What Prevents Terrorism?

(Posted by Jeff Porten)

Jeff Porten here, on Jim’s day, and still recovering from the crap that laid me out for the past few days. So this is a note of apology for the late post, and notice for Patrick and anyone else who wants to know who’s writing.

I haven’t been keeping up with the news as much the last few days, but as best as I can tell the world is still losing its collective mind. Random searches in New York, for the first time ever. An innocent man slain at point-blank range by police on the London Tube. New attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh. And the steady drumbeat of bombings in Iraq, which have become so common that I doubt most people consider them to be breaking news.

All of this is taken as part of living in the brave new world, in dangerous times, where there are evil men out there who would kill us. They do not have the power we wield to invade our countries and overthrow our governments, so they resort to bombs and the inculcation of terror. Our leaders tell us that this is new, that they will put a stop to it, and that when they do we can stop being afraid.

Perhaps the key to Londoners’ calm is that they know full well that this is old and unstoppable, for they remember, remember the fifth of November, of gunpowder treason and plot, exactly four centuries ago. Perhaps, being British, they remember the IRA. Or perhaps, being European, they remember Brigate Rosse or Epanastatiki Organosi 17 Noemvri.

What is certain, however, is that Americans have forgotten April 19, 1995, when we were attacked by our own. We have forgotten the weeks following that attack, when many Americans jumped to the conclusion that we had been attacked by foreign terrorists. I wish I had a copy of my call at the time to a national NPR show, during which I rebuked the experts who were talking purely in terms of international terrorism.

After Oklahoma City, we had no one to invade, and so we turned to the rule of law. We prosecuted the attackers as criminals, and put one of them to death. In contrast, after Ground Zero, we invaded and overthrew two countries and passed dozens of laws to tighten up domestic surveillence on anyone living on U.S. soil.

Was Oklahoma City less important? Her dead less valuable to us? OKC led to changes in the American legal system, and inspired some (mostly stillborn) measures to watch Americans more closely. 9/11, in turn, led to the most radical reshaping of American foreign policy—and some might argue, domestic—since the close of World War II. The difference was in the origin of the attacks. The difference was in our leadership. The difference was in ourselves.

Today, the watchword for any move by government is claiming it keeps the people safe from terrorists. We rarely stop to ask what we mean when we say that. The tactics of terrorism are as old as humanity. This is not to justify the attacker; I have no interest in painting a sympathetic picture of such vicious animals. This is merely to be a student of history.

Nor is it possible to take away their weapons. Gunpowder can be made from urine. Explosives can be made from excrement, as Oklahoma should remind us. I have it on good authority that a suitable substitute for napalm can be made with gasoline, Ivory Soap, and a cheese grater. Granted, such weapons are crude and less lethal than the modern varieties; however, since America continues to be one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of small arms, we can rest easy knowing that only the most truly impoverished terrorists will be forced to resort to such measures.

So—what should we do? If weapons are eternal, if the will to engage in terrorist acts is eternal, do we then simply resign ourselves to it?

The answer to that, of course, is no. But the correct answer is not to declare war on terror, because America has a poor track record with such things. We have waged wars on drugs, on poverty, and on crime. There are many reasons why we have lost these wars, but the core reason in my view is that intoxication, subjugation, and evil are part of the human condition.

But can all crime be attributed to evil? To believe that, you have to believe that Americans are among the most evil people in the world, based on our incarceration record. Perhaps we are. Or perhaps you can pay heed to history and human nature, and decide that people can commit evil acts, and can become evil, when their condition becomes sufficiently desperate.

Brian took a good stab at discussing successful preventive measures to crime, but to my mind he’s answering the wrong question. The question is not to prevent motivated criminals from harming us; at that stage, we are fighting a rearguard effort and all it takes is a criminal to be smart or lucky. Given sufficient trials, we will eventually be exposed to the smart and the lucky.

The weak link in the chain is in the number of trials. We may believe that all those who would attack us are irredeemably evil and were always thus; if that is true, then we must engage in perpetual war to exterminate our enemies. Or we may believe that some forms of evil are born in nurture and not in nature, and do what we can to stem their conversion. We will still need to fight the naturally evil; they exist, they will remain, and they need to be countered. But we are all aware that the evil can be assisted by the impressionable, the desperate, and the foolish. Jones and Manson and many others have shown us that on the small scale; Hitler has shown that entire countries are not immune.

When we fight al-Qaeda, an army of 20,000, outspent by the American military by 1000 to 1, publicly befriended by none, are we fighting an army of the evil or the desperate? Of its leaders there can be no question; but what makes them leaders but that they have followers?

What Brian got right is the phrasing of his question, in asking about the prevention of crime. For terrorism is just a form of crime, one that is carried out for political ends. Why do we afford a certain kind of criminal so much credence, tell him that he alone is so threatening and dangerous to us that we would reconfigure our nation in response to his actions?

We need to remember that terrorism is crime, plain and simple. We are Americans. We and our true allies fight crime with justice; we know whom our true allies are because they do not shame us. We combat criminals with the rule of law. We were among the first to declare the equality of humankind before the law, and while we have been imperfect in our implementation, it is to the strength of this virtue that we owe the respect humankind affords us. For a millennium, nations wished to be feared; we were the first among many which gave reason to be loved.

When we forget that, when we declare war and start torturing our presumed enemies, when we deprive them of their freedoms without the due process that we have enshrined in our law, when we pretend that we need not act according to our ideals because we have the firepower to enforce our will, then we have sacrificed something indefinable which we are putatively defending. We are destroying the nation in order to save it.

I remember 9/11. I remember being out on the street in Washington DC, on an excrutiatingly beautiful day, all of us trying to make sense of the day’s events. I remember thinking how normal it was. I remember thinking, for the first time, what it meant to be a superpower. We were too strong; our enemies, unlike our enemies of the last great war, to feeble to harm us as a nation. They could blood us, they could kill us, but they couldn’t destroy us.

But that was before I saw military commandos riding the Metro. That was before we took a page from the Soviet playbook and started demanding papers. That was before Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and an entire nation living on Guiliani Time.

We are a people with a long history. We are a people who are used to the exercise of force, who are comforted by our use of it. We should know that force can prevent acts of terror, but not the will to terror itself. We should know that force can turn our enemies into the Hydra. But we are frightened, and we are more than willing to trade our liberties for temporary safety.

What prevents terrorism is justice. The show of force is simple, its costs borne by our voluntary defenders and our involuntary targets, and temporarily effective. But it is the pursuit of justice that chokes off the support of evil, that leaves it to founder, and makes its destruction possible. It is the pursuit of justice that made us who we are. It is what we claim to be willing to die for in the abstract, but history will show this to be a time when Americans mouthed the words and forgot the lessons. When we refused to pay the price and forced others to bear the burden.

We were built on the rule of law, trusting in the civil liberties of a free people, using our military force as a true option of last resort. Our power was built on the backs of the millions who came here believing they could find such values here. It is a slow, difficult, and dangerous way to live. It served us well for two centuries. The United States may be able to survive its repudiation, but America cannot.

40 thoughts on “What Prevents Terrorism?

  1. We need to address terrorism on a short-term as well as a long-term basis:

    Short-term:

    -From a tactical standpoint, there is no way that we can possibly field an army large enough to occupy every screwed up country in the Muslim Middle East. The fact is that most of them are backward societies in which women have no rights, imams rule the day, and people lack basic freedoms. We need to face the fact that for right now, at least, religious fanatics have gained control of a substantial portion of the young male population in countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc. We can’t simply occupy and reshape all these countries. They have too many crazed young men who are willing to die for “Allah”.

    -We can, however, consider ways to make life more dangerous for the radical imams and leaders of madrassas who encourage terrorism. A few of these guys need to disappear–and perhaps the others will get the message. Being a radical imam needs to become a more hazardous line of work.

    -Next, we need to put aside the niceties of political correctness and face another fact. In Israel, Europe, and the United States, the vast majority of the recent terrorist attacks have been carried out by young Islamic males. This means that if you have fewer young Islamic males around, you should have less terrorism. Therefore, we should put an immediate end to student visas from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, etc. This won’t keep all the terrorists out, but it will keep out at least some. It may also be necessary to restrict the entry of individuals with certain profiles from Europe, based on what happened in London last week. Not nice, I realize, but it needs to be done.

    Long-term:

    -In Israel, we have foolishly chosen to take one side in a tribal religious war. We need to either become neutral brokers, or pull out completely.

    -We need to decrease our dependence on oil imports. Let’s send less money to the Middle East to finance radical mosques and madrassas.

