Category Archives: Terrorism

The Genius of ISIS

A week ago Saturday, at about 9:30 am, a pipe bomb went off in Seaside, New Jersey, along the route of a charity race.  Nobody was there because the race had been delayed (ironically enough, by a suspicious package): if things had gone as planned, the consequences would have been more severe.

That night, at around 8:00 pm, an explosive device went off in a dumpster on West 23rd Street, injuring 29.  Another device, in a pressure cooker, was found by police a few blocks away.

Mayor DeBlasio was quick to note that the 23rd Street explosion had ‘no evidence at this point of a terror connection.’   After it happened, given recent events in San Bernadino and Orlando, and the guy who tried to set off an SUV bomb in Times Square a few years ago, I imagined the perpetrators of these events as people who were born in the United States, grew up here, and then turned to radical Islam.

I was close.  The alleged perpetrator of both the Seaside and New York events arrived in the US as a refugee from Afghanistan as a child, became a naturalized citizen, went to high school in New Jersey, and worked as a fry cook at his father’s fried chicken place.

So what happened?  Therein lies the genius of ISIS: they don’t actually have to do anything, in terms of actually committing violence, to be effective.  This isn’t to say that ISIS isn’t doing anything, or that we don’t have be mindful of the possibility that they might do something, but that’s not the real problem.  All ISIS has to do to be effective, and encourage others to commit violence on their behalf, is present a compelling alternative to the vapid cultural neutrality of our time.

Consider the case of a young Muslim male growing up in this country.  His parents tell him that he has to keep his religion under wraps when dealing with others.  Even if there isn’t overt discrimination, those who might otherwise be his friends would be weirded out.  And many Christian and Jewish parents, I’m sure, tell their children the same thing.

As he grows up and sees the world around him, it doesn’t fit with his upbringing.  It isn’t so much a matter whether it fits with Islam or not.  Our secular culture encourages us to indulge in whatever physical pleasures come to hand, and reminds us that morality is a quaint anachronism.

And then what?  Well, find some more physical pleasures.

And if you’re still unhappy?  Then there must be something wrong with you.  We have pills for that.

And then our young man finds out about ISIS, and it’s a revelation.  There are rules; there is right and wrong; there is honor in doing the right thing.  ISIS is bold, strong, compelling, and dangerous.  And if you fail, you will have died with honor, with 72 virgins waiting for you.

Indeed, it’s a compelling alternative even if you aren’t a Muslim.

So what do we do about it?

The icky part is that the government can’t fix it.  The best they can do is to turn the country into a police state, watching everything we do and say and read.  And if they could monitor our thoughts, they’d do that too.

For my part, I don’t want to live in a police state, even if they can effectively protect me from terrorists and terrorist wannabes. Imagine the most officious, overbearing boss you can, and then imagine him in charge of your entire life, and if you disagree with him, he can kill you or throw you in prison to rot. I’d rather take my chances with terrorists.

The government can also address the threat of terrorism by going to war, i.e. ‘taking the fight to the enemy.’  We’ve been at it for 15 years now, having accomplished, well, zilch.

This isn’t to say that government doesn’t have a role in fighting terrorism at all.  The government should be looking out for threats from abroad, as well as such domestic threats as can be discerned while respecting our Constitutional rights.  A few years ago, people asked ‘should terrorism be dealt with as a law enforcement matter?’ with the notion that those who answered in the affirmative were really soft on terrorists and the real answer was to use the military.  But having seen how that worked out, I’m not so sure.

But the real answer, the more difficult answer, is that we—all of us—need to build a society in which the nihilism of ISIS is not a compelling alternative for a young person looking to make something of his life.  And the government, by itself, can’t do that.

Mixed Bag

“Donald Trump is not a gentleman,” remarked my wife the other day.  She’s right, but then again, neither is Ted Cruz.  The two of the got embroiled in what seemed a bar fight over pictures of the candidates’ wives.  (I’m not going to fill in the details here: if the whole soggy saga gets lost to posterity, it can only be an improvement!)  At this point, I may end up voting for Bernie Sanders as the only candidate who (a) acts like a responsible adult, and (b) isn’t dead on the vine.

