ND Expert: Overreacting to threats also advances terrorist objectives

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Michael Desch Michael Desch

In response to threats of possible al-Qaida attacks, the U.S. State Department extended for one week the closure of many American embassies in the Middle East.

Though there is broad agreement on the legitimacy of these terror plots, University of Notre Dame Political Scientist Michael Desch questions whether the American response is proportionate to the threat.

“There are grounds for wondering how much of this is based on rock-solid intelligence as opposed to bureaucratic, vested interest, and also whether our reaction was really proportionate to the threat or driven by domestic politics,” says Desch, an expert on international relations and national security.

“It might be just coincidence that this plot was uncovered primarily through communications intercepts by the National Security Agency (NSA) at the time during when the NSA is under increasing scrutiny by Congress for being too aggressive in its efforts to monitor global communications,” Desch says.

“Or it could be that the current threat is getting greater attention because it changes the debate.”

With the specter of the events in Benghazi, Libya, last year, Desch questions whether the current response goes too far.

“While some response to this threat was prudent, it’s hard not to view the wholesale closing of U.S. embassies and other diplomatic facilities in the Middle East and North Africa as an overreaction rather than a judicious response,” Desch says.

Desch points out that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. has done a good job of diminishing al-Qaida’s ability to hurt Americans directly, but not without sometimes overreacting.

“What we tend to lose sight of in all of this is that terrorists seek to not only to hurt Americans but also to provoke us to overreact in response to this threat. We need to recognize that such overreach advances their objectives as well.”

Contact: Dr. Desch’s comments may be used in whole or in part; he can be reached at 574-631-2792 or mdesch@nd.edu