    -Finally, we need to do everything we can to undermine the philosophy of Islamic fascism. This will likely entail some open rhetoric, as well as some more covert activities. Radical Islam could become to the 21st century what Nazism and Communism were to the 20th century.

    Overall, though, you are correct in assessing the difficulty of our situation. Our enemy is nuts, willing to die, and large numbers of them have infiltrated Western countries. This is a desperate situation that calls for drastic measures.

  2. Todd — you seem to have missed my point entirely.

    I think our situation can be called desperate only by people with a weak grasp on desperation. December 11, 1941, when we found ourselves at war on two continents, is a good example of a desperate time. October 25, 1962, when the Cold War nearly went nuclear, ranks as another. Had we reacted proportionately to those threats as we are to 9/11, we would have been living under martial law for the last 60 years.

    Likewise, I think we need to note that religious fanatics have gained control of a substantial portion of the population of the United States before we start condemning religious fanaticism abroad. Recall my argument that desperation produces terrorism: there is little need for Christian fundamentalist terrorism abroad, because those in power are already working (as they see it) to spread Christ. But where their battles are lost, we see the domestic production of terrorists like Eric Rudolph and James Kopp. I note that there are few calls to restrict the movements of all white Christians because of the acts of terrorism they have committed.

    I’ll even agree with you that we should put an end to student visas—in fact, we should abolish them entirely and allow anyone who wishes to see America to visit. Let them come, let them meet us and discover we’re not monsters. Let them find out for themselves what Americans are like. Let them take that back home with them to counter the stories told of the Great Satan.

    Might this allow some criminals to enter? Certainly. But we have criminals at home, and 200 million guns for them to use. Compare the small additional risk with the huge benefit by allowing the vast majority of decent people to see us first-hand. Perhaps fewer terrorists would be recruited if we stopped telling the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses to fend for themselves.

    But the real reason to do these things is not because they are nice, and not because they might protect us in the long run. The real reason to do these things is that we are Americans. We have a sacred duty to live up to the best of our ideals. We should not debase ourselves by saying that our skins are more valuable than our birthright. Why do we allow the voices of McVeigh and bin Laden to drown out the voices of Jefferson, Lincoln and King? Are we truly that shallow?

  3. Jeff, outstanding post. We allowed our response to 9/11 to turn us into the very thing the terrorists accused us of being: global despots. Instead, we should work to become the very thing they fear: a nation of freedom and peace. Only then will we know security.

    K

  4. Jeff writes:
    “I think our situation can be called desperate only by people with a weak grasp on desperation.”

    -While the threats during WWII and the Cold War were different, the ones we face now are potentially just as dangerous. We have already lost more Americans on U.S. soil that we did in WWII. Al Queda also makes no secret of the fact that they are trying to procure nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. And they proved on 9/11 that they do have agents in the U.S.

    “Likewise, I think we need to note that religious fanatics have gained control of a substantial portion of the population of the United States before we start condemning religious fanaticism abroad.”

    I don’t like the Religious Right anymore than you do; but you can’t compare the Christian Coalition to Al-Queda. Christian terrorists (and the only one I can think of is Eric Rudolph) are usually lone individuals. Islamic terrorists, on the other hand, are much better organized, better funded, and receive far more support from within the societies that spawn them. Why are you unable to acknowledge that much of the Islamic world has been hijacked (no pun intended) by a very dangerous “Religious Right” of their own? Are you saying that Islamic fanatics are NOT a threat to Westerners? Are you really more concerned about radical Baptists?

    “But we have criminals at home, and 200 million guns for them to use.”

    -Once again, you have correctly identified a threat, but the comparison doesn’t work. When was the last time you heard about street thugs trying to acquire nuclear weapons to detonate in New York or Chicago? (Just for the record, I am in favor of gun control, but it is a completely separate issue.)

    “Compare the small additional risk with the huge benefit by allowing the vast majority of decent people to see us first-hand.

    -This is not a theoretical “risk.” Islamic terrorists have killed large numbers of people in the West, and they kill even more in the Middle East almost every week. Are you saying that the threat is only theoretical?

  5. One more:

    “Perhaps fewer terrorists would be recruited if we stopped telling the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses to fend for themselves.”

    What exactly are you suggesting here? Should we try to buy them off? Should we pledge more foreign aid to any country whose citizens bomb us? Japan was also a poor country in the late 1930s. Would you have responded to Pearl Harbor with a low-interest loan package? Are you aware that we already send lots of foreign aid to the Islamic world? Should we just increase the amount until the young militants stop blowing up our buses, airplanes, and subway stations?

  6. First of all, Jeff – very nice post. It’s rare that a blog post approaches eloquence. The fact that I disagree with most of what you said should in no way mitigate my compliments for how well you said it.

    Speaking of which…

    I disagree that “terrorism is crime, plain and simple.” There is a difference between Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden, and there are good reasons why our responses were not proportionate. McVeigh was an American; he lived within the society you so eloquently describe, where the vast majority of people considered him a raging lunatic, and where even those who may have agreed with his politics considered his actions way, way over the top. Given a consistent context, we are rightly comforted by the dozens of mechanisms in place to prevent additional McVeigh’s: parents, schools, clergy, culture, law enforcement, and yes – even the government.

    Bin Laden and his ilk are criminals, yes. But they present an entirely separate problem: they do not accept the things that we accept as given. In the cocoon they’d established for themselves, murdering 3,000 defenseless American civilians was justice. In the world of radical, islamic facism, they were not the raging lunatics, but rather the brave soldiers, defending their way of life and the Word of God.

    Our actions since 9/11 have gone a long way toward marginalizing this way of thinking. To your point about the war on drugs/proverty/crime, we will likely never destroy it, but we simply cannot stand by and let entire societies lend credibility to this way of thinking (like the Taliban did by allowing open terrorist training camps for Al Qaeda, for instance).

    You say we “combat criminals with the rule of law” and “We were among the first to declare the equality of humankind before the law.” But that’s not entirely true, is it? We declare the equality of Americans before the (American) law. Within the country, we’re all working from the same set of laws & values. Outside it, we can never be sure.

  7. Sorry for the double post, but I need to add something to Todd’s comments on this:

    “Likewise, I think we need to note that religious fanatics have gained control of a substantial portion of the population of the United States before we start condemning religious fanaticism abroad.”

    I realize we hold ourselves to a ridiculously high standard sometimes, and that this is generally a good thing. We lock up a murderous lunatic like Saddam Hussein, and then make sure he gets his first choice of breakfast cereal. We fret over the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay when someone is offended by the way we handled their holy book, even though we provided them with the holy book in the first place (not to mention better medical care than many folks living in the US).

    All of this may be overly self-critical, and certainly doesn’t help our standing in the eyes of the world. Still, it makes us strive to be better than we are, and that’s an American ideal as well. So we live with it.

    All of that being said, can you really compare the way religious fanatics have overtaken Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, etc. with the way religious fanatics have overtaken the United States? Doesn’t that come down to comparing the killing of thousands with the unabashed winning of elections & pushing of a certain political agenda?

  8. Sorry for the double post, but I need to add something to Todd’s comments on this:

    “Likewise, I think we need to note that religious fanatics have gained control of a substantial portion of the population of the United States before we start condemning religious fanaticism abroad.”

    I realize we hold ourselves to a ridiculously high standard sometimes, and that this is generally a good thing. We lock up a murderous lunatic like Saddam Hussein, and then make sure he gets his first choice of breakfast cereal. We fret over the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay when someone is offended by the way we handled their holy book, even though we provided them with the holy book in the first place (not to mention better medical care than many folks living in the US).

    All of this may be overly self-critical, and certainly doesn’t help our standing in the eyes of the world. Still, it makes us strive to be better than we are, and that’s an American ideal as well. So we live with it.

    All of that being said, can you really compare the way religious fanatics have overtaken Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, etc. with the way religious fanatics have overtaken the United States? Doesn’t that come down to comparing the killing of thousands with the unabashed winning of elections & pushing of a certain political agenda?

  9. Damn! My double post became a triple post due to an itchy “Post”-ing finger!

    (yes, I know – and now it’s quadruple. Just shoot me now & put me out of my misery…)

  10. Quoth Brian:

    Bin Laden and his ilk are criminals, yes. But they present an entirely separate problem: they do not accept the things that we accept as given. In the cocoon they’d established for themselves, murdering 3,000 defenseless American civilians was justice. In the world of radical, islamic facism, they were not the raging lunatics, but rather the brave soldiers, defending their way of life and the Word of God.

