John Mueller on Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism as Dark Comedy

My next guest has an unusually good sense of humor for someone with his particular area of expertise. The writings of terrorism expert John Mueller are peppered with both intentional and unintentional humor, as he relates case after case of bungled terrorism and counter-terrorism efforts. His work landed him an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where he argued that government has done more harm than good in reacting to terrorism since 9/11. Only Stewart and Mueller could make such a topic funny.

At the end of the interview, Stewart asked the Ohio State political science professor to reveal a final exam question on air to his students. Mueller replied, “What’s funnier, The Daily Show the Cold War?” This was a reference to Mueller's once-contrarian prediction – in 1989 – that the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse, and not the threat it seemed to be. Shortly thereafter, Mueller’s colleagues shifted their alarm from Cold War nuclear fears to the threat of terrorism, putting Mueller back in the position of calming exaggerated fears with his rigorous analysis.

But how can we be certain that we don’t end up with another 9/11 – or worse? Mueller begins by looking at the "closest calls" since 9/11, and doing a cost-benefit analysis of the efforts aimed at preventing them. Regardless of whether we turn out to be "on the eve of destruction," you may be surprised by how replete darkly humorous these case studies can be. Tune in tomorrow for my interview, and call in with your questions for Professor Mueller.