  • One might vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman, or because she presents herself as the logical continuation of the Obama administration. But Clinton, sadly, embodies everything that we love to hate about male politicians, and many people, myself included, believe that Obama is the worst President in modern times.  Moreover, she across as stale and tired in her speeches.  Even if I were on the fence and willing to consider her as a candidate, she needs to present herself as someone who actually wants the job.
  • John Kasich probably has the best head for figures of any of the candidates, and is the most likely to actually fix our problems. Alas, unless he can get people’s attention, his candidacy will go nowhere.  But that seems to be the plan.  I can almost imagine some Republican Party guy making the pitch: “We want you to run for President.  But realize that you won’t be the nominee: we just want you to be there to take momentum away from any oddballs that might show up.”  I’d have told the Party guy to fuck off, but that’s just me.

*          *          *

I initially had nothing useful to say about last Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels.  But as news reports came out that the perpetrators were already known to the intelligence services, but that the Belgians were somehow unable to stop them, I began to wonder.  Apparently, what we’re supposed to do is let the potential terrorists into our midst, then maintain a police state to monitor what they’re doing and jump on them just as they’re about to attack.  Wouldn’t it be far simpler and cheaper not to let the potential terrorists into the country in the first place?

*          *          *

And for that reason, I can’t get upset with President Obama for not aborting his trip to Cuba to address the Brussels attacks.  When he woke up in the morning, the attacks were already a fait accompli.  It wasn’t like 11 September, when the United States was actually under attack while President Bush continued his visit to a Texas kindergarten.  (On that day it would have been so simple to say, “I’m very sorry, but something has happened that requires my immediate attention.  I have to go.”)  But this time, the deed was done: the Belgians have emergency services that can clean up the mess: all that’s left for our President is to utter the usual rot about how we stand with the victims.

What was creepy about the Cuba visit, however, was the President’s decision to have himself and his entourage photographed in the shadow of the Che Guevara mural in Revolution Square.  The Cubans had planned something different, but the President had everyone move so that Che was in the background.

For many years, I though the Cuban embargo was pointless and stupid, but it’s probably not practical for us to simply admit that.  But that isn’t what I think is happening now.  We’re reopening relations with Cuba not because we acknowledge that the embargo hasn’t accomplished anything useful, but because Cuba and the United States are converging.

“But Cuba is a totalitarian surveillance state!” I hear you cry.

And what are we becoming?

Remembering Paris

A week ago Friday, Islamic terrorists associated with ISIS executed a series of attacks in Paris, at a sports arena, a music hall, a restaurant, and several other sites.  They killed 129 people and left over 300 wounded.

I was horrified, but not particularly surprised.  Two weeks before, ISIS planted a bomb on a Russian airliner full of tourists returning home from Egypt.  The plane dropped out of the sky, and all 224 on board was killed.  The Russians, more than us, have stirred up the ISIS hornet’s nest, and now we’re facing the consequences.  (Then again, we built ISIS, but that’s another story.)

The next day (a week ago Saturday), my wife and I went to see the new James Bond movie, Spectre.  One of the trailers was for London has Fallen, an upcoming action movie in which terrorists blow up, well, London.  It seemed in poor taste after the events of the previous day.  But I suppose that the show must go on.

Spectre was a pleasant afternoon’s entertainment, without so much emphasis on Bond’s personal problems.  But it’s consistent with the new generation of Bond films in that Bond’s adversary resolves into a non-rogue agent of the same government that Bond himself serves.  The plot revolves around a ‘Nine Eyes’ surveillance initiative by which nine countries would pool their resources and share surveillance data on all their citizens.  But, in real life, there is a ‘Five Eyes’ surveillance agreement between the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  It seems pointless for Bond to appear in a movie trying to thwart a plot that is already in operation in real life.

Saturday night, the Democratic Presidential candidates had a debate.  I watched some of it after the fact, and lost interest: the candidates are too much in agreement with each other.  But Hillary Clinton was called out for not wanting to say that we were at war with ‘radical Islam.’

On one level, I agree with her: it’s ludicrous to say that one is ‘at war with Islam.’  A religion is a set of ideas: software for the brain.  It’s almost like saying one is at war with Microsoft Word.   But the principles of Islam are a driving force for the terrorists.  That’s why I prefer to refer to our adversary as ‘Islamic terrorists,’ and what makes Hillary’s use of ‘jihadist’ evasive.