    The point of prosecuting terrorists like the criminals they are is entirely lost on them, yes. But it is not lost on the people who choose to support them without sharing their delusions. These organisations are not funded out of lunatic asylums, but by ordinary people who believe the rhetoric of oppression they put out.

    The best way to combat that is to convince the mass of potential moderates that they are wrong to support the fanatics. We have to reward moderation, and we also have to show that our principles are not just empty words. The sort of self-examination we do in conversations like this is part of it, but so is the application of the rule of law and the protection of our historic liberties. Otherwise we just look like hypocrites, bringing “freedom” to Iraq while silencing dissent at home.

    We can never eliminate the nutcases. What we can do is show the rest of the world that they are nutcases, and that they are wrong to call us evil.

  11. It’s okay, Brian. I saw 11 comments already and I got all excited. I only have time to reply to Todd now, but I’ll come back to you as as soon as I can.

    Todd—

    I’m sorry, but you’re just not properly accounting for historical threats compared to today’s. In WWII, we were facing two enemies in a conventional war, and not only the motive but the means to destroy America. I’ve never seen an analysis that stated that Japan could project sufficient force to invade, but it’s an open question whether Hitler could have done so eventually. What protected America from the Nazis was threefold: 1) the loss of huge numbers of German troops in Russia; 2) the defense of Britain, providing the Allies with a defensive base in Europe; and 3) America’s implementation of the most massive mobilization in history. In 1939, even we had no idea what we were capable of.

    Likewise, during the Cold War, we faced a determined enemy with a huge arsenal of nuclear bombs. Humanity faced a civilian casualty rate of 95% or higher if those bombs were used. (Some posit 100%.) This is the ultimate threat, against which all others pale, terrorism included. And it hasn’t ended.

    We have already lost more Americans on U.S. soil that we did in WWII.

    Yes. This was tragic. This was horrifying. I do not mean to discount the pain of our loss. But what, exactly, was the harm to America from the attack in and of itself? We toss around the term “national security” so often that we forget what actually qualifies as a threat to the nation.

    Al Queda also makes no secret of the fact that they are trying to procure nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

    And here we have a perfect example of a threat to the nation. We are the strongest military power in human history. Weapons of mass destruction are the only thing that can possibly hurt us on a national scale. A sane foreign policy would do its utmost to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons, and instead the United States has been obstructionist to these efforts. (If you don’t believe a nuclear weapon free world is possible, please refer to the writings of Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences, whom I linked to last week.)

    Of course al-Qaeda wants nuclear weapons. Nearly everyone wants a nuclear weapon. It’s how nations get a seat at the players table. Do you suppose it’s an accident that the five declared nuclear powers at the time of the formation of the UN Security Council are the ones with permanent seats and the veto? People are not dangerous because they want a weapon, any more than I’m an equestrian because I want a pony. People are dangerous if they have the means to get one. Again, a sane nation would not be so worried about the desires of maniacs, but would rather work to ensure that no one can gather the means to destroy us.

    Islamic terrorists, on the other hand, are much better organized, better funded, and receive far more support from within the societies that spawn them…. Are you saying that Islamic fanatics are NOT a threat to Westerners? Are you really more concerned about radical Baptists?

    Insofar as the radical Baptists are getting laws passed in my country to move us towards Christian theocracy, yes, I see them as a real threat to the America I love. But that’s not the threat we’re discussing.

    Al-Qaeda has a population of approximately 20,000, from which you say that the whole of 1.6 billion Muslims have been highjacked. By such standards, the 13 million Jews of the world are clearly in support of Yigal Amir. What is accurate is that many desperate Muslims are in support of al-Qaeda, and that their argument that America is waging a holy war is not a difficult sell. Their support and their funding is exactly what I speak of attacking directly.

    Once again, you have correctly identified a threat, but the comparison doesn’t work. When was the last time you heard about street thugs trying to acquire nuclear weapons?

    Depending on your definition of street thugs, I have heard of such things for domestic militia groups and Chechen rebels. That’s the problem with nuclear terrorism; this threat has been around for decades, and exacerbated since the fall of the Cold War. You fall into the mistake of thinking that the threat of terrorism started with bin Laden. America’s current response to nuclear terror is to accelerate our own weapons research, publicly announce plans for deployment for the first time since Nagasaki, and to cut funds for the programs and support for the international initiatives to stop this threat.

    But even with conventional weapons, the comparison works exceedingly well. Four years ago there were no assault weapons on the Washington Metro. Today there are. If a terrorist wanted to use such weapons on the Metro, all he would need to do is overpower the police and take theirs. Are you saying this is completely impossible? These lethal weapons are not merely for show; that is why we call them “lethal”.

    Islamic terrorists have killed large numbers of people in the West, and they kill even more in the Middle East almost every week. Are you saying that the threat is only theoretical?

    Of course not. I am talking in cold numbers about pragmatic risks. We see the civilian losses in Iraq and Afghanistan as acceptable, as collateral damage. This is how we are told to think about human life. So I’m just saying, very coldly, that the loss of 3,000 Americans is an acceptable price to pay for democracy. I am saying that future losses to conventional attack is also the price we must be prepared to pay for a free society. We shoulder such losses for our economy, for our transportation system, for our privatized system of medical care, on a regular basis. But freedom is now expected to be available at a discount.

    It’s not common to speak in such terms, to talk about accepting the death of Americans for our ideals. We are encouraged instead to wish for perfect protection and to support whomever promises it to us. But in saying this I stand with Washington, with Lincoln, with Roosevelt. That’s company I don’t mind keeping.

    Would you have responded to Pearl Harbor with a low-interest loan package?

    Yes. Absolutely. After the war was over, that is exactly what we did. Compare the Treaty of Versailles which led directly to the rise of Hitler, and the Marshall Plan which led to the Federal Republic of Germany. Compare the opinions of America by the Japanese of 1945 and the Japanese of 2005. Did such miracles take place because we invaded their countries, overthrew their leaders, and converted them to Christianity? Or did they occur because we went to war as a last resort and then treated our former enemies with kindness?

    Our successes in Germany and Japan can be attributed in part to the Germans and Japanese; without their repudiation of their former governments, brought about by an understanding that they were the aggressors in a losing conflict, it simply would not have been possible. Compare that with Iraq, where the man on the street knows full well what Saddam was capable of, and sees his nation as occupied by foreign aggressors. It is not surprising that the insurgency there looks more like Saigon than Berlin.

    Are you aware that we already send lots of foreign aid to the Islamic world?

    Less than most other nations, in both real dollar terms and as a percentage of GDP. Much of the aid we do send is in the form of armaments. And much of the money we withhold from our UN dues is stricken directly from international aid programs. We are very generous with spending money on warfare, and very parsimonious with spending money on people.

  12. “I’m sorry, but you’re just not properly accounting for historical threats compared to today’s.”

    -Neither the Germans nor the Japanese had access to nuclear weapons. Of course they had conventional forces which were a real threat. We can likely both agree that comparisons between the Axis and Al Qaeda are apples and oranges.

    However, I would assert that the nuclear threat from Al Qaeda is much more serious than the one from the Soviet Union, should the Islamic fascists acquire weapons. The Soviet Union could not use their weapons without provoking a response in kind. The MAD (mutually assured destruction) rendered the Soviet nuclear arsenal usually (except as a deterrent).

    On the other hand, if an Al Qaeda operative were to set off a nuclear device in New York or London tomorrow, how would we retalliate. Al Qaeda would not be constrained by threats of MAD.

    The issue of nuclear proliferation is a serious one. However, the major threat here is not from the intact nuclear arsenal of the U.S., but the dismantled nukes of the former Soviet Union.

    “Al-Qaeda has a population of approximately 20,000, from which you say that the whole of 1.6 billion Muslims have been highjacked.”

    -Only a small number of Muslims may be active Al Qaeda members, but who can argue that these societies are not possessed by a philosophy which is (and I’m being kind here) completely loopy? In Iran, homosexuals and prostitutes are regularly hanged (alas, no gay marriage in Tehran); and in Pakistan, young men regularly kill their sisters in “honor killings.” These situations are well documented in the mainstream media. And these two examples, at least, have nothing to do with the United States. These are things that these people do *to each other*–with the support of religious and government institutions.

    Yes, we have our busybodies on the Religous Right. Point conceded. But the scale is completely different. Why can’t we agree that Islamic societies are currently a bit nuts, and hope that they’ll sort of grow out of it?

    “So I’m just saying, very coldly, that the loss of 3,000 Americans is an acceptable price to pay for democracy.”

    I think I would rather have 3,000 dead terrorists, given the choice.

