In times of terrorism, the first casualty is American values. After 9/11, Americans witnessed the shredding of habeas corpus, torture of terrorist suspects, lawless secret prisons, warrantless wiretaps, and the trillion dollar debacle known as Iraq.
One would hope that incidents like the recent failed attack over Detroit have made us all more aware of the insidious aftereffects that terrorism can have on our body politic. As my Cato Institute colleague Jim Harper trenchantly notes:
Though it certainly helps, terrorism doesn't require explosions and fatalities to work its will. If public fear produced by this incident drives the U.S. toward self-injurious overreactions--abandonment of plane travel, overwrought and poorly directed security measures, and so on--then it will be a successful act of terrorism. The behavior of the Obama administration, political leaders in Congress, and the media will determine whether this is a successful act of terrorism.
The Obama administration must counter its impulse to overreact to this recent terrorist incident. We would have learned nothing from 9/11 if we misdirect more of our country's limited energies and scarce resources to feed our unwieldy homeland security department, especially since the bravery of average folks (rather than billions of dollars spent in counterterrorism equipment) is what saved Flight 253. Perhaps the worst conclusion pundits might draw from this foiled attack is that the continued prosecution of wars overseas will keep America safe from terrorism; in fact such counterproductive efforts only play into al Qaeda's hands.