By sharing additional information about an alleged terrorist plot against Los Angeles in 2002, President Bush had hoped to quell certain concerns about his handling of the war against terrorism.
Instead, he has generated annoyance on the part of Los Angeles officials, who publicly have wondered why they were not informed in advance of his announcement; criticism for not providing enough details about the terrorist activity in question; and skepticism, because the supposed scheme might never have developed beyond the planning stage.
In response, I would agree with the Los Angeles officials on one major point: There cannot be enough clear, consistent communication and cooperation - with an emphasis on actionable intelligence - between various levels of government on the terrorism question.
I would side with President George W. Bush, though, on the selective release of details surrounding the alleged terrorist activity. The U.S. and allied governments cannot risk compromising their intelligence-gathering operations, sources and strategies.
Similarly, the possibility that the alleged Los Angeles plot might not have progressed too far does not minimize its importance. I, for one, am thankful that the U.S. government and its allies have been able to stop dozens of al-Qaida initiatives since Sept. 11, 2001. The exact point of a successful intervention does not matter greatly to me.
The differences outlined above point to an ongoing divide in the United States over the nature of the terrorism challenge. Some people have convinced themselves that no threat exists, that the Bush administration fabricated it to justify its perceived unilateralist policies and rationalize its intrusiveness into Americans' private lives.
Others understand that the terrorist threat has legs, but have succumbed to the delusional thinking that the counterterrorism measures of the United States and its allies have eased the danger. That tempts them to worry less, de-emphasize the world and turn their attention inward.
Still others recognize the hard facts, that terrorism is neither a figment nor a tamed beast. Rather, it continues to develop in myriad directions, akin to a rapidly spreading contagion, with uncertain outcomes. It will pose a serious danger for generations and, if taken lightly, will grow with fury and intensity far beyond what we have seen to date. That Americans have not suffered another attack along the lines of Sept. 11 attests to a combination of ongoing, effective defense and offense, the substantial disruption of terrorists worldwide and a fair amount of luck.
Terrorism has taken its place as one of the imposing global realities of our time. One cannot separate it from any aspect of contemporary life, any more than one could do so with other pressing political, economic, social, ideological, religious, technological and environmental issues. Indeed, those influences have become inseparable. To downplay one or another is to deny reality and risk perilous consequences.
In the early 1990s, I can recall too many voices opining about how humankind finally would find peace; how funds once designated for military purposes would flow to other needs; how economic opportunities would expand in all directions; how ideologies would fade; and how a new world order would emerge. Well, the last point was on target, and it continues to define today's global situation.
But the new world order has not heralded peace. It witnesses burgeoning military spending, leaves much of humanity without real gains from globalization, and - despite the demise of Communism - features ongoing clashes of ideologies and cultures.
Simply put, the problems of the new global order are numerous, complicated and interrelated. More than ever, they require increased knowledge, creativity, awareness, engagement and cooperation in regards to the confluence of forces that move the world.