The Counterproductive Focus on Terrorism

In a recent piece for Cato at Liberty, Trevor Thrall writes that the topic of terrorism now dominates the news media like never before, a trend which may be harmful to American interests. His data shows that over the past three years, mentions of ISIS have infected virtually every foreign policy topic to the point where it is difficult to re-frame the foreign policy debate.

Such a focus on ISIS and terrorism is counterproductive for several reasons, Thrall explains. For example, it inflates the danger Americans face from terrorism. Although terrorist acts are despicable and tragic for the victims and communities who experience them, since 9/11, 78 Americans have been killed by acts of terror, including the 49 in the recent attack in Orlando, Florida. None of these attacks were carried out by official members of ISIS or Al Qaeda.

Also, as Thrall observes, government resources are necessarily constrained. This means that every moment spent combating ISIS means less attention and resources can be spent resolving issues like global health security and nuclear proliferation, or promoting free trade.

Additionally, the hyper-focus on ISIS prompts politicians in Washington, DC, to fear losing votes if they appear soft on terror, thereby overspending on even more intervention in the Middle East. As Thrall points out, this is all immensely counterproductive; however, given the political incentives involved, the problem may not end “until the fires that stoke Islamist-inspired terrorism have burned themselves out.”

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