The paradox is simple: the more you protect hard targets, the more vulnerable you make the soft targets. This is true on every level, whether you're talking about an infantryman choosing which part of his defense to strengthen or a nation choosing where to invest scarce anti-terrorism resources. It is likely that our anti-terrorism measures in the U.S., Europe and Israel have denied Al Qaeda the ability to operate inside these nations -- or at least the ability to conduct 'spectacular operations' here. Consequently, they have decided to conduct operations against Western interests in countries where they CAN operate. By making the U.S. into a hard target, we have made our interests overseas much more vulnerable -- and much more likely to be attacked.
Recent attacks in Bali, Yemen, and now Kenya reflect this dilemma. Al Qaeda cannot attack U.S. interests at home, or Israeli interests in that state. Instead, they have chosen to vicariously attack U.S. and Israeli interests in those places where they already have bases of operations. In Bali, Al Qaeda employed a terrorist network which had been in existence for a number of years. It would've taken an inordinate amount of effort and resources to conduct such an attack in the streets of Los Angeles or Tel Aviv. But it took little effort to conduct such an attack against Australians in Bali. In Al Qaeda's targeting calculus, these young Aussies were close enough to America's interests to merit murder. A similar calculus took place in Yemen. Al Qaeda could never mount an attack in the Port of Los Angeles or the Port of Le Havre. But they could attack a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen. The presence of effective counter-measures at home drives Al Qaeda to conduct its operations against our interests abroad.
The first step in solving this paradox is to recognize how critical the allocation of scarce anti-terrorism resources is. Deciding to deploy National Guard troops in airports -- but not other pieces of critical infrastructure -- was such an allocation. This allocation carries with it a decision to accept risk on the asset not protected. Such decisions must be made at the highest level, and the responsibility for this risk must be borne by our political leaders. Furthermore, such allocations of scarce resources must be made dynamically and on the basis of solid intelligence. If Al Qaeda sees U.S. security in airports, they will switch to another means of attack. We need to gather intelligence of this shift, and change our allocation of resources to fight this new threat. This is what anti-terrorism is all about -- reacting faster than your enemy.
But that won't win the war. In anti-terrorism as in football, the best defense is a good offense. The federal government can never observe/orient/decide/act fast enough to stay a step or two ahead of an adaptive, networked, innovative organization like Al Qaeda. We must seek instead to deny them the very capability to act. American can do this by destroying Al Qaeda's leadership, it's financial infrastructure, its sources of weapons, its communications infrastructure, and its base of recruiting. This is the only way to eliminate the threat.