How many people can you convince to strap on explosives and take their own lives to put a dent in somebody's economy or frighten a few already nervous people? It stands to reason that even promises of instant passage into heaven or money to your family won't remain an incentive indefinitely.
People smart enough to understand the explosives they're using, how to use them and what they're supposed to hit are smart enough to figure out, eventually, that there's not much in this terrorism thing for them personally.
If some of them aren't already doing it, more and more of them are bound to start saying sometime: "Listen dude, if you want this thing blown to smitherines, do it yourself!"
Up to now, many of the terrorist cells have used religious fervor for a motivator. Of all the motivators, this is the toughest one for reason to overcome, but it was finally beaten in the Inquisition and after recent bombings in the capital of Saudi Arabia, leaders are saying "radical clergy" there are no longer immune from questioning.
Religion without such questioning has gotten out of hand a lot historically. In most cases, it has been good for religion, good for those folks who asked the questions, too.
Removing the Taliban from Afghanistan's government is yet to pay off, but if it can be sustained, it will pay off for both the country's government and the true believers.
Lesser blendings of government and religion all over the world are facing similar healthy opposition.
None of this happens quickly, though, and that's the current problem in the United States. Can we extend our attention spans over the normal 20 or so seconds, cross the threshold into thought and dig in for the long slog? It remains to be seen.
The lead terrorism organization -- al-Queda -- hasn't yet caught on to the way terrorism was used in Vietnam. There, the North Vietnamese figured out that to strike and live to strike another day was the best option. The Mafia knew that. Those guerrillas who road the backwoods after the Civil War knew the secret, too.
It is likely to take a generation or two to shift terrorism onto the back burner. The three kinds of terrorists -- networks, fringe groups and weird individuals -- have seen what they've done so far as success. They have gotten the world's attention; they have disrupted national economies; and they have spread fear. All this, they believe, is enough to get a majority, even 51 percent, to start talking about placating them.
Their strategy is to focus on the survivors of any attack. They are not concerned with the dead and maimed, because those people had to be sacrificed for the cause.
President Bush is correct to insist on staying the course in Iraq, even though his reasons for going in the way he did were questionable.
It is hard to say how many more of us and them will be lost before it -- this war unique to the new century -- is over. There are signs, though, that the long terroristic exercise between Israel and the Palestinians is submitting to reason. Both sides in this struggle are beginning to say out loud that the slaughter of sneak attacks is getting them nowhere, that the other side can respond in-kind and that there is no justification for this in any interpretation of any world religion. It is madness, plain and simple.
It has taken far too long to get to this point. And part of this can be blamed on secrecy by the governments involved.
The U.S. seems to be making the same mistake. Homeland Security is too often preoccupied with not telling all that's going on, because "we don't want to spread panic."
What panic could be spread at this point that hasn't already been spread by the collapse of the World Trade Center towers? What is there left to be secretive about in view of the fertilizer bomb in Timothy McVey's U-Haul truck in Oklahoma?
Instead of giving the terrorists the publicity they want (body counts from the latest "tragedy") and failing to reveal what we know about how these people operate, what they probably know and don't know, how they are organized, where they get weapons, potential targets and more.
There is a major weapon against terrorism and terrorist recruiting that is being ignored. Public opinion is a little like a huge oil tanker. It takes a long time to get one turned around and headed in the right direction, but when it gets done, things happen.
Terrorists need to face a universal shame-on-you. It won't stop them immediately, but it gives them pause, makes it harder to recruit, and knowing what they're up to, how they work, makes them doubt their cause. More importantly, it makes their neighbors ask hard questions.
We can't continue to report body counts and dollar values of damage to buildings. This is nothing more than a scoreboard in which the terrorists will stay ahead.
The motto of Homeland Security efforts so far is "Prepare but don't scare." This is ridiculous on the face of it.
Terrorism is scary, and there's no way around that. And, how can we prepare when we don't have a clear notion about what we're preparing for?
We have developed a 5-color alert system that we know will be for the foreseeable future in the elevated to high categories.
How could it be in the low or moderate category? That would be an invitation to terrorists.
For government to take the position that we're in the know, in charge of the situation, so no citizen has to worry simply isn't going to work. Citizens want to know, want to help rid the world of this historic scourge.
Terrorism is a threat that has to have overwhelming opposition, and the everyday Joe and Jane on the street are savvy enough to provide that.
Look at what little England did in World War II, what the civil rights movement did.