Bad Analogy

Article excerpt

An West Point's graduation ceremony on May 27, President Bush spread the fallacy that terrorism is analogous to the Cold War. He spent much of his speech waxing nostalgic about the fight against communism and exalting Harry Truman and his "ideological struggle between tyranny and freedom."

Bush did so for a reason: He wants the American public to be at least as afraid of Al Qaeda as it was of the Soviets during the chilliest days of the superpower rivalry.

And so Bush did a crude compare-and-contrast.

He acknowledged that "the enemies we face today are different in many ways from the enemy we faced in the Cold War." But he did so only to make Al Qaeda out to be even more dangerous than Moscow.

"In the Cold War, we deterred Soviet aggression through a policy of mutually assured destruction. Unlike the Soviet Union, the terrorist enemies today hide in caves and shadows," Bush said. "The terrorists have no borders to protect or capital to defend. They cannot be deterred."

Bush neglected to point out a much bigger difference: The terrorists cannot destroy the United States; the Soviets could have. (And Russia still can.)

As Bruce Ackerman argues in Before the Next Attack, "Osama and his successors won't ever occupy the country in the manner threatened by Hitler or Stalin.... Territorial conquest is beyond their power. If anybody destroys our freedom, it will be us."

But Bush wants us to equate the threats. He said that terrorists are trying to acquire "weapons of mass murder"--evidently, "weapons of mass destruction" is no longer the term of choice. "If our enemies succeed in acquiring such weapons," Bush continued, "they will not hesitate to use them, which means they would pose a threat to America as great as the Soviet Union. …