    “Yes. Absolutely. After the war was over, that is exactly what we did”

    Let’s not forget that before we made nice, we kicked their asses, dismantled their backward forms of government, and occupied their countries for a number of years. A lot happened in between Pearl Harbor and the loan packages.

  13. typo in the above post:

    “The MAD (mutually assured destruction) *doctrine* rendered the Soviet nuclear arsenal *useless* (except as a deterrent).

    Sorry, everyone.

  14. Just a brief point. Running from armed police into a subway wearing a winter coat in July is not “innocent.” Especially after a recent terrorist bombing.

    It’s tragic that he was shot, but the tragedy is of this individual’s own making. If he had stopped, he’d still be alive. In fact, this looks suspiciously like “suicide by cop.”

  15. “What exactly are you suggesting here? Should we try to buy them off? Should we pledge more foreign aid to any country whose citizens bomb us? Japan was also a poor country in the late 1930s. Would you have responded to Pearl Harbor with a low-interest loan package? Are you aware that we already send lots of foreign aid to the Islamic world? Should we just increase the amount until the young militants stop blowing up our buses, airplanes, and subway stations?”

    hell, yeah, we should try to buy them off! it’s not like we’re not alreayd throwing away billions of dollars on a war that’s killing americans by the truckload and iraqis by the highwayload. wouldn’t you rather throw money at an impoverished economy than throw it down the hole of a war? talk about a public relations coup!

    new rules: starting tomorrow, we will start giving money away to third world countries (for economic development only, of course) in direct proportion to how many americans (civilian OR military) their citizens have killed in the past ten years. also starting tomorrow, their aid packages will be scaled every year in inverse proportion to the number of americans their citizens kill from the moment the new rules start.

    think it’ll work?

  16. So many comments, so little time.

    Brian:

    Bin Laden and his ilk are criminals, yes. But they present an entirely separate problem: they do not accept the things that we accept as given.

    Ya know, when we bleeding heart liberals attempt to understand the motives of criminals, we’re laughed at by polite society. But apparently it’s allowable so long as your intentions are to justify a warlike response. Under the law, we don’t care whether you killed someone to make a political statement, or to express your raging psychopathic issues, or because you wanted his wallet. Under the law, all that matters is that you have the right to remain silent.

    The best argument to be made for our military adventurism is to say that Afghanistan did not respect our rule of law. But we haven’t made that argument. And it’s fairly thin to say that we overthrew a government because we didn’t agree with their extradition policy, and then let the criminals escape. Of course, no such argument could be made for Iraq, because they didn’t have anyone there to extradite.

    In the world of radical, islamic facism, they were not the raging lunatics, but rather the brave soldiers, defending their way of life and the Word of God.

    The point I thought I had made was that judging all of Islam by the actions of al-Qaeda is akin to judging all Jews by Rabin’s assassins, or all Christians by McVeigh. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and they are not monolithic in their mainstream beliefs, let alone their extremist wing.

    (As an aside, I happened to wander into the Universal Muslim Association of America conference earlier this year and got into a debate when I couldn’t stop myself from rebutting the interpretation of American history by the guy from the Nation of Islam. Got even more fun when I mentioned I was Jewish. It was quite the evening.)

    Our actions since 9/11 have gone a long way toward marginalizing this way of thinking.

    I’m sorry, but you’re simply deluding yourself here. The idea of active jihad against Americans was already highly marginalized prior to 9/11, in much the same way that the militias are marginalized here. Our wars are giving our ideological enemies a great deal of propaganda material in support that jihad is necessary because the West is indiscriminately waging war against the Arab. It might not look that way on Fox News, but it certainly does on al-Jazeerah.

    We simply cannot stand by and let entire societies lend credibility to this way of thinking (like the Taliban did by allowing open terrorist training camps for Al Qaeda).

    If it is our intention to overthrow every nation which allows open terrorist training camps, we have quite a lot of work ahead of us, starting with building a time machine so we can topple the Reagan-era government that built those camps in Afghanistan. Shall we attack the British, or the Germans, for allowing al-Qaeda cells to operate there? Why are we being so polite to Pakistan, which has active camps operating there?

    The answer, of course, is that Islamabad is not fully in control of her country, just as Kabul was not in control of her own. The answer, of course, is that we can effectively stretch our “you’re with us or against us policy” to just about any war at any time. Afghanistan, yes. Pakistan, no. Iraq, yes. Syria… tune in for the next exciting episode.

    But that’s not entirely true, is it? We declare the equality of Americans before the (American) law. Within the country, we’re all working from the same set of laws & values. Outside it, we can never be sure.

    Yes, there’s no question that our values have too often stopped at our borders. I personally have never understood what part of “all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” includes the notion of “between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, above the Spanish part and below the French part”. Should we therefore only expect ourselves to live up to our past failings?

    We fret over the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay when someone is offended by the way we handled their holy book

    Actually, we were fretting over the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo when we actually were torturing prisoners at Guantanamo. The bit about what did we know about throwing the Koran in the toilet, and when did we know it, came later.

    Yes, I agree with you that in most cases, our prisoners receive medical care and treatment according to Geneva protocols (although we’ve denied that we’re required to do this). In some cases, however, we’ve attacked naked men with dogs and piled them up in stacks to make postcards. The fact that this has not caused a wave of spontaneous and sustained vomiting in the United States might lead the cynical to state that we are not being particularly self-critical.

  17. Continuing….

    Todd:

    I would assert that the nuclear threat from Al Qaeda is much more serious than the one from the Soviet Union, should the Islamic fascists acquire weapons. The Soviet Union could not use their weapons without provoking a response in kind.

    Welcome to the classic fallacy of nuclear war policy. You’re presuming rational actors on both sides. You’re ignoring the possibility of accidental war, either through misinterpretation of monitoring signals, or by simple glitches in the programming. The single moment in the 1990s that increased your personal odds of dying of old age was the Clinton-Yeltsin agreement which detargeted the missiles and removed them from Launch on Warning status. Until then, no one in the Northern Hemisphere could be certain of living more than another 30 minutes.

    Even presuming that a terrorist could gain access to and deliver a nuclear weapon, we’re still talking about an impact on the scale of Fat Man and Little Boy, the bombs we dropped on Japan. In the arsenals of the US and former USSR, such weapons are just the triggers for much larger explosives. We might lose millions to a nuclear terrorist attack; such an attack is a threat to our nation’s survival and hence it is madness that we are promulgating weapons technology. But we would lose hundreds of millions to an attack on the scale the Soviets were able to launch. That we could do the same to them is a flimsy form of protection.

    if an Al Qaeda operative were to set off a nuclear device in New York or London tomorrow, how would we retalliate.

    Martial law declared in the United States, complete militarization of our economy and reinstatement of the draft, an all-out assault on nations across the Middle East and parts of Asia, including the threat and use of our own nuclear weapons, with retaliatory actions leading to World War III.

    Well, you asked. What part of that is not plausible?

    However, the major threat here is not from the intact nuclear arsenal of the U.S., but the dismantled nukes of the former Soviet Union.

    You’re American, right? Just guessing here.

    Yes, I agree that American nukes are not likely to go “loose”. However, other nations have this quaint notion where they don’t subscribe to our view that Americans are better than everyone else and hence deserve more privileges. So long as we maintain and expand our nuclear arsenal (in abrogation of several treaties we’ve signed), other nations will feel justified in their own pursuit of such weapons. So long as nation-states prime the pump, there will be a steady flow of materiel which can be sidetracked into the hands of our enemies.

    who can argue that these societies are not possessed by a philosophy which is (and I’m being kind here) completely loopy?

    Sigh. You know, as a human rights activist, I’ve been gently gobsmacked since 2001 by the number of people who suddenly espouse my values as a reason to go off and kill people.

    Yes, there are quite a few things about Islamic culture that doesn’t exactly thrill me. I think it’s extremely valid for activists to do what they can to apply a cluebat to the heads of people who enjoy living in the 16th century. But these are not national security issues. My nation is not harmed by the subjugation of women, so the response to such barbarism should not be military. On the other hand, diplomatic and economic pressure against such scumbags would be nice, but since that might affect the SUV vote, we’ve rarely taken such drastic measures.

    Let’s not forget that before we made nice, we kicked their asses, dismantled their backward forms of government, and occupied their countries for a number of years.

    And let’s not forget that before we did such things, we were attacked at Pearl Harbor and Berlin declared war on us. Unlike these days, when we are attacked by one group and then we go overthrow the people we can find, regardless of whether they had particularly much to do with the attack.

