How Resilient Is Post-9/11 America? By Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt

DeM Banter:  There is so much more going on here…Schmitt starts off and it looks like we are going somewhere and we stop.  So… I can only imagine this is to push or tease their new book,  “Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda.”  If not…I am stuck thinking… and… why… ??? Thoughts? 

New York Times
September 9, 2012
Pg. SR6

News Analysis

Washington–EVEN with the death of Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda terrorist network is “evolving” and “adapting” and spreading to new havens. The Taliban weathered an American-led troop surge in Afghanistan and is still “resilient.” Hijackings of commercial vessels off the Horn of Africa have dropped, but the Somali pirates remain “adaptable” and “flexible.”

Those are the adjectives chosen by senior American officials in grudging acknowledgment of continuing threats to American security by adversaries described as resilient, capable of rebounding from terrible losses and able to recruit again to carry out more vicious attacks.

These same leaders, however, strike a different tone when assessing the effects on this nation of the 11-year-old struggle against violent extremism. To be sure, American leaders praise the heroism and sacrifice of those who defend the United States, but they are increasingly pressed to explain, and resolve, deeply troubling trends: levels of suicide among the troops and of post-traumatic stress that threaten to overwhelm the health care system.

These raise concerns that the United States is losing ground in the New Darwinism of security threats, in which an agile enemy evolves in new ways to blunt America’s vast technological prowess with clever homemade bombs and anti-American propaganda that helps supply a steady stream of fighters.

Have we become America the brittle?

“Resiliency” has finally entered the lexicon of American political leaders. The military has instituted programs for the fighting force. Officials are looking to the experiences of such countries as Britain and Israel, examples of individual and national resilience earned the hard way.

Federal law enforcement and homeland security experts are advising corporate America to build better security into their business practices — to safeguard their goods and services, to recover from attack and, from the companies’ perspective, to boost their brand. “When you think of El Al, it’s not for on-time performance, it’s that you’re safe,” said a senior law enforcement official, referring to the Israeli airline renowned for its security procedures.

Officers across the American military now receive resilience training before taking command positions, to enable them to better spot subordinates showing signs of emotional wear and tear and to better deal with it.

Senior leaders of the Army, which has borne the lion’s share of the deployments over more than a decade of grinding ground combat, created a program called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness “to teach soldiers how to be psychologically strong in the face of adversity, such as combat.” Tellingly, these classes on resilience are available to family members of the troops, as well.

“This is something we’re going to have forever, similar to physical training,” Brig. Gen. James F. Pasquarette, the program’s former director, said in an Army news release.

The Army’s resiliency program was created by the University of Pennsylvania and designed around “modules” that focus on “post-traumatic growth” as well as personal and family emotional fitness.

Federal homeland security advisers are helping local police departments identify risks and teach tactics common to fighting terrorists and violent criminals, like the man accused in July of rigging his apartment with explosives and of killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater. In the next month, the Homeland Security Department is launching a new online library for police trainers nationwide that will include case studies like the Norwegian man convicted of killing 77 people in a horrific bombing and shooting attack in July last year.

Other countries already exhibit a strong psychological resilience. A bomb goes off in a Jerusalem market and the city mourns, but the market reopens quickly. A bomb goes off in the London subway and the city mourns, but the subway reopens quickly.

After suffering decades of Irish Republican Army terrorism and then more recent violence from Islamist militants, Britain has elevated responsibilities for national resilience to a formal government position. The United States has no comparable post.

A senior British official responsible for “security, intelligence and resilience” now sits in the Cabinet Office and is responsible for emergency preparedness, emergency response and recovery, infrastructure resilience and community resilience across Britain.

Can the United States learn resilience without suffering the repeated murderous attacks that have bloodied such nations as Israel and Britain? If — when — terrorists again strike the United States, will the response be brittle and clumsy and counterproductive in ways that only add to the militants’ victory? Or will Americans rise with resilience?

The best weapon against terror is refusing to be terrorized. That starts with giving Americans timely, accurate information about potential threats.

The Homeland Security Department is trying to enlist the public’s help with a program called “If You See Something, Say Something,” which urges citizens to report unusual behavior to authorities. Well-meaning, perhaps, but officials must offer more practical guidance to avoid creating “a climate of spying,” homeland security specialists say.

Not all security experts are enamored of the “R”-word. Richard A. Falkenrath, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and formerly the New York Police Department’s top counterterrorism official, says it makes sense to examine resilience in a particular region or business sector. For example, as the weather has become increasingly volatile and violent, oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico can now better predict storms and evacuate rigs and shut down pumps more efficiently.

“But resilience as a kind of homeland security equivalent of G.N.P., I’ve never bought it,” he said.

There is a notable national example of what resilience looks like.

The most horrific attack of homegrown terrorism occurred in Oklahoma City in April 1995, when Timothy J. McVeigh, a right-wing, militia-movement extremist, detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people, including 19 children.

The city grieved, to be sure, but the city’s leaders adopted a posture of resiliency. “We can’t show them we’re afraid,” said Ronald J. Norick, who was the Oklahoma City mayor at the time of the bombing. “We had to do something for our community. It was not going to happen just by happenstance. There had to be a purpose. There had to be a reason. And there was no better way to improve our city than to do it ourselves.”

So the capital of one of the reddest red states in the nation, hardly a bastion of tax-and-spend ideology, has now twice extended a sales-tax increase to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild and improve a sleepy town that was brutally scarred by the bombing. The building and rebuilding included a performing arts center, a library, a baseball park, public schools, a convention center and a river walk that is home to the United States Olympic team’s rowing training. A championship-caliber N.B.A. franchise was brought to town.

“McVeigh thought that by being a terrorist, he could start a revolution,” Mr. Norick said. “But we showed that you are not going to destroy this country coming in here and trying to blow us up and terrorize us. It’s not going to work. It’s going to make us come together.”

Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt are national security reporters for The New York Times and the co-authors of “Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda.”

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