“No One Could Have Predicted 9/11”

It’s been awhile since I’ve “stalked” (i.e., criticized) Jason Brennan, but the opportunities are always there. Here, Jason is riding his well-worn epistemic-political hobby horse: no one knows anything, but luckily, Jason Brennan is alone to know that knows one knows anything.

What is the expected difference between the candidates? Well, that’s usually really hard to say. A recent paper in APSR says that Republican vs Democratic leadership makes no measurable difference in outcomes in a bunch of issues after a few years. What about, say, presidents? Well, again, hard to say. No one could have predicted that Bush II would have to deal with 9/11, or that he would have invaded Iraq and Afghanistan.

No one could have predicted that Bush II would have to deal with 9/11? Phrase it less tendentiously: could anyone have predicted that Bush II would deal with a major terrorist attack initiated by Al Qaeda?

Answer: just about anyone paying attention to the news could have predicted it. Al Qaeda declared war against the United States in 1996, launched a series of attacks, declared war again in 1998, launched another series of attacks, and made clear in any number of ways that it intended to launch a major attack on the US–a fact known to just about everyone in the American (and foreign) national security establishment, and documented in requisite detail in the 9/11 Commission Report, which Professor Interdisciplinary Social Scientist-Philosopher doesn’t seem to have read before sounding off in the usual authoritatively hand-waving fashion (see chapters 2-8 in the free online edition). The ignorance here is Jason’s, which he’s projected onto everyone but himself.

It’s a cheap shot, I realize, but don’t you think the people planning the attack could have predicted that Bush would have to deal with it?

This kind of thing–Jason’s offhand lapses into Flat Earth Historiography or Comparative Politics–happens a lot. The problem is, only the “stalkers” notice and say so. Only within the mainstream academic libertarian movement could a person this ignorant come to acquire Jason Brennan’s reputation for empirical reliability and inductive rigor. Outside of that closed circle, claims like this would barely be worth laughing at. Your choice. Feel free.

5 thoughts on ““No One Could Have Predicted 9/11”

    • The formatting is a bit messed up in this archived version — various indented quotes have become un-indented, and paragraph breaks have vanished — but the un-archived seems no longer to exist (perhaps as a Rockwellian penalty for my subsequent apostasy, though my Mises-era wriitngs on the Mises site have not yet been deleted).


      • It’s a very good piece. Can’t you just copy it off of the Wayback Machine, reformat it, and paste it onto your own website? It’s not as though you’d be violating anyone’s IP, right? You guys don’t believe in IP. And you wrote it. In fact, leaving it there seems (somehow) to violate the Lockean waste proviso.


    • I agree with 99% of what you say in the Mises post, and I say that as someone who was taken by surprise by 9/11, not that I should have been. But as you suggest, the fact that I was taken by surprise was an indication that something was wrong with my view of the world. For awhile, I doubled down on it, siding with the mainstream national security establishment about how to respond, but over time, I re-thought my views from scratch and changed them pretty radically.

      I hesitate to say “pretty radically” because I never conceived of myself before 9/11 as a hawk, an interventionist, or an ideological defender of American foreign policy. Just the reverse. I regarded myself as an anti-interventionist, committed to military action only as a last resort. I happily opposed the first Gulf War, the Somalia intervention, and all of the Balkan interventions. I didn’t think Clinton should have apologized for not intervening in Rwanda. And I regarded myself as fundamentally pro-Palestinian, and opposed to US support for Israel.

      But I guess I over-estimated the radicalism of the position I held, and under-estimated the radicalism required for full consistency. By the mid 2000s, I found myself in the strange situation of defending a position that said, “OK, so let’s regard our various interventions as a sunk cost, and hold the line on any more. Please?” On the second Iraq war, my view was, “We shouldn’t have gone to Iraq in the first place, but fine, let’s go one more time, find these WMD, leave, and never go back. Please?”

      It took me a whole decade to move from this basically centrist/left-of-center suppliant-oriented form of anti-interventionism to the more radical, committed, loud-mouthed anti-interventionism I hold now. Psychologically, I found it very difficult to object to anyone who clearly and consistently invoked self-defense as an excuse for interventionism. For whatever reason, I had trouble believing that I could be bullshitted that thoroughly on an issue like this, but in retrospect, I clearly was.

      Two things changed my mind. For one thing, I changed my reading habits from a diet of purely mainstream stuff to more radical left-wing stuff. For another, I started traveling in the “Third World”–Pakistan, Palestine, Nicaragua, and our own Indian reservations. Those two things decisively killed any residual naivete I might have had about American foreign policy (treating reservation policy as a sort of foreign policy).

      I do object to the second clause in this sentence (my italics), which strikes me as a bit of anarchist exaggeration:

      We’ve been saying for decades that the U.S. government’s arrogant interventions around the world have only been increasing the risk of blowback, and that the State, in the event of such blowback, would be as ineffective at protecting the civilian population as it is at everything else.

      Has the State really been ineffective at protecting the population? Yes, it failed on 9/11. But since then, there have been no attacks of comparable scope on American soil. Whatever one’s moral evaluation of it, as a matter of purely instrumental rationality, that seems like 20 years of relative success. Whatever you think of them, it’s hard to accuse our national security apparatus of lassitude:

      Hyperactivity, maybe. But they’re not lazy. And there is some plausibility in the idea that their commitment to a “defense-in-depth” keeps security threats at bay, and away from our shores. I don’t mean to offer this as an all-in endorsement of what they do. I simply mean that it seems a bad rhetorical strategy to begrudge them their successes on their own terms. I haven’t read as much of the anarchist literature on national security as I ought to, but I’ve read Michael Huemer’s account in his Problem of Political Authority pretty carefully, and nothing he says convinces me that I’d be safer under a Huemerian regime than I am under the current one.


      • Speaking of reading habits, I guess my main criticism of Brennan here is that he doesn’t seem to have read much of anything on 9/11, whether mainstream or left-wing. It doesn’t get more mainstream than the 9/11 Commission Report. But even if someone pooh-poohed every libertarian source in your post, they’d have to confront the fact that the 9/11 Commission Report spends hundreds of pages talking about the essential predictability of 9/11 on the most conventional of ideological assumptions. It gets tiresome to be lectured at by someone who prides himself on his knowledge of “the literature,” then adduces examples that demonstrate zero knowledge of “the literature.” Presumably, he writes to be read, but since he doesn’t permit comments on his posts, I suppose the aim is to be read but not discussed? To read his stuff and discuss it is to “stalk” him. What a fucking asshole.


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