  18. Chris:

    I’m reminded of a friend from Argentina, who once asked me, “You know how you can tell North from South Americans? North Americans will walk up to a cop and ask for directions.”

    Please, just go to the BBC web site and read any of a dozen articles about how this man was likely to react to police officers, especially considering that at the point where witnesses saw them, they were in plain clothes and had their guns drawn.

    And wearing a winter coat in July? Perhaps that was the only one he could afford. Perhaps he was from Sao Paulo and he considers a high of 65F to be cold weather. Perhaps a man doesn’t deserve to die because he’s wearing the wrong clothes.

    By the way, just while I’m on the topic, most people seem to think that it’s okay to fire five shots into a prone suspect at point blank range in order to prevent him from setting off any explosives he may or may not be wearing. And call me confused, because it seems to me that firing five shots is an excellent way to accidentally trigger any explosives he may or may not be wearing.

    Claire:

    Right on. We pour hundreds of billions of dollars into the Middle East after we’ve declared war. I can only imagine how much would have been done to quash anti-American beliefs if we had used that money for other purposes in an earlier time.

  19. Couple points…

    This:

    “So I’m just saying, very coldly, that the loss of 3,000 Americans is an acceptable price to pay for democracy.”

    I think I would rather have 3,000 dead terrorists, given the choice.

    I think most people would agree… but what about the deaths of 25000+ innocent Iraqi civilians in the process?

    And second… I agree with much of the original post. The more I think about it the more I feel… Justice is what we should be advocating and spreading to other countries, even above the “freedom” we are supposedly spreading… It is possible to live peacefully in a just monarchy for instance, but freedom without justice is a dangerous thing indeed.

  20. Jeff Porten – valid points. How were the London police supposed to know any of this? What should they have done? Not shoot, and let a potential terror-bomber run loose?

    In Mexico, if the policeman pulls you over and asks for “la mordita” you pay the bribe, unless you want your teeth kicked in for you in jail. In the UK, an armed policeman says “stop or I’ll shoot” you stop. Again, the tragedy here is that the deceased didn’t know the rules.

  21. Hi Jeff,

    Although I agree with most of what you’re saying, and I still think your starting post was brilliant, I think you overstep yourself outrageously when you’re talking about 9/11:

    Yes. This was tragic. This was horrifying. I do not mean to discount the pain of our loss. But what, exactly, was the harm to America from the attack in and of itself? We toss around the term “national security” so often that we forget what actually qualifies as a threat to the nation.

    Let’s be literal here. And let’s ignore the loss of life. 9/11/2001 was a simultaneous missile attack against four targets: the two towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and (almost certainly) the White House or the Capitol. These buildings were not symbols or monuments. They were centers of actual power. They were directly attempting to destroy the most important economic, military, and governmental targets in the United States in one morning.

    They succeeded at destroying the economic target. The cost of the damage is impossible to quantify, but nobody questions that it seriously deepened a recession that cost the country jobs, growth, and trade for at least a few years. (Regardless of what the Bush administration did or didn’t do to make things worse, the damage was already there.) If the Pentagon plane had struck the building differently, and if passengers on the fourth plane hadn’t apparently made one of the most heroic sacrifices in modern history, we would be living in an extremely different world right now. If the Capitol or White House had been destroyed, our wrath would be bottomless. I can easily envision the United States becoming a true evil empire, and the Middle East burned to the ground.

    I heartily agree that many of the responses to 9/11 have been inappropriate and ineffective against terrorism, that Iraq was a sideshow until we started pulling terrorists there with magnets, and that many of the things we’re worried about now aren’t the right things. But your suggestion that “the attack in and of itself” did not harm the country, that it was not an extreme threat to national security, shows an absence of clarity.

    Regardless of anything that happened after, it’s not at all out of proportion to compare 9/11 to Pearl Harbor or the Cuban Missile Crisis in its literal importance. It was a tactical decapitating strike against our country. They were trying to destroy our headquarters.

    If that’s not a threat to national security, then the term has no meaning whatsoever, and never has.

  22. Steve—

    I think we’re still in agreement, but I was a bit sloppy in my language. So let’s see if this clarifies.

    My statements should not be taken to say that I don’t support finding those who attack us, or who would attack us, and nailing them to the wall. Mr. Amnesty-supporting, death penalty-opposing Liberal over here would not shed a tear if Osama, while resisting arrest, accidentally fell into a wood chipper set to “slow grind”.

    You’re absolutely correct in assessing the intent of the attack, but my distinction stems from the point that we are not vulnerable to a decapitation attack. America has survived the loss of a president, several times. The White House has been burned down before. We’re still here.

    So let’s agree: an attack on American citizens is an attack on America, and preventing such attacks falls under the scope of national security. An attack on our economy is potentially more dangerous than a military offensive, and hence also has national security implications. But my question is where to draw the line with such statements; national security is a highly elastic phrase.

    Therefore, I’ve been rather narrowly defining it for this discussion as attacks that threaten our existence as a nation. Certainly, that’s generally been our qualifier for getting involved in wars in the last century; Korea and Vietnam were both undertaken on the theory that losses there threatened our survival against Communism. Since the 1980s, we’ve been a bit more relaxed about what wars we enter, but I don’t think any of them showed the same naked aggression that we used against Iraq.

    I realize I’ve been hyperbolic in my statements, so I’ll take this opportunity in case my point is missed. I expect America to use every ounce of her awesome power under the law to bring those who have harmed us to justice, and to prevent future such occurrences. But our global military response since 9/11 tells the world that we regard this more as a political than criminal action. Or at least, we are acting as if al-Qaeda is a virtual nation against whom we can wage war. Seeing as how al-Qaeda is not a state, I think we’d be much better off, both in keeping with our values and in terms of real security, in treating them simply as criminals. The level of fear being experienced is far out of proportion to the real harm that they are able to inflict, and I’m not alone in thinking that a large part of this is due to the political expedience of keeping the voters fearful.

  23. Jeff:

    Therefore, I’ve been rather narrowly defining it for this discussion as attacks that threaten our existence as a nation. Certainly, that’s generally been our qualifier for getting involved in wars in the last century; Korea and Vietnam were both undertaken on the theory that losses there threatened our survival against Communism. Since the 1980s, we’ve been a bit more relaxed about what wars we enter, but I don’t think any of them showed the same naked aggression that we used against Iraq.

    So… You’re suggesting that the indirect threat posed by Russian involvement in Asian countries was more “threatening to our existence as a nation” than a direct air assault on our military and political headquarters?

    Sorry. I don’t buy it. 9/11 was a military attack on our country. It was a very peculiar and perverse military attack, in that our own planes and civilians became the enemy’s weapon. But it was an attack intended to disable our ability to retaliate or to field resources in other territories. It failed at that, but I can’t see any reasonable context in which it was not an act of war.

    Seeing as how al-Qaeda is not a state, I think we’d be much better off, both in keeping with our values and in terms of real security, in treating them simply as criminals. The level of fear being experienced is far out of proportion to the real harm that they are able to inflict, and I’m not alone in thinking that a large part of this is due to the political expedience of keeping the voters fearful.

    I’m not sure exactly how you’d do this, so let’s look at specifics. It’s October, 2001. The mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and several accomplices have been identified and we’ve determined what country they’re in. The mastermind has considerable influence with the government of that country.

    The “political” response to this scenario is known. We demand extradition, then when they say no, we invoke a freshly inked doctrine that says “We will not distinguish between terrorists and those who harbor them” and invade their country. This is what we did. (That we’ve screwed the pooch since then and left the job half-done is another issue.)

    So what’s the “criminal” response? We demand extradition, they say no, and then….what? Ask again? Send Interpol to sternly lecture the Taliban? How exactly do you arrest and prosecute “simply criminals” on foreign soil when the government there won’t cooperate?

    Never mind Iraq, that’s a totally different clusterf**k, and I won’t make the conventional mistake of confusing it with the war on terror. What I want to know is, in your opinion, what should we have done with Al Qaeda? Tell us in terms of actions, not philosophies.

  24. Whoops, one major point I forgot to cover.

    it’s not at all out of proportion to compare 9/11 to Pearl Harbor or the Cuban Missile Crisis in its literal importance.

    This is a subjective discussion, so we’ll probably end up disagreeing here.

    I cut my eyeteeth in activism on nuclear weapons issues, so please pardon my bias. I consider any event which could have led to all-out nuclear war to be on another plane of existence on the importance scale. Pretty much everything else in human history pales by comparison, if for no other reason than because it would be the end of human history.