As I watched the evening news this week, and they regurgitated the Paris attacks, I realized that I was supposed to be frightened.  I don’t see the point: quivering in fear accomplishes nothing.  Even the Parisians understand that: they have been coming together at the Place de la Republique to talk, and heal, and move forward.

But our leadership is latching on to the event to tell us that we need yet more surveillance, and that those evil companies, Apple and Google, have released software that enables individuals to send encrypted messages that the government can’t read!  They have to be stopped!  And, by the way, you can blame this all on Edward Snowden, for spilling the beans about the NSA.

Well, maybe.  If the volume of data to be transferred is small enough, it’s easy to make an unbreakable code, with or without a smartphone app, because the party who would break the code does not have enough input to begin to try.  And no, the government does not have the right to read our communications in transit, any more than it has the right to read our paper mail.

Meanwhile, President Obama wants to bring at least 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US per year over the next two years, and perhaps many more.  He says that it’s in the American tradition of looking after the downtrodden.

Again, well, maybe.  Our Dear Leader sent out a graphic noting that in the past five years, we’ve accepted 2,000 refugees, none of whom have been arrested for terrorism… yet.  But now he’s proposing bringing in an order of magnitude more in a shorter time, and somehow things will just work out?

Moreover, we’re broke.  You might say that it’s only a few billion, and barely moves the needle in terms of the national debt.  But it still pains me to see our President playing Lady Bountiful, spending money he doesn’t have.

All of which has taken me a bit afield from what I started with, the terrorist attacks in Paris last week.  To be sure, it’s sad and horrifying, but life goes on.  I speak from experience: we had terrorist death and destruction in New York City not that long ago.

But more horrifying than the destruction wrought by the terrorists is the realization that, in both instances, our leadership brought the terrorists into existence to play some other geopolitical games, and they turned on us when circumstances changed.

We have to start doing something different.  And we need to start, as individuals, by not letting our leadership and the media fearmongers frighten us.

Afghanistan

Our Dear Leader announced this week that we would not be leaving Afghanistan as planned at the end of 2016.  We will continue to have several thousand troops there for the foreseeable future, beyond the end of the Obama administration in January 2017.

Will someone remind me how we got into Afghanistan in the first place?

Oh yes, that’s right: after 11 September, we believed that the Taliban, the Afghan leadership, was harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.  So we partnered with the ‘Northern Alliance’ and routed the Taliban.  We then fumbled around in the mountains for a few weeks, but never found Osama there.

OK, the Taliban’s out.  What did we expect would happen next?

Did we believe the Afghan people were pining for limited republican government like we like to believe we have ourselves?  Building that would have been a major, major project that could not have been done on the cheap.

So we installed something resembling a government, not even a very good government, and the Taliban was able to recover as a militant force.

It’s now 14 years later, Osama is dead, and al-Qaeda are now our friends because they’re attacking Syrian President Assad.

What do we expect to achieve with our continued efforts there?  For my part, I have no clue.

The USSR went into Afghanistan in 1979 to support an allied government, as an exercise in geopolitical gamesmanship.  They left in 1989, having accomplished pretty much nothing.  Meanwhile, the USSR itself was much weakened, and fell apart two years later.

Do we believe that we can do better?  If so, what?

My mother used to say, ‘Don’t throw good money after bad.’

It may be time to pull the plug.

Notre Président n’est pas Charlie

Last Sunday, three million people marched in the streets of Paris to stand up for the principle of free speech and a free press, after the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo the week before.  Over 40 world leaders (including the Israeli Prime Minister and the President of the Palestinian Authority) showed up…

…but President Obama was conspicuous by  his absence.  Our leadership also did not see fit to send the Vice President, the Secretary of State, or even the Attorney General, who happened to be in Paris at the time.

Our leadership complained that they couldn’t have arranged security on such short notice.  But that’s, in a word, bullshit.

Let’s face it: behind the bluster, the real reason that the leadership of the United States, the alleged beacon of freedom for the entire world, didn’t believe this event was worthy of their presence is because they don’t believe in liberty, or free speech, anymore.

