The massacre at Fort Hood is a reminder that the War on Terror is not fought just in south Afghanistan or Mosul. It is a global war also fought in office buildings inside military bases in Texas. Many counter-terror analysts focus on the Pakistan connection and preventing The Big One that could top 9/11. But the real problem may well be the self-motivated “small ball” players like Major Hasan or a future disciple of DC Sniper John Allen Muhammad. “Small ball” terrorism won’t have the economic, political, or strategic impact that 9/11 did. But if there is enough of it, the public will eventually find political leadership that will provide an adequate response to the problem.
What should be that response? How should Western societies respond to the generalized problem of terrorism, especially the domestic variety? Constitutional law professor and former National Security Council staffer Philip Bobbitt attempted to provide a comprehensive answer in his grandly ambitious book Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-first Century. In a message that ruffled feathers on every point on the political spectrum, Bobbitt argued that in order to defend Western values of liberty and the rule of law, both domestic and international law would need to become more muscular. Bobbitt rejected that there is a trade-off between civil liberties and government power. In a future world of “market-state terrorism” he fears we are headed to, Bobbitt argued that more law authorizing more surveillance and more foreign intervention would be the only way to protect basic liberties.
After an initial flurry of attention, Terror and Consent seems to have been shelved to collect dust. Without another 9/11 or even any small ball terrorism inside the U.S., no one has had any need for Bobbitt’s theories.
Major Hasan’s case may reintroduce us to Terror and Consent. Many want to know why the electronic surveillance over Hasan was not used to stop him in advance of his rampage. A fair question. Are there other Major Hasans who have similarly self-radicalized and are preparing to strike? Or about to self-radicalize even if they don’t know it yet? Is there a government agency responsible for monitoring and preventing this? If so, what should be an acceptable level of false positive identifications and apprehensions?
Bobbitt attempted to address these and other questions in a dense and theoretical way. But maybe it won’t be just theory for much longer.