In a WPR blog post earlier this week, Judah Grunstein described the "Yemen frenzy" induced by the failed Christmas Day airliner bombing plot as a post-9/11, "Pavlovian response." But there's more to the conditioned behavior than just the push for a massive, whole-of-government intervention in a country linked to an attempted domestic terrorist attack, and in which al-Qaida has a presence. A second factor at play is the tendency of the U.S. government -- and indeed, of the entire political establishment -- to dart from crisis to crisis, pouring time, treasure and resources into responding to the headlines of the day.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, alluded to this when he spoke last Friday at the Naval War College. He got an appreciative laugh from students and faculty when, paraphrasing Jon Stewart, he said, "Americans do their geography by looking at where we've most recently almost been attacked from."
In the absence of the Christmas Day event, would Yemen even be making headlines? Would Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, be arguing this week that air strikes have to be on the table as one response to the al-Qaida presence there? And would Secretary of State Hillary Clinton be making the case for increased development assistance and economic aid as a way to combat extremism?