Our President said it himself:

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.

(OK, I pointed out this in my last post on the subject.  It’s almost as bad as when Bush 41 told us ‘Read my lips: no new taxes.’  But unlike Bush, who had to shamefully walk back his remarks–to the extent that it may have cost him re-election–Obama still stands by his words.)

Meanwhile, our leadership is also considering new legislation that would afford ‘freedom of the press’ protections only to professional journalists.  But most of them work for the six big media companies, and are already muzzled by their bosses.

So it wasn’t a mistake that nobody in our leadership was walking in Paris last Sunday.  It wasn’t a problem arranging security; it wasn’t a schedule conflict; it wasn’t an oversight.

Our leadership does not believe in our First Amendment freedoms anymore.

And they didn’t feel the need to fake it, either.

Je suis Charlie

It would have been very easy to put up a ‘Je suis Charlie’ (I am Charlie) graphic as my entire post in response to the assault on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris last Wednesday.  But that’s almost the same as Twitter hashtag activism: the thought that by posting a hashtag, or a picture, one is changing the world.  (OK, writing a whole post about it isn’t much better.  But at least I’m putting out real thoughts, not just another Internet meme.)

Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly) is a French satiric magazine known for publishing irreverent humor.  In 2011, their offices in Paris were firebombed, and last Wednesday, three men shot up the offices, killing twelve, including most of the staff, to avenge the magazine’s cartoon representations of the prophet Mohammed.

In the US, liability makes cowards of us all: Sony Pictures originally shelved the movie The Interview not because they were hacked, but in response to the large theater chains, who took seriously the notion that the North Koreans might wreak havoc on them for showing the movie, and refused to present it.  As far as I know, there is no American publication analogous to Charlie Hebdo:  there are humor magazines, but they suffer from political correctness.

But Charlie soldiered on.

The news the staff was massacred was initially saddening and shocking.  But on further thought, it shouldn’t be all that surprising: indeed, our President remarked that ‘The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.’  And the publication of images of Mohammed has been greeted with violence in some parts of the world.

But we must stand up for the right to publish such images.

Enhanced Interrogation Techniques

If we are the civilized people that we claim to be, the only appropriate policy direction on torture, or anything resembling it, is not to do it.  There are two essential reasons:

  1. If policies admit torture as acceptable in some circumstances, some of our people, perhaps being restless or bored, will do it for sport.  (See Abu Ghraib.)
  2. We like to believe that we face danger bravely, being appropriately apprehensive, but we don’t let it scare us.  A policy admitting torture is the mark of a scared people.

Last week, the public discourse included reheated discussions arising from the Senate report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.’  It was the same discussion that we had years ago, and the report (a Democratic partisan effort) revealed some of the gorier details of these interrogation methods, but otherwise revealed nothing of consequence we didn’t know before.

Was it torture?  I don’t know if there’s a formal definition, but as I think about it, torture would include any of the following:

  • Violating the subject’s body.
  • Causing permanent physical injury to the subject.
  • Offending the subject’s basic human decency.  This would include something like parading the subject naked in the town square; offending the subject’s personal beliefs is fair game.
  • Using drugs or poisons on the subject.

By that definition, yes, we tortured people.

Did it work?  This is the part where the debate has swirled for years.  But it was only a couple of days ago that I understood what we were really up to.

  • If you interrogate one person, the results will be hit or miss.  He might tell you the truth, and he might not.
  • If you interrogate a dozen people on the same question, you’ll get a dozen stories.  But by cross-checking them, you can usually reconstruct the truth, or a good approximation.

We weren’t just practicing enhanced interrogation on a handful of terrorist kingpins.  We were doing it on a broad scale, getting dozens of answers to the same question and reconstructing what happened from the result.

Once again: did it work?  The answer to that is probably–justifiably–secret.

In fairness, most of the enhanced interrogation techniques that have been discussed at length (waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions) don’t meet my earlier definition of torture.

But that doesn’t make them right.  They can still be abused for sport; they’re still the mark of a frightened people.  We’re saying that the ends justify the means: the first step on the road of evil.

