Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations observes that based on the most recent USG official statistics on global terrorism for 2011, "the number of U.S. citizens who died in terrorist attacks [is comparable to those] crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year." So the inert television and chairs sitting around your house are every bit as threatening to your physical safety as the sum total of all terrorist organizations actively operating world-wide.
In confronting this objectively miniscule but emotionally-compelling threat, the USG has undertaken the most extensive reorganization and expansion of its national security apparatus since WWII; conducted massive military interventions and enormous nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq at tremendous costs in American blood and treasure; and authorized ever-more intensive assassination campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen that include American citizens as 'legitimate' targets.
The 'global war on terrorism' was a flawed strategic framework from its inception appealing primarily to the appreciable fear of the American public in the wake of the horrific attacks of 9-11 and eschewing an objective assessment of the scale and nature of the threat. Terrorism as a tactic of the weak will always be with us. It will never be eliminated. This report demonstrates that this threat has clearly been reduced to a manageable level. The Al-Qa'ida organization that attacked us on 9-11 is a shadow of what it was. Targeted attacks on its leadership and support networks wherever they operate can most effectively and efficiently be facilitated by close cooperation with local law enforcement, intelligence, and as needed, special operations forces.
In these times of fiscal constraints and 'tough choices', U.S. citizens and taxpayers should demand a reality-based discussion of the military, security, and intelligence forces needed to defend critical American national interests here and abroad. Our political and military leaders should lead this rational debate. Nevertheless, many politicians, defense lobbyists, and those working in the national security and foreign policymaking apparatus (both government and civilian) will be tempted to employ hyperbolic exaggeration of the threats confronting us as a justification for continued U.S. interventions across the globe. The rise of China as a conventional military and economic competitor and the potential for Iran to develop nuclear weapons are prime candidates to replace terrorism as the next great security 'threat' demanding exorbitant expenditures of America's treasure and resources. Let's at least insist on a rational and fact-based debate over these issues.
The author is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Army War College. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Army.