    Pearl Harbor, you’ve got something there. I think the jury is still out on whether this was the precipitating event that led to World War III, or at least Cold War II. I’d put those odds at about 1 in 3 at the moment. But the path that leads from 9/11 to global war was not foreordained as it was with Pearl Harbor. This path to global war was chosen by our leadership and the people who elected them.

    Please don’t think I’m denying the importance of 9/11, nor am I suggesting that everything should have stayed as it was. What I’m saying is that compared to our historic adversaries and their capabilities, our reaction to our present enemies seems, well, disappointing and more than a bit cowardly.

    Chris:

    How were the London police supposed to know any of this? What should they have done? Not shoot, and let a potential terror-bomber run loose?

    The question can’t be answered until the British release more details about what happened to set the incident off. But as far as what happened at the end, I think I’m in agreement with their actions up until several cops have him prone on the floor, but just before one of them puts seven bullets into the back of his head. (Although hearing today that they were head shots, I retract my earlier comment about setting off explosives with gunfire.)

    Yes, I’m well aware that this is an effective method of stopping an attacker from setting off a detonator. I question whether this is the sole effective method of doing so, and I’m waiting to hear that they had better reason to kill him than because he was frightened of the police and wearing the wrong coat.

  25. Brian: “Bin Laden and his ilk are criminals, yes. But they present an entirely separate problem: they do not accept the things that we accept as given. In the cocoon they’d established for themselves, murdering 3,000 defenseless American civilians was justice.”

    Not so different; McVeigh and Rudolph also firmly believe(d) themselves on the side of justice:

    “I reached the decision to go on the offensive – to put a check on government abuse of power, where others had failed in stopping the federal juggernaut running amok.” — McVeigh

    “Abortion is murder, and because it is murder I believe deadly force is needed to stop it.” — Rudolph

    Todd: “Al Queda also makes no secret of the fact that they are trying to procure nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.”

    They’re hardly alone in this, mind you: http://www.google.com/search?q=Texas+cyanide+bomb

  26. I have a modest proposal. Let’s pull everyone out of Iraq. Those Iraquis can take care of themselves. We’ll let them dig up the mass graves and rebuild their nation by themselves. The terrorists will leave once we are gone, and i’m sure a hearty apology will do the trick.

    Also, let’s give Guantanamo Bay back to the Cubans. Perhaps if we handle the Koran with respect and ask politely, the terrorists will just tell us what we want to know. We really should try to be more just as a nation. We need to set the example for the world. I know that if we show dens of terrorism that we are a good meek people, that they will just leave us alone.

    Perhaps if we declare a national Islamic holiday, it will show the muslim world that we are dedicated to tolerance and equality. Merry Koranmas! It just rolls of the tounge. I think there should be a city ordinance that states there must be an equal ratio of mosques to churches. Perhaps we can make an exception to the separation of church and state to apologize for our treatment of the Koran.

    I think we should be a more activist nation. Perhaps if we protest what happened to us on 9/11 to the U.N. we will get a greater response from the global community. I know the U.N. will support our cause, and everybody loves activists. I propose Michael Moore as a goodwill ambassador to the U.N. He really is the soft chocolate moral center to our hard shell tootsie pop nation.

    All our actions from now on should be excessively legal. We shouldn’t do anything that would even appear illegal. Also, we should never profile or stereotype. In America, no one who appears middle eastern should be searched or detained for any reason. We need to show the world how compassionate we are. It would be preferable for a thousand bombs to go off rather than one poor terrorist be killed or harassed.

    Let’s learn from our history and not invade a sovereign nation ever again. If millions of citizens of a foreign nation are being murdered in a genocide, we need to mind our own business. If they want their women to wear masks in subjugation, we need to stay out of it. If the racial majority want to hack up the racial minority with macheties and throw them in the river by the thousands, we really should use the money that we would spend getting involved on our schools. Good lord our schools certainly need it.

    Lastly, we shouldn’t label terrorists terrorists. Perhaps if we called them “People who disagree with or point view” or “Liberators” or “Patriots” because it would show them the proper respect. If they chant “death to America”, if they drag dead Americans through their streets and hang them naked, in effigy off of their bridges, or if they cut our citizens’ heads off and film it, we really should celebrate our cultural differences. Because really, they are just defending their civil rights.

    Cheers!

  27. Hiya, Jeff!

    I’ve got an immodest proposal, myself. Anyone who tries to bite on Swift’s brilliant satire and fails so egregiously should be taken out behind the chemical sheds and mocked.

    Seriously, do you think your rant actually added anything worthwhile to this discussion?

  28. abi:

    These organisations are not funded out of lunatic asylums, but by ordinary people who believe the rhetoric of oppression they put out.

    Actually, that’s a common misperception. Al Qaeda did raise money from people who believed in their cause, but also got significant funds from the (Taliban) government in Afghanistan, as well as corrupt, Al Qaeda-supporting individuals in positions of control at legitimate Muslim charities. People who thought they were giving to reputable causes were, in fact, funding Al Qaeda (source: 9/11 Commission Report, Page 170)

    Jeff Porten:

    Al-Qaeda has a population of approximately 20,000, from which you say that the whole of 1.6 billion Muslims have been highjacked. By such standards, the 13 million Jews of the world are clearly in support of Yigal Amir.

    If someone had said that, then they’d be wrong. But nobody did say that. What I (and Todd and others) said was that a sigificant group within the population supports them (“significant” defined here as having enough people and resources to get their message out). This is not an election – Al Qaeda doesn’t need 51% support from the Muslim world to wreak havoc – they just need to make enough noise so that people who are on the fence decide to join up. This is radically different (no pun intended) from the KKK or the right-wing militias in this country, who are generally thought of us nutcases by just about everyone.

    So I’m just saying, very coldly, that the loss of 3,000 Americans is an acceptable price to pay for democracy. I am saying that future losses to conventional attack is also the price we must be prepared to pay for a free society.

    Ya know, if the question were “would you sacrifice 3,000 American lives to ensure democracy?” it would be a very difficult question to answer. I’d hesitantly say yes, but of course, I wouldn’t want to be the one to pick the 3,000 people. But that’s not what happened here at all. These 3,000 lives weren’t lost to preserve democracy. They were lost for no good reason whatsoever. And to not respond at all (like we did when they bombed our embassies in Northern Africa and the USS Cole in Yemen) would have done nothing to preserve democracy, nor to change the reason they died.

    Under the law, we don’t care whether you killed someone to make a political statement, or to express your raging psychopathic issues, or because you wanted his wallet. Under the law, all that matters is that you have the right to remain silent.

    Under who’s law? Under our law, you’re right. Under Bin Laden’s law, you’re dead wrong (again, no pun intended). There are very specific rules in Bin Laden’s version of Islam (not Islam, but the radical bastardization of Islam that these folks espouse) about who/when it’s OK to kill and who/when it is not.

    Shall we attack the British, or the Germans, for allowing al-Qaeda cells to operate there? Why are we being so polite to Pakistan, which has active camps operating there? The answer, of course, is that Islamabad is not fully in control of her country, just as Kabul was not in control of her own.

    OK, you’re seriously twisting history here. The British and the Germans don’t allow Al Qaeda cells to operate there. As you say, they are powerless to fully prevent it. The Taliban, on the other hand, allowed Al Qaeda to operate. They gave them federal funding to operate their training camps, allowed them to openly recruit, made no effort to stop their trafficking in weapons, etc.

    Pakistan is a different story, altogether. Since we took out the Taliban, Pakistan has been an ally of convenience for us. We need them and they need us. As for why we were so polite to them beforehand, well that’s because we didn’t want them to nuke India or vice-versa.

    I personally have never understood what part of “all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” includes the notion of “between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, above the Spanish part and below the French part”.

    That’s easy – it’s the part about “jurisdiction.” We can declare rights “unalienable” and “endowed by God” all we want, but that doesn’t mean the radical Mullahs are going to automatically back down.

    We might lose millions to a nuclear terrorist attack; such an attack is a threat to our nation’s survival and hence it is madness that we are promulgating weapons technology. But we would lose hundreds of millions to an attack on the scale the Soviets were able to launch. That we could do the same to them is a flimsy form of protection.

    On the one hand, you’re arguing against treating Al Qaeda like a nation, but here you’re suggesting that a nuclear attack by them would cost millions of lives and be a threat ot our nation’s survival. You also seem to be saying that the fact that the Soviets could have killed hundreds of millions of us somehow mitigates the terrorists’ version? As for the flimsy form of protection, facts are facts – it worked for 30 years…

    Four years ago there were no assault weapons on the Washington Metro. Today there are. If a terrorist wanted to use such weapons on the Metro, all he would need to do is overpower the police and take theirs. Are you saying this is completely impossible?