And finally, to turn to the favorite argument of the defenders of enhanced interrogation: what if you had someone who knew the details of the atomic bomb that would destroy New York City tomorrow?  Would you play nice with him, or bash his face in?

Of course, you’d bash his face in.

But there’s a big difference between doing that, as an agent exercising his judgement in an extreme situation, and a policy admitting face-bashing as a normal interrogation technique.

Back into Iraq?

One of my conservative friends sent me an item reminding us that in 2007, when then-President Bush pushed for the ‘surge’ in Iraq, he warned us that if we left Iraq prematurely, the same problems would be back, only worse.  Now we have ISIS (or whatever they’re calling themselves this week) taking over the place, and the armchair generals in Washington saying that we need to go back and hit them hard.

Well, maybe.

In 2007, we owned the mess in Iraq, and there really was no way that we could duck out honorably.  But once something resembling peace had been achieved, the next step would have been to negotiate an agreement by which we could maintain some forces in place in Iraq, to help keep the peace if trouble should flare up in the future.  But we didn’t do that: as far as I can tell, both the Americans and the Iraqis wanted us to leave.  So there was no agreement to maintain forces, and we left.

And our hands are not clean in this affair: we built ISIS when we decided, instead of going to war in Syria ourselves last year, to arm the ‘Syrian rebels’ to fight on our behalf.  But the rebels realized that actually fighting the Syrian government would be work: extending their reach across lightly armed Syrian and Iraqi territory, where the locals would either be happy to receive them or ashamed to admit otherwise, would be far easier and more rewarding.

‘But don’t you see it?’ my conservative friend implored.  ‘They’re like the Terminator: they won’t stop until we’re all dead.’

But they get their strength… from us!

We congratulate ourselves that we haven’t had another terrorist attack on the US since 11 September, but we don’t realize that the terrorists didn’t have to do anything.  They can roll on the floor of their caves laughing as we turn ourselves into a police state and blow trillions of dollars fighting a war that kills people and destroys buildings, but leaves the movement pretty much unscathed.

‘Where would you rather confront them?  There, or here?’

Well, if confronting them ultimately serves to strengthen them, and weaken us, what’s the point?

Am I Supposed to Be Scared?

The news headlines in yesterday’s papers were overtaken with the big, big story that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the brothers accused of the Boston Marathon bombing, had planned to come to New York and ‘party’ in Times Square.  The Daily News editorial berated the FBI for not promptly informing the New York authorities about the brothers’ ‘party’ plans.

For my part, I’m skeptical of the narrative of the Boston Marathon bombers:

  • There was a Saudi national who was a person of interest in the bombings, and then quickly and quietly deported.
  • The Tsarnaev brothers had normal social lives for young American men.  Why would they have turned to such destruction?  (I know, that’s a question that we’re never supposed to ask.)
  • The FBI put on a charade for us a week ago Thursday, asking us for help in identifying the suspects, when they knew damn right well who they were all along.
  • And why was it necessary to effectively lock down the entire city of Boston the next day?  The only answer that comes to mind: Because they could.  And because it would be good practice for the next time.  (OK, that’s two answers.)

But returning to yesterday’s story, am I supposed to be scared? Consider that:

  • First, the obvious: one brother is dead, and the other is quite thoroughly locked up.
  • When I was growing up, we worried that the Russians might annihilate us in one fell swoop.  Somehow we all got through that in one piece.
  • Twenty years ago, there were over 2,000 murders per year in New York City.  (Today, it’s less than a quarter of that.)
  • And in 2001, terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center and killed over 2,000.

In comparison, two dudes with pressure cookers and gunpowder, even if they were still at large, don’t budge the needle, other than my possibly deciding not to go to Times Square.  But I stayed away from Times Square in the 1980s, when it was a garden of sleaze, so even that is not new.

Or am I supposed to be gratified that the civil authorities are diligently protecting us?

Bin Laden Dead

Last Sunday, so the news reports tell us, a team of Navy Seals visited Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and killed him.  He was then buried at sea.

Yeah, right.

That, indeed, was my reaction.  My trust in government has eroded to the point where I’m reluctant to take such news seriously.  Osama bin Laden was the bogeyman of the last decade: Obama must be pretty desperate in the polls to tell us that he was gone.

