Quite a Difference

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February 12, 2010 5:22 a.m.

A lot of people are saying that John Brennan went too far by saying that “politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda.” Given the past administration’s habit of arguing that dissent or questioning of counter-terrorism policies played into the hands of the terrorists, the words may have been ill-chosen. But it is simply wrong to equate the two things. Indeed, it’s the kind of distinction, regrettably, the daily press is seldom able to grasp, putting simple, structural equations above the substance of what is actually being said.

If you look at what Brennan actually said it was that sowing panic, telling people that the terrorists are far more powerful than they are and that our institutions are incapable of defending us against them just makes them seem more frightening than they are. That seems qualitatively different than trying to forbid any question of just how great the threat is or the means we’re using to counter it. In both cases, in and out of power, the Republicans are about the political mobilization of fear.

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