    I doubt that’s true. Here is a press release from August, 2002 about all the steps the DC Metro took in the year after 9/11. It doesn’t specifically mentioned armed troops, but it goes on & on…

  29. Steve:

    You’re suggesting that the indirect threat posed by Russian involvement in Asian countries was more “threatening to our existence as a nation”?

    My thinking is that if I had been of age for either the Korean or Vietnam Wars, I would have been out there in the antiwar protests. My statement was just reflecting that those who pursued those wars did so because they thought it was vital to the country’s survival.

    It was a very peculiar and perverse military attack, in that our own planes and civilians became the enemy’s weapon. But it was an attack intended to disable our ability to retaliate or to field resources in other territories.

    I don’t mean to discount your assessment, but I don’t know if you’re accurate when it comes to intent. Any halfway decent student of America would know that such an attack would not be paralyzing. Bin Laden’s statements through the 90s indicate that he wants to bring about the war between Islam and the West. On that score, it’s premature to say that Bin Laden failed in that mission.

    As for calling it an “act of war”, I think we’ll get into tedious legal debates over that. States commit acts of war. Individuals and groups commit crimes. When we declared war on individuals, it was implicitly saying that we were going to stop acting within the rule of law, because war operates outside of most laws. I still think this was a tactical mistake.

    What I want to know is, in your opinion, what should we have done with Al Qaeda [in Afghanistan]? Tell us in terms of actions, not philosophies.

    I’ll preface with the admission: Afghanistan is nowhere as morally clear as Iraq is. Like the first Gulf War, there were state-level actions which even I would say justify war.

    That having been said, I don’t think we went about it properly. My perceptions at the time were that we went to war primarily because we were in a mood to kill people. We overthrew the Taliban because the administration wanted to chalk up a “win” when they realized they wouldn’t be able to parade bin Laden’s carcass on CNN. There might have been a course of action short of war which would have better protected us from terrorism. And there might not have been. All I can say is I’m not comfortable that we explored our options. I’ll refer you here to Brian Greenberg’s essay “September 11, 2002“, and my response “Menschenhawks“.

    Justin:

    Nice V for Vendetta reference, but you’re breaking John’s rules against ad hominem attacks.

    Brian:

    One of the more disturbing occurrences of the last ten years is a blurring of the lines between charitable work and terrorism. Hamas builds schools. People working with al-Qaeda-linked groups do medical work. This is not to say that the Commission Report was wrong about the diversion of funds to al-Qaeda, just pointing out that it’s not always as simple as “follow the money”.

    It would be nice if you were correct about the KKK and the militias, but I don’t think you are. Not everyone thinks they’re nutcases. It only takes a small percentage of a population to support such groups, and I think that’s the same dynamic we see occurring with al-Qaeda. In fact, you remind me of an excellent metaphor, since it was the destruction of the Civil War and the punishing structure of Reconstruction that drove so many in the South to ideological support of the KKK in the first place. This is exactly what concerns me about Iraq.

    These 3,000 lives weren’t lost to preserve democracy. They were lost for no good reason whatsoever.

    They were lost because the social structure that could have guaranteed their safety against all possible harm is not one that we would recognize as free. At least, that’s one reason, if we’re phrasing it in terms of political philosophies. You could also say it was due to insufficient political will after the publication of the Hart report, or to disregard of Clinton briefings by the incoming Bush administration, or to criminal neglect of the August 6th PDB.

    To my mind, part of living in a free country is having open borders. Open borders will allow in some malefactors, no matter how much effort we put into trying to stop it. A free country also requires free movement of Americans, and we’ve already seen that some Americans believe in the same tactics. This is why I say that the victims of 9/11 are martyrs to that ideal, and that we disrespect them by attacking our own liberties.

    And to not respond at all (like we did when they bombed our embassies in Northern Africa and the USS Cole in Yemen) would have done nothing to preserve democracy

    Look, you and Steve have got to stop saying that I’m advocating doing nothing. Last time I checked, we have several law enforcement and spy agencies who have a great deal of ability to apply the million-pound shithammer to the nation’s enemies. After 9/11, the world would have lined up to support us in such efforts.

    And if you’re implying we did nothing in response to Africa and the Cole, then you’ve got yourself some reports you need to read. Granted, it wasn’t as spectacular as overthrowing Kenya and Yemen; perhaps you’d be happier if we had taken that route?

    We’re the United States of America. You’d think we’d have more tools at our disposal than overthrow and occupation.

    Under who’s law? Under our law, you’re right.

    Alright, this is a really key point. The fact that you even have to ask this question reminds me how much you’re taking for granted.

    Whom did we overthrow in Iraq? Sheik Saddam? King Saddam? No, we overthrew President Saddam Hussein, a tyrant who still somehow felt the need to style himself in democratic terms and hold sham elections.

    When Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan send their ambassadors to the United Nations, what do they do there? They participate in a parliament.

    Yes, I’m talking about operating under our law. This is because we have been stunningly successful in the past century in getting the rest of the world to operate under legal principles similar to our own, and within that system we are doing extremely well. It is far cheaper for us to exercise and expand our power through the use of diplomacy and treaties, than by expenditure of military force and American lives. We do not wish to create Pax Americana the way the Romans did.

    And the way this system works is by getting people to believe in it. Just as money has no inherent value without trust, neither does law. When law breaks down, you need to get out the guns. And likewise, when we put our faith more in our guns than in our laws, we increase our need for our guns in the future.

    I agree with you that the law is slow and not nearly as satisfying as putting a bullet into the brain of Uday Hussein. But it still serves us well and, in my view, makes us safer than our present course of action. I think the people of London (let alone Baghdad) might have something to say about how effectively the Coalition of the Willing has stopped terrorism.

    The Taliban, on the other hand, allowed Al Qaeda to operate. They gave them federal funding to operate their training camps, allowed them to openly recruit, made no effort to stop their trafficking in weapons, etc.

    I really do not want to get into the business of being an apologist for the Taliban, since the human rights community had issues with them when most Americans thought Kandahar was a Hershey’s product. But Afghanistan was always teetering on the edge of being a failed state. Saying that Kabul allowed terrorist camps is like saying that Yeltsin allowed the creation of a kleptocracy in Russia after the fall of Communism. Not all governments have control of what happens within their borders.

    Yes, it happened, and the Taliban profited from it. Part of that was due to their own balancing acts with the regional warlord system. Part of that was due to their own lack of concern. Part of that was due to bribery. But you can say the same thing about the heroin production which made up 60% of their economy.

    I’m not going to shed a tear for their fall from power (although it’s unclear how peachy their replacements have been), but I think the passage of time will show that the speed with which we took them down had as much to do with our need to unleash some American testosterone as with their intransigence, willful or otherwise.

    Since we took out the Taliban, Pakistan has been an ally of convenience for us. We need them and they need us. As for why we were so polite to them beforehand, well that’s because we didn’t want them to nuke India or vice-versa.

    Pakistan is a whole ‘nother can of worms, possibly the most likely country to become an Islamist nuclear state. I think John would have to take another month off for me to answer this fully, so I’ll have to let it pass. But I brought them up to point out the emptiness of the argument that harboring al-Qaeda is sufficient grounds alone for invasion and occupation.

    We can declare rights “unalienable” and “endowed by God” all we want, but that doesn’t mean the radical Mullahs are going to automatically back down.

    Tell me again why we should care about what anyone else thinks when it comes to our fundamental values? This is what I mean by cowardice—if these are our beliefs that our countrymen died to uphold, then we should show the same resolve. And please note: radical mullahs can say whatever they want. That’s one of our values, too. It’s when they act against us that we treat them like the criminals they are.

    you’re arguing against treating Al Qaeda like a nation, but here you’re suggesting that a nuclear attack by them would cost millions of lives and be a threat ot our nation’s survival. You also seem to be saying that the fact that the Soviets could have killed hundreds of millions of us somehow mitigates the terrorists’ version? As for the flimsy form of protection, facts are facts – it worked for 30 years…

    In order:

    1) A nuclear attack by anyone against us would be a threat to our survival. Therefore, we should do all we can to prevent such an attack by anyone. Unless you believe that the war on terror will someday eradicate all people who might ever want to hurt us, we are suicidal if we continue being so lackadaisical about stopping this means of attack. We’re not protected simply by going after today’s terrorists.

    2) I’m saying that America lived under a much greater threat during the Cold War and somehow did not express the same bloodlust that we did after 9/11. (Although, arguably, we succumbed to that several times by proxy.) The threat of al-Qaeda simply comes nowhere near the threat of the Soviets, and yet America is terrified.

