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The terrorist threat - statistically

Yes, any act of terrorism is hideous and cannot be defended on any way.   But, as this piece "Here’s the Thing About Terrorism Obama Won’t Tell You" on Foreign Policy in Focus so clearly details, the risk of being a victim of a terrorist attack - in the USA, and no more likely elsewhere - is rather slim.

"One in 3.5 million: That’s your annual risk of dying from a terrorist attack in the United States, at least according to Cato analyst John Mueller. Rounded generously, that comes out to roughly 3 one-hundred thousandths of a percentage point, or 0.00003 percent.

And this, according to a recent Gallup poll cited by The New York Times, is the percentage of Americans “worried that they or someone in their family would be a victim of terrorism”: 51.

So that’s 51 percent of Americans who think a terrorist attack against themselves is sufficiently likely to warrant their personal concern, versus a 0.00003 percent chance it might actually happen. If you’ll forgive my amateur number crunching, that means Americans are overestimating their personal exposure to terrorism by a factor of approximately 1.7 million.
 

It’s no wonder people play the lottery.

A public mood that overestimates the risk of terrorism by upwards of 2 million times, you might imagine, is a pretty significant headwind for a presidential administration that — with a few notable exceptions, like the surge in Afghanistan and the free-ranging drone war — has generally sought to wind down the full-blown militarized response its predecessor took to terrorism.

But more militarization, particularly in the Middle East, is exactly what this insanely distorted threat perception would seem to demand. With Americans more fearful of terrorism than at any time since 9/11, it’s no wonder Republican presidential candidates like Ted Cruz can call for bona fide war crimes like “carpet-bombing” Syria — and then revel in applause rather opprobrium.

In a more rational world, it would be easy to explain away the problem by arguing that the risk of terrorism in the U.S. is actually quite small, while the human costs of yet another ill-considered military intervention in the Middle East could be enormous. But the politics of terrorism are anything but. “As a society we’re irrational about it,” said a former administration security official quoted by the Times. “But government has to accept that irrationality rather than fight it.”



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