Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cato hosts book forum on "A Dangerous World?"; brief notes on Canada shooting, North Korean prisoner release

Today, I attended a Cato Book Forum at the Cato Institute in Washington DC for the new paper anthology “A Dangerous World? Threat Perception and U.S. National Security”, edited by Christopher A. Preble (Cato Foreign Policy Studies) and John Mueller (Ohio State), with multiple contributors.  The link for the event is here
The forum, at noon, was held in the larger auditorium on the main floor, the “red room”.  All previous forums there that I had attended had been held in the “blue room” in the basement.  This forum, like many at Cato, was free but required advance registration.
Just before the presentation started and we were asked to turn off our cell phones, the reports about the terror attack in Ottawa, Canada at and near Parliament appeared in the news, but only a few of us knew about it until lunch afterward.  That incident will be covered here later in a subsequent post.
The four panelists, besides moderator John Samples (a Cato Vice President) , included the two editors, as well  as Frank Hoffman (National Defense University) and James Fallows (National Correspondent for The Atlantic). 
I will read the book and give it a formal review on my Book Reviews Blog later.  But it’s well to note a few trends in the remarks.
Preble, for example, noted that most Americans are statistically safer than they have ever been.   The media draws attention to every possible threat (including now Ebola).  But the world of a century ago was a much more dangerous place than it is today.  Mueller noted that the United States has few if any credible threats to its gross national security.  The most dangerous event in history was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  But during the rest of the Cold War, there was no realistic chance that the United States and the Soviet Union would get into nuclear war.   He also doubted that involvement in World War II had been absolutely necessary from a national security perspective.  A Hitler-controlled Europe would be a humanitarian disaster, not a direct one to the US, he argued.  Mao killed seven times as many people in China as the Japanese did.  Similar facts have been cited about Stalin opposed to Hitler.  He viewed ISIS as a terrible threat in Iraq and Syria but not here.
However, Hoffman played “devil’s advocate” with the two book editors.  
There were several questions from the audience.  Many were centered on foreign policy, but one question stimulated a discussion, with unclear outcome, as to whether enough is done to screen cargo at ports for nuclear or other WMD materials  I asked a question about the “personalization” of threats as if they were addressed to individual Americans at home through the media, a practice which seemed to start with Osama bin Laden with his appearances after 9/11 in 2001 but which has been known from both the extreme Left and extreme Right before, and the discussion got into the matter of resilience, that private industry, especially utilities, needed to do much more to protect its infrastructure from solar space weather and severe storms (like Sandy) which would provide more protection from terrorists.

During the catered gourmet sandwich lunch upstairs (complimentary -- for Anthony Bourdain??), one person at my table noted that "leveraging" of terror threats (essentially the subject of my question) didn't start until the 1970s with highjackings related to Palestinian causes. He also noted that the vigrorous contact tracing by CDC for people who have maybe one chance in one million of exposure to Ebola (as in Ohio), disrupting businesses and lives, is due to the fact that Obama can't afford the political consequences of even one more missed case.   
One other quick item:  North Korea has released one of its three American prisoners, Jeffrey Fowle, who had been arrested in May for leaving a Bible in his hotel room, CNN story here. More on the other two prisoners will probably be forthcoming.

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