Get ready for suicide bombings in Las Vegas this June, simultaneous massacres at shopping malls around the country in December, and coordinated subway and railroad attacks in 2006. That’s the frightening vision of Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism official, in the cover story of the current Atlantic.
Complete with scary photomontages, Clarke’s piece looks back from 2011 on 10 years of violence, government crackdowns, and economic disaster. And none of it would have happened if we had kept more troops in Afghanistan, killed Osama bin Laden when we had the chance, and not invaded Iraq. As fodder for Bush critics, it’s juicy stuff, but is it the wake-up call the nation needs?
Hit the snooze button, says Jonathan Raban, who recently critiqued the competing schools of Al Qaeda alarmism in The New York Review of Books. “[Clarke] wasn’t imagining the future, he was describing the past,” he says. Attacks on trains (see Madrid) and planes (à la 9-11) are yesterday, baby, and Al Qaeda’s greatest weapon is surprise, not reprise. Clarke’s flaw, Raban says, is that he’s not as imaginative as the jihadists: “In order to describe a future of terrorism you have to be as inventive as the terrorists themselves.”