much the worst offense you can commit is imagining that terrorism is a law enforcement problem, rather than the sort of matter you deal with by blowing the hell out of things with naval aviation, and the Kenyan usurper is selling us out by doing the former even as he cranks up the ... does your brain hurt yet?

You might now be wondering why Fox's national security reporting sounds as if it's written by an unusually ill-tempered Dalek with too much coffee, a short attention span and a lingering grudge over its J2100 grade. Fox has been in a six-year fight against security entropy, and that's hard work. Anything that moves terrorism back from the shadowy world of existential threats and endless danger is almost an equal danger itself. Fox's job is to be on guard, because Fox is clued in -- even if you aren't -- to the fundamental truth: Terrorism is one single, indivisible, America-hating thing, and the only acceptable responses to terrorism are either (a) panic, (b) blow more stuff up or (c) both.

Thursday's story, self-evident contradictions and all, is driven by the same shared belief in Kenyan squishiness that drove Fox's rage about analyzing terrorism as a form of technological disaster, or considering whether it's possible to learn something about politically motivated mass murder in the workplace from other cases of workplace violence, or even whether something that looks and sounds like "terrorism" can be both planned and opportunistic.* That's where Fox, bless its pointy little First Amendment-protected head, goes from being just sort of randomly entertaining to being actually a little dangerous, because those are very useful ways for grownups to think about both the thing we call "terrorism" and the things we can do to head it off or mitigate its damage.

Very little makes Fox (and Drudge, and the remainder of their little friends) happier than the chance to jump up and down and squeal about how likely it is that the terrorists are about to hit an American city. (It's only overblown hype when the Kenyan brings it up; America's cities can make up their own minds about when to panic.) If you're interested in how to get people out of town afterward, on the other hand, we had an instructive small-scale disaster (six inches of rain in a couple hours) up here last week. You'd do much better to study what people looked at, and what they believed, and what they did as they tried to get home from that than you'd do waiting for the scary brown people to blow something up.

Funny, if you apply the same reasoning to the "active shooter" situations that schools are always training for, you might find that some protective measures are more relevant to your immediate interests than determining which flavor of monotheism the shooter adheres to. If you expect "the terrorists" to be goal-directed and capable of rank-ordering their interests, you'd be surprised at the sort of rational acts you can see them coming up with. And if you think the court system and naval aviation might be complementary ways of addressing a security threat, you might find yourself with a better equipped toolbox for addressing security threats. Funny how that works.

If you're interested in either national or "lived" security, that is. If you'd rather watch people wet their pants in fear until they're primed to vote against every interest they have, let's head over to Fox and see what they're up to!

* From now through the next election, someone should point out at least once a day that both Fox News and the Washington Times were quite happy to blame the Benghazi attack on the infamous YouTube video, until they found there was more mileage in attacking the Kenyan for offering the same (if more nuanced) explanation.

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