Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more from Stephen Flynn about keeping America safe. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
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President, Center for National Policy
For The Washington Post
With President Obama declaring a "systemic failure" of our security system in the wake of the attempted Christmas bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner, familiar arguments about what can and should be done to reduce America's vulnerabilities are again filling the airwaves, editorial pages and blogosphere. Several of these arguments are based on assumptions that guided the U.S. response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - and unfortunately, they are as unfounded now as they were then. The biggest whopper of all? The paternalistic assertion that the government can keep us all safe without our help.
1. Terrorism is the gravest threat facing the American people.
Americans are at far greater risk of being killed in accidents or by viruses than by acts of terrorism. In 2008, more than 37,300 Americans perished on the nation's highways, according to government data. Even before H1N1, a similar number of people died each year from the seasonal flu. Terrorism is a real and potentially consequential danger. But the greatest threat isn't posed by the direct harm terrorists could inflict; it comes from what we do to ourselves when we are spooked. It is how we react - or more precisely, how we overreact - to the threat of terrorism that makes it an appealing tool for our adversaries. By grounding commercial aviation and effectively closing our borders after the 2001 attacks, Washington accomplished something no foreign state could have hoped to achieve: a blockade on the economy of the world's sole superpower. While we cannot expect to be completely successful at intercepting terrorist attacks, we must get a better handle on how we respond when they happen.
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