Saturday, June 15, 2002
Friday, June 14, 2002
So, yes, improve border controls. Foster interagency coordination. Open up suitcases. But it would be nice if someone--preferably someone at the White House--remembered that building walls won't eliminate terrorism. Eliminating terrorists will.
Keep in mind that while the Pashto population of Afghanistan was busy loyally supporting their ethnic confreres in the Taliban, the Northern Alliance was toiling away for years to get rid of Mullah Omar with virtually no US support or encouragement.
Apparently, we've given too much power to the Tajik troika at the ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs, and the Interior and their ally the Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum. Of course, the combined Uzbek-Tajik population is approximately equal to the Pashto population, and Pashto occupy such key offices as President, and King. But if that doesn't convince you that things are balanced consider that the Tajiks already gave up Interior three days ago and that Abdullah Abdullah at foreign affairs is half Tajik. Some people, methinks, just love to complain.
Mr. Bush said that he had not decided whether he would issue a statement or set out his vision in a speech, but officials said today that he was leaning toward a speech. The Saudi foreign minister today said only that he was very pleased with his White House meetings.I mean, I had thought that this plan was a total contravention of everything this administration was supposed to stand for in foreign policy, but then I saw that Saudi Arabia was in favor of it, so I figure it must be OK. They're moderates, after all, and they pay the oilmen who pay the president, so why worry?
Thursday, June 13, 2002
Indeed, were I to feel like giving Bush, Ashcroft, Tenet, et. al. more credit than they deserve, it occurs to me that their bizarre handling of the Padillo situation might simply reflect the fact that he is a US operative returning home at last. We had to have him arrested to get him back in our custody so that other, very possibly unreliable, intelligence agencies that may have been tracking him wouldn't get wise to the plan, and the we transfer him to this secret military detention center from which he can say his piece without anyone needing to know that he hasn't really been arrested at all.
Wouldn't that be cool?
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
Tuesday, June 11, 2002
It's nine months after and I have nothing to say to mark the anniversary. I'm tired of the anniversaries, the ceremonies, the fear, the sadness, the anger, the uncertainty, the war that won't end because it won't start, the nightmares, the pain. I'm tired of being tired.I'm tired too and I'm going to say something about how I don't have anything to say. I paid my first-ever visit to Ground Zero yesterday -- it was the first time I'd been back in the city that I thought I could handle it -- and I'd been planning to come back and blog about how my sense of outrage had been renewed etc., etc., etc. But it wasn't. The whole thing looked almost banal. Not banal, really, the sheer scale of the thing is enormous, but it reminded me of, say, the Big Dig back in Boston -- just another piece of construction kitsch. After seeing so much on TV of earlier phases of destruction and recovery, the scene nine months later didn't really seem real.
It did make me think of the last time I'd spent a significant amount of time in the area. Senior year in high school I was hosting an exchange student from France and wanted to take him around to see the sights. He was pretty goddamn impressed not so much by the towers themselves, but by the fact that they were surrounded by a whole bunch of other really tall buildings. Back in Paris the tallest building is like fifty stories high or something -- it would barely register a blip on the Manhattan skyline. I was really pretty disappointed in the guy. He liked video games and playing pool a lot, and didn't seem to have any profound opinions on wine, existentialism, or anything else that a pretentious and disaffected high school kid might hope to learn about from a Frenchman. Reflecting on it, though, it occurs to me that he "got" New York and America in a way that I, the native, didn't really understand. The impressive thing about this city -- this country -- was never that we had some really tall buildings (after all, Chicago and Kuala Lumpur had bigger ones) it was the sheer number of big buildings that really stands out. New York has dozens of skyscrapers and the US has dozens of cities with skyscrapers in them. You could destroy any number of buildings, even -- god forbid -- all of New York, and we'd still be the richest, toughest country on earth and we'd come after whoever did it and destroy them.
That's what gets me worried about all this homeland defense talk. I'm afraid that all this talk about how to foil terrorist attacks sends the message that if -- if -- the defenses could be overcome that then, maybe, America would be crippled, either literally or just paralyzed by fear. I -- and everyone reading this I hope -- know that that's not true. That they could set off a dirty bomb in midtown Manhattan and kill thousands more and it wouldn't make a damn difference at the end of the day. Clancy foresaw (sort of) the suicide airplane tactic and envisioned it doing something much more disruptive than taking down some buildings, in his book practically the entire top-level government of the country was destroyed and still, life went on, and we prevailed. That part, at least, was totally realistic -- there's just no way a terrorist attack could possibly cause us to lose this war.
I think that's the message we need to be sending to the world.
Removing Saddam from power via covert means has several advantages over an all-out invasion. Saddam would be the target of any operation, and removing him removes the problem. Building a suitable replacement government should prove easier in Iraq than it has in Afghanistan, but forces loyal to him will cause trouble for months or years. Removing him without invasion lessens the need for allied support, and minimizes the nuclear threat. Removing him covertly also keeps