    3) Yes, it’s true that MAD worked, which is a bit of a tautological argument—if it hadn’t, neither one of us would be here to debate it. And there were at least a dozen occasions where it came close to not working. Personally, I find any risk of the extinction of humanity to be an unacceptable price to pay. But that’s just me.

    I doubt that’s true. Here is a press release from August, 2002 about all the steps the DC Metro took in the year after 9/11.

    Right, I said four years ago, i.e. before 9/11. I can tell you from personal experience (i.e., anecdotal and imperfect) that there were no assault weapons on the Metro before July 7. Armed police with handguns, yes. No automatic rifles. And while I’m certain that our police are very well trained (I’ve talked to these guys, they impress the hell out of me, by and large), I still wonder about the vulnerability here. There are many forms of attack which would be less lethal than one guy getting his hands on that gun.

  30. Nice V for Vendetta reference, but you’re breaking John’s rules against ad hominem attacks.Hmm, I don’t actually think it was an ad hominem attack — I was attacking Jeff’s poor style and ludicrous straw man positions, not him personally — but I admit, it was a bit intemperate.I tend to get offended when someone steps into a reasoned, intelligent discussion that I’m enjoying with that sort of sound bite ideological bomb-throwing, as it often derails the actual substantive discourse.Of course, now that I think about it, it’s not like I actually added anything of value either. But hey, at least somebody got the V for Vendetta reference. I thought it was moderately clever.

  31. Justin – I have no idea what “V for Vendetta” is, but I’m glad someone else finds the discussion reasoned & intelligent.

    Now, back to Jeff:

    It would be nice if you were correct about the KKK and the militias, but I don’t think you are. Not everyone thinks they’re nutcases. It only takes a small percentage of a population to support such groups, and I think that’s the same dynamic we see occurring with al-Qaeda.

    Agreed, not everyone thinks they’re nutcases. But most people think that the people who don’t think they’re nutcases are themselves, nutcases. And before you ask, yes – the previous sentence does make sense. Read it again.

    I have no idea what the numbers are. I do know, though, that Al Qaeda’s philosophy was preached on state sponsored television and taught in the schools and religious institutions throughout Afghanistan, and we were starting to hear it in those same institutions in other countries (most notably Saudi Arabia). The closest we’ve got to that in this country is the religious right spreading policy and/or moral judgements which, I’m sorry, isn’t even close to the same thing.

    And if you’re implying we did nothing in response to Africa and the Cole, then you’ve got yourself some reports you need to read. Granted, it wasn’t as spectacular as overthrowing Kenya and Yemen; perhaps you’d be happier if we had taken that route?

    Don’t confuse motion with progress. I agree that we didn’t do nothing, but what we did was not only unspectacular, it was also ineffective. The 9/11 report quotes Kahlid Sheik Mohammad (mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and the USS Cole bombing) saying that Bin Laden himself was disappointed at the lack of response from the United States to the Cole bombing. He scattered his direct reports all over Afghanistan, made them move locations on a weekly basis, separated them from their families, etc. – all in anticipation of our retaliatory strike. The fact that it didn’t come was a factor in expediting the 9/11 attacks.

    Whom did we overthrow in Iraq? Sheik Saddam? King Saddam? No, we overthrew President Saddam Hussein, a tyrant who still somehow felt the need to style himself in democratic terms and hold sham elections.

    You must be kidding here. I’m sure Hussein had reasons for declaring himself President as opposed to King, and that those reasons were probably related to appeasing a western country or two. But are you seriously suggesting that this indicates a respect for our legal system? That he’d have stopped doing anything simply because we (or the parliamentary UN, for that matter) said it was illegal?

    I agree with you that the law is slow and not nearly as satisfying as putting a bullet into the brain of Uday Hussein. But it still serves us well and, in my view, makes us safer than our present course of action.

    I agree that pursuing a legal solution is always preferrable, but don’t we have to stop at some point and realize that the people we’re dealing with have absolutely no regard for our laws, rendering them completely outside of our jurisdiction? That, coupled with them having no regard for the laws of their own country is what makes them so dangerous.

    Tell me again why we should care about what anyone else thinks when it comes to our fundamental values? This is what I mean by cowardice—if these are our beliefs that our countrymen died to uphold, then we should show the same resolve. And please note: radical mullahs can say whatever they want. That’s one of our values, too. It’s when they act against us that we treat them like the criminals they are.

    Values are a noble and well… valuable thing when all the players agree. When the enemy views us as “The Great Satan,” and recognizes no legal or value system that defies that view, then we have no legal recourse. We need to weaken or destroy them or they will continue to wreak havoc.

    Their foot soldiers are criminals, and we treat them as such today (hence the TSA checks at the airport, the security cameras in the London Underground, etc.). If that’s all we do, though, then their leaders will keep recruiting and training these criminals until, as you say, the number of trials outweighs the low success percentages.

  32. Thanks for the response Justin, and thanks for making me feel welcome. I appreciate that you have actually read Swift. Your comment about beating me behind a chemical shed brought back a situation I experienced recently at work.

    A co-worker and I were talking about politics. Yes, against “policy”, but my co-worker said, “Bush should be killed”. Is that how bad it is? I once said things like that, but I was shocked that she was acutally serious about it. I think I acutally like her less because of what she said. It certainly told me what I needed to know about her character.

    I realize that I may have offended your literary sensibilities. I am certainly a Babbit compared to Swift. As I said, my skin is thick, so I think i’ll get over it. But I am somewhat of a masochist so a beating behind a chemical shed sounds appealing.

    On a side note, has anyone read the V for Vendetta comic books? I am a bit disturbed about the timing of the film production. I have a feeling that people are actually going to ruin it for me by politicizing it. I’m warning you, people. I’ll ruin the ending of Harry Potter 6 if you don’t watch it.

  33. Jeff:
    Look, you and Steve have got to stop saying that I’m advocating doing nothing. Last time I checked, we have several law enforcement and spy agencies who have a great deal of ability to apply the million-pound shithammer to the nation’s enemies. After 9/11, the world would have lined up to support us in such efforts.

    This is why I asked specifically what you think we should have done. I wasn’t aware that we the U.S. had law enforcement agencies with the authority to act internationally; but maybe I’m missing something. And at least in theory, outside the movies, “spy agencies” aren’t openly charged with the task of applying shithammers; they spy on things. That’s why we call them that.

    As it happens, we do have U.S. agencies tasked with applying shithammers on foreign ground. They’re called the armed forces. We call them that because they act with force, in small groups or large groups, and they are armed. Which is what “million-pound shithammer” sounds like to me. However, you also seem to be disputing the fact that sending in the armed forces was the correct idea.

    Which is why I asked: what should we have done? You didn’t answer that. You hedged around it, you put forth some things we did badly and said, “All I can say is I’m not comfortable that we explored our options.” Sounds fair. What options? What actions should we have performed instead?

    Let’s make this clear. You’re the President. Terrorists have just destroyed the financial nerve center of New York, they’ve nicked the Pentagon, and they’ve tried to blow up your house and missed. You have all the federal resources of the United States and the combined cooperation of the entire world except Afghanistan.

    Your mission is to solve this as a law enforcement problem, not a political problem.

    Go.

  34. Jeff,As I said earlier, my original remark was intemperate, and I do apologize for it. Judging by your response here, I obviously underestimated your intelligence, and I apologize for that as well.To be fair, however, I never suggested you should be beaten. I suggested you should be mocked. Not nice, certainly, but not violent either. If I recall correctly, the original line is actually “…taken out behind the chemical sheds and shot“, which is why I thought my version was moderately clever — replacing “shot” with “mocked” retained the poetic sound of the phrase, while not being quite so vicious.Anyway, I hope my post didn’t turn you off the site. And, um, welcome.

  35. Oh, and for those of you wondering what we’re going on about, V for Vendetta is a brilliant dystopian graphic novel set in the UK, written by Alan Moore.

  36. Now that I think about it, the image of dragging somebody to a shadowy location for clandestine mocking has a certain funky appeal. (Even if it does largely defeat the purpose.) >8->

  37. Hey, thanks Justin. Yeah, I realized about the mocking/beating thing. I often mix up the two. My attempts at dry humor are often taken a bit literally. And for the record I prefer nude pyramid stacking.

  38. W0W that was a really long page….and i read the whole thing!!! but anyways IT SUCKED!!!!!!! sorry NOT!!!!! YOU ARE A LOWLIFE AND HAVE NOTHING ELSE TO WRITE ABOUT!!!!!!

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