President Obama’s big May 23 policy speech on terrorism was one for the history books, but not for the reason you think. It was one of those rare moments in the life of a nation when people rise to debate their future and we discover that everyone — but everyone — is full of baloney.
I say this in all seriousness.
The president’s essential argument is that the war on terror must be rethought because it’s wreaking havoc on the Constitution. At some point the urgency of defending ourselves against terrorists must be weighed against the urgency of defending our freedoms in an open society. We’ve done a pretty good job so far, but every war must end at some point, even if victory isn’t total. “Neither I nor any president can promise the total defeat of terror.”
Critics have followed two lines of thought. Liberals say he hasn’t gone far enough. Preserving our freedoms is more important than another battlefield coup. Republicans say he’s giving in to the terrorists. We need to fight on to victory.
The question is, how far along are we in this war? How much safer are we now than we were before we started? The answer: We are much, much worse off than we were when we started. Whatever it may have done to the Constitution, the war on terror has been great for terror.
In plain terms, the number of terrorist incidents per year around the world has more than quadrupled in the decade since we declared war on terror. Fatalities have doubled. To be specific, there were 982 terrorist incidents worldwide in 2002, resulting in 3,823 deaths. In 2011, the latest year for which numbers are available, there were 4,564 incidents resulting in 7,493 deaths. Simply put, the war on terror has made terror worse.
The good news is that deaths have been declining since 2007, when they peaked at 10,000.
The numbers come courtesy of an Australian-based think tank, the Institute for Economics and Peace, which published its first-ever Global Terrorism Index in December 2012. It works with a terrorism database maintained by the University of Maryland.
I found them by sheer accident. After listening to Obama’s speech, I went looking for some real numbers on how the war has succceeded since 9/11. I quickly discovered that numbers on global terrorism aren’t easy to come by.
The main source used to be an annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism, compiled for Congress by the State Department starting in 1985. It stopped in 2004, however, after congressional Democrats charged that the numbers were being cooked. The 2002 report had shown a worldwide total of 198 incidents and 725 deaths. The 2003 total dropped to 190 incidents and 307 deaths. Democrats cited independent sources showing figures in the thousands, not hundreds, and that 2003 marked an all-time high, not a decline.