Washington, Pentagon. The American war on terror since 2001 has cost America trillions of dollars and killed over one million human beings worldwide, but recent studies by ex-CIA agents and analysts are proving this is a war in imagination, but not one of actual attacks upon American cities, citizens or targets in reality.

By the number counts, there have been 66 Islamic jihadist terrorist plots in Western countries between 2002 and 2012, involving a total of 220 perpetrators. This figure works out to an average of 22 terrorists per year, across a population of roughly 700 million people. Even narrowed to just the Muslim population in Western countries, estimated at roughly 25 million people, that’s less than one in 1 million Muslims a year who could be considered terrorists walking about the American fruited prarie.

The CIA inspired research comes to two broad conclusions. The first is that violent terrorist plots in Western countries are a statistically tiny phenomenon, which makes blanket counterterrorism approaches an ill-suited response. The second takeaway is that “social identity theory” — that is, how people self-identify in a crisis — is the primary motivating factor behind terrorist attacks.

Despite efforts to protect civil liberties, profiling-based approaches have led the United States to “grossly overestimate the violent terrorist threat and commit a very large number of assessment errors.” The politically driven manipulation of the threat of terrorism has led Americans to “fibrillate in fear and bankrupt themselves with security” in response to a threat that is much smaller than they have been led to believe. Meanwhile, their tax dollars are blown on imaginary Taliban operatives creeping around Kentucky or mythical Al Qaeda paratroops descending on Alaska.

Most Americans perceive terrorism as something that comes from an “out-group” rather than from people with whom they identify. As a result, an attack creates a sense of solidarity, leading people to react emotively, in contrast to the oft-muted response to more common forms of violence. This identity-driven reaction to terrorist violence also causes people to overestimate how prevalent terrorism really is, making them willing to commit wildly disproportionate resources to fighting it. Not to mention toss their own civil liberties in a homeland security trash can on the way to “prisonstate” USA.

Sixteen years after 9/11, the war on terror still appears to have no end in sight, driven on by a circular logic of violence and retribution. Donald Trump’s approach – focusing explicitly on Muslim communities, implementing discriminatory immigration policies, expanding military action abroad, and declaring an open-ended war against the amorphous concept of “radical Islam” – isn’t a course correction its a recipe for even more invasions abroad and American kids comming home in flag draped coffins.

By categorizing huge swaths of the global population as enemies or potential enemies, Trump is engaging in hostile posturing toward very large numbers of people who pose no threat to the United States.

Meanwhile, the rising death toll from his military actions has the potential to be a force-multiplier for terrorist recruitment. Thanks to advances in information technology, the destructive effects of American military actions are more easily recorded and spread than they were in the past. As they escalate, these actions are likely to trigger an emotive “in-group” reaction among those people who perceive themselves as targeted.

The former CIA operatives believe that the only path to winding down our present conflict is to expand our own “in-group.” In the United States, this would mean “bringing everybody into the fold and saying that we’re all Americans, equally, and not just focusing exclusively on one group and defining them as suspicious and not completely part of the fold.” Or returning our nation to the way it was, before that sunny day in September of 2001, we all remember so well, where we took a wrong turn in history for the best of reasons and the worst of lies.

 

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