America After Boston: What We Should and Should Not Do to Combat Terrorism
Now that the week of terror appears to have ended in Boston, Americans nationwide will reflect on the worst terrorist attack on the homeland since 9/11.
There will be praise for local, state, and federal law enforcement that showed the highest level of professionalism. There will be admiration for the first responders and medical personnel that worked to save lives.
There will be recriminations as well. Some will question the nation’s preparedness in the face of continuing threats of terrorism. Others will second-guess the acts of decision-makers in times of crisis.
Regardless, the Boston atrocity is a stark reminder that terrorists remain determined to inflict maximum harm to American citizens. We need to remain vigilant.
Much has been done since 9/11 to enhance national security. Many terrorist attacks have been thwarted by first-class intelligence work. Alert citizens have done their part as well.
Now there will be calls for action by the Administration and Congress. Armchair experts will say that the important thing to do is simply to do something. Nevertheless, it is important to separate the necessary from the futile.
Steven Bucci of the Heritage Foundation provided some helpful advice as the Boston crisis wound down at the end of the week. He thoughtfully suggested what should and should not be done to combat terrorism. Here are some excerpts:
What Not To Do
- Throw Money at the Problem. Lawmakers should resist the shrill cries claiming that this new attack occurred because the nation was not spending enough on security. The government is still not doing a very good job spending the money it has already allocated. It knows, for example, that it needs to do a better job spending the money already allocated to emergency responders. America needs a system that will spend the money allocated for homeland defense efficiently and effectively.
- Trade Civil Liberties for Safety. Calls for new security measures that require temporary impositions on basic civil liberties could also dominate the aftermath of the attack. The U.S. must respect the rights of its citizens, and calls for security at the expense of liberty should be resisted. However, Americans should understand that, despite hysterical claims to the contrary, not every government action to fight terrorism is a slap at the Constitution.
- Blame America. Regardless of who did this horrible deed, someone will say that the U.S. deserved it. No nation is perfect, but the U.S. strives to be a force for good in the world. Some may not like American politics or policy – or even its popular music, for that matter – but nothing the United States has done domestically or internationally justifies terrorist acts aimed against innocent people.
What Should Be Done
- Fully Implement a Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism. Countering violent extremism remains an important complementary effort to an effective counterterrorism strategy. In August 2011, the U.S. government released a plan called “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States.” The strategy focus on outlining how federal agencies can assist and empower local officials, groups, and private organizations to prevent violent extremism. More should be done to transform a laundry list of good ideas into an effective program to support communities in protecting and strengthening civil society.
- Maintain Essential Counterterrorism Tools. Support for important investigative tools such as the Patriot Act is essential to maintain the security of the U.S. and combat terrorist threats. Key provisions within the bill, such as the roving surveillance authority and business records provision, have proven essential in thwarting terror plots, yet they require frequent reauthorization. In order to ensure that law enforcement and intelligence authorities have the essential counterterrorism tools they need, Congress should seek permanent authorization of the three sunsetting provisions within the Patriot Act.
- Clarify the Domestic Counterterrorism Framework. Cooperative efforts among local, state, and federal law enforcement have been essential in thwarting other plots before the American public was ever in danger. Moving forward, the U.S. should properly apportion roles and responsibilities among the various levels of government based on their resources (e.g., money, people, and experience). In order to clarify the domestic counterterrorism framework, the President should issue an executive order establishing a national domestic counterterrorism and intelligence framework that clearly articulates how intelligence operations at all levels should function to combat terrorism while keeping citizens safe and free.
These are good suggestions that deserve careful consideration. Americans eventually will recover from the trauma of the Boston bombings. It will take time. Then we should carefully determine how to make the nation safer in the face of constant threats of terrorism.