An incident took place a couple of months ago the significance of which I think has gone largely unnoticed. One Sunday morning Medea Benjamin of Code Pink fame and a friend decided to pay a visit to John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism chief, at his home in the DC suburbs to discuss our drone policy. When Ms. Benjamin rang the bell, Mr. Brennan himself answered the door. This seems remarkable to me. Here you have a man who knows as much about the threat from international terrorism as anyone in our government, who shares responsibility for the assassination of dozens of terrorist leaders, who would be at the top of the list if the terrorists decided to retaliate in kind, yet he feels so unthreatened that he personally opens his door to a stranger! Does this suggest the threat from international terrorism has been hyped?
Sending a lone assassin to exact an eye for an eye would seem to be about the simplest and most appropriate act the terrorists could execute, a fitting throwback to the tactic of the 12th century cult leader, Hassan-i Sabbāh, who sent his acolytes out from his hideout in Iran to murder Muslim leaders he considered apostates after juicing his boys up with hashish (hence “assassins”). This was much simpler than organizing a band of Westernized, lap-dancing loving, Keystone Cop-ish saboteurs to hijack an airplane and fly it into a building. And yet Mr. Brennan seems to believe the terrorists are too unimaginative to come up with such a novel idea or pull it off even if they did!
At his confirmation hearing to be CIA Director last week, Mr. Brennan was asked some rather pointed questions about our drone policy. This is quite a departure from the senate’s usual practice of pulling out the rubber stamp – or just looking the other way – no matter what atrocious behavior the president (and I mean any president) chooses to engage in overseas (renditions, torture, Guantanamo). Could it be that the senators’ concern is inspired not by finding Jesus at a congressional prayer breakfast but by a fear they themselves might become targets of the terrorists’ revenge? Do they not relish the change in their lifestyle that would be necessitated should some swarthy types with guttural accents bump off a couple of notable Americans.
If the point of terrorism is to terrorize, then I think we have to admit the terrorists have won. With our metal detectors, our barricaded buildings, the snooping into our private lives, we act as if we are terrified. That is, we all do except John Brennan.