Glenn Carle had an excellent op-ed in monday's Washington Post echoing a point that John Mueller and Jim Fallows, among others, have made in the past: the terrorist threat just isn't very threatening. While Mueller brought a social scientific approach, and Fallows relied on counterinsurgency experts, Carle brings his background in the CIA's clandestine service, where he focused on Muslim extremism and other transnational issues. He argues that jihadists are "small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents" incapable of fulfilling their megalomaniacal fantasies.
I agreed with this argument when Mueller and Fallows made it, and I agree with it now. But the question for terror skeptics was and is one of politics. While this view is in the mainstream in policy circles, no politician will touch this critique with a ten-foot pole. McCain, of course, intends to make the Bush administration look like a bunch of McGovernites when it comes to terrorism, but even Obama can appear unduly hawkish at times. His advisers consider "a relentless and thorough destruction of al-Qaeda" an "inextricable part" of his foreign policy doctrine, in the words of Spencer Ackerman. With these choices, what's a terror skeptic to do?
Maybe this is wishful thinking, but it seems to me that Obama and his team may actually be less focused on terrorism than they appear at first glance. Note that in "The Obama Doctrine", Ackerman's April cover story in the Prospect, none of Obama's advisors refer to a continuing struggle against terrorism. None of them talk about a "long war", or a "global struggle", or even a "war on terror". The operative word is "destroy". The focus isn't on settling into a long, protracted battle, it's on crushing al-Qaeda. It's not hard to imagine that such a concerted effort, if successful, could remove terrorism as a political issue, and free up future presidents to focus on more pressing concerns.
Additionally, Obama cautioned against an overemphasis on terrorism in an interview with Fareed Zakaria just yesterday. When Zakaria asked if Muslim extremism is "the transcendent challenge of the 21st century", Obama called it "one of the severe threats that we face," but added, "I don't think it's the only threat that we face." He's still more concerned than I'd like, but at least he's less concerned than I'd feared.