Who has the correct perception?

A poll conducted for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and by the Innovative Research Group, Inc., has turned up a very important change in public opinion about the threats to national vital interests. The poll was between 22 December 2009 and 4 January 2010. You can read a report on the poll here.

According to the polling data, Canadians believe climate change poses a greater threat to the vital interests of their country than international terrorism, and that it will continue to do so over the next decade. While nearly half of those surveyed said climate change is a “critical threat,” only about one quarter said the same about the threat of international terrorism. When connected with a poll conducted in 2004, which showed Canadians believed the two threats were about equal, an important trend becomes evident.

Lt.-Gen. (Ret'd) Michael Jeffery, a senior research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and the former chief of the land staff with the Canadian Forces, was very quick to launch a counter attack on the subject of the relative of climate change versus international terrorism. He published an opinion article on 11 January that was carried in the Ottawa Citizen. He views the rise of extremism and the decline of western power as “major threats to global stability” that also threaten “Canada and our way of life.” He views the change in Canadian perception as “significant” and feels that it “does not bode well for the nation.” General Jeffery maintains that responding to the threats will take “commitment and sacrifice” and such action “requires men and women of courage and vision.” You can read his full editorial here.

If the poll is correct, and I have no reason to doubt its accuracy, an increasing number of Canadians do not hold the same vision of the future as General Jeffery. Jeffrey Simpson writes in the Globe and Mail “Counterinsurgency, therefore, is not about killing al-Qaeda and other “scumbags,” as a Canadian general once said, but of winning the local population. Body counts, in other words, don't count, a lesson conventional militaries struggle to understand.” (See the full editorial here.)

Paul Campos, a professor of law at the University of Colorado, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal on 9 January entitled “Undressing the Terror Threat.” After reviewing the causes of death and risks in day-to-day life, he write that it is “the politics of cowardice—the cynical exploitation of fear for political gain” that is making it “rational to spend otherwise irrational amounts of resources on further minimizing already minimal risks.” Campos evokes the image of General George Washington exposing himself to enemy fire to “rally his poorly armed and badly outnumbered troops” (still one of the most powerful metaphors in American journalism) to show the absurdity of being “reduced to a pitiful whimpering giant by a handful of mostly incompetent criminals, whose main weapons consist of scary-sounding Web sites and shoe- and underwear-concealed bombs that fail to detonate.”

 Is it possible that the people now understand that climate conditions represent a greater threat to them than terrorism? It hardly seems worth asking where they view piracy in the relative scheme of things.