But as more detailed reports came out yesterday, I’m willing to believe… just barely.  And I’m encouraged that our President has learned that being nice doesn’t always work: sometimes you have to use force.

Now, can we repeal the Patriot Act, disband the TSA, and peel those stupid flag decals off our subway trains?

Yeah, right….

Christmas Bomb

Last Friday, a young man from Nigeria attempted to set off a bomb on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam shortly before it was due to arrive in Detroit.  The effort failed because the explosive didn’t go off as intended: it just lit on fire, and the man was tackled at that point by another passenger.

It wasn’t as if this guy was a total surprise: he was on a terrorist watch list, and his father, a wealthy banker in Nigeria, contacted the American embassy to warn us about him.  But somehow we didn’t recognize the problem in time, didn’t yank his visa, and didn’t stop him from boarding the flight.

The bomb itself was 50 grams of explosive powder packed into a condom and sewn into his underwear (this last resulting in a slew of really silly headlines: ‘Fruit of the Loon;’ ‘Pants on Fire’).  There was nothing to show on a metal detector, and one would have to do a very thorough pat-down to find the package (insert appropriate off-color remark here).

The response from our leadership has been singularly inept: Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, first asserted that ‘the system worked’ until confronted by overwhelming evidence that it hadn’t.  And Our Fearless Leader took a few minutes out of his Hawaii vacation on Monday to tell us what we already knew, because, after all, the President should say something about such an event.

There is talk about using full-body scanners to detect packages that one might carry on one’s person.  They’re effective, but they enable the viewer to look at the scanned person… naked.   I guess that’s OK, just as long as I can’t hear them snicker.

I’ll take someone in a remote location looking at me naked and snickering over some of the rules that came out after the incident.  For the last hour of a flight, passengers are to sit in their seats and do nothing.  No laptops, or blankets, or pillows, or even a paperback novel.  And no hints as to where the plane might be: the video with the map is out, as well as announcements from the pilot.  (Meanwhile, the terrorist can still look out the window!)

I understand that some of these rules may have been rescinded, so perhaps things are a little saner now.  And I’ll admit that I don’t know what the proper response to this event should be.  But adding yet another layer of aviation-security theater does not reassure me.

At least I don’t have any business trips for the next few months….

We’ve Lost Something

Yesterday was the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center.  The site is still basically a hole in the ground, with construction proceeding at a glacial pace.

So how do we commemorate a day in which we got our ass whipped because we were unprepared?

It would seem appropriate to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation about the events of that day, those who died, the nature of our enemy, and the challenge that they represent.  But that’s not what what’s happening.

For two hours yesterday morning, they recited the names of those who died in the collapse of the Twin Towers, as they have done every 11 September since 2001.  That’s entirely appropriate.

But what is getting lost is how they died, and what we should do besides stopping the city for two hours to remember them.  The danger is still out there, biding its time, contemplating the next opportunity to strike.

It’s been contemplated to include an exhibit on the terrorist hijackers at the World Trade Center memorial.  Of course, we should: not to honor them, but to remind ourselves of the nature of our enemy, and to rededicate ourselves to the battles we face.  When we ultimately win the war against the terrorists, the exhibit can reasonably be turned into something else, as it will have served its purpose.

But I’m in the minority here: most have reacted with horror to the thought of memorializing the hijackers alongside their victims.   So how did the victims die?  Lightning strikes?  An earthquake?  Catastrophic elevator implosions?  Do we want to forget the people who brought about the destruction of 11 September–and are gathering their forces to do it again–even as we spend billions sending our young people off to war?

Or is it that in our politically correct culture, we can’t bring ourselves to identify a group of people as ‘the enemy’?

This brings us to the alternate, post-Bush, commemoration of 11 September: the ‘national day of service’ proposed by President Obama.  It’s a charming thought, and good things can get done, but it doesn’t address what happened that day and the danger that it still represents.

We don’t remember 7 December, ‘a date that will live in infamy,’ very much anymore.  But its time had passed: we fought the Japanese, we won, and now, two generations or so later, they are important allies.  Hopefully, the same will one day happen to 11 September.

But not yet.

Remembering 11 September

Seven years ago last Thursday, Islamic terrorists in hijacked jetliners destroyed the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, and brought the War on Terror upon us.  And so we remember the dead, pray for the living, and moan about the crappy replacements the politicians are serving up to replace the majestic Twin Towers and the glacial pace of their progress.

And then what?

We’re supposed to be intelligent: when some problem befalls us, we’re supposed to study it, learn from it, and do better in the future.

An article of faith among conservatives seems to be that we were the innocent victims of the 11 September attacks.  Obama, and the Democrats in general, are full of self-hatred when they declare that we brought it on ourselves.

As a gross approximation, it’s probably accurate to say that we were innocent victims that fateful day.  But the fact is that we, the United States, built Osama bin Laden to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, and we built Saddam Hussein to fight the Iranians.   While we were indeed victims, we were not quite as innocent as we’d like to imagine.

And since we’re not that innocent, we should have been more careful.  The signs were there that something was afoot: the President was briefed a month earlier that bin Laden was potentially preparing to attack us.  Now the report didn’t say that he would have his henchmen hijack airplanes on 11 September and fly them into things, but a word to the wise is sufficient.

But then again, one could plausibly believe that our leadership wanted the attacks of 11 September to take place, for their own political ends.  But in that case, in the long run, the responsibility for addressing this abuse of power lies not with our leadership, but with ourselves: we still have a representative government, and we still have the right to vote.

And it certainly seems possible that our leadership wanted the terrorist attacks to happen as a pretext not only for war, but also for curtailing our civil rights and for torture.  Yes, it’s a new kind of war and a new kind of enemy.  But I’d like to believe that we’re better than such things.

But maybe we’re not.

And maybe that’s what I have to learn.

Pot calling the kettle…

On Thursday, President Bush addressed the Knesset in Jerusalem, and made the following remarks…

****

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

****

Well, maybe.

The remarks were taken in the US as an ‘outrage,’ and a slap in the face to Barack Obama, who has indicated that he would be willing to talk with our adversaries.  But to talk to our enemies–to at least initiate a conversation–is not appeasement.  That’s when you give your enemy something that he wants so that, hopefully, he’ll go away and not bother you again.

Years ago, we considered communism as radical, if not necessarily terrorist.  Yet we talked with the Russians and the Chinese, and despite their far greater power to destroy us than the current threat, we were able to keep the world in one piece.

It doesn’t hurt, other than from the standpoint of national pride, of which we have more than enough, to try to talk to our enemies, recognizing, however, that they may not want to talk to us.  One of the essential reasons that our enemies are our enemies is that they believe that their cause is right, and Bush is correct in noting that it’s really unlikely that “some ingenious argument will persuade them that they have been wrong all along.”

On the other hand, if Bush is looking to lecture someone about the futility of negotiating with terrorists, he needed only to look around him in the Knesset, or in a mirror.

For decades, Israel has been engaged in one ‘peace process’ or another in which it concedes something of value  to its enemies (who are sworn to Israel’s destruction) in exchange for peace, but the peace never materializes.  (Can someone explain to me how this differs from appeasement?)

The Palestinians, with at least the tacit consent of their government, launch rockets into Israel, and Israel, for its part, keeps a stiff upper lip about the destruction they cause.  On the other hand, if Israel exercises its right of retaliation, they are quickly brought to heel by world opinion for having created a ‘humanitarian crisis.’

For his part, after his trip to Israel, Our Fearless Leader went to Riyadh, where he tried to persuade the Saudis  to open the spigots and produce more oil.  The Saudis said no.  Bush made a similar trip earlier this year, complaining about how the high price of oil was affecting the American economy, with the same result.

On the one hand, the Saudis probably see themselves as businessmen, facing one of the basic problems of any business: establishing the most satisfactory price for their product.  But then why are we trying to bend over backwards to be their friends?  (Oh, that’s right: we do that anyway: at all levels of government, we’re more than happy to help big businesses because they will purportedly help the economy.)

On the other hand, the Saudi government does things to its people that would result in armed revolution if anyone tried them here.  And Saudi Arabia is the homeland of most of the 11 September hijackers.

So are they really our friends?

I don’t know, but I guess we have to keep up the illusion that they are, because otherwise they won’t sell us oil, and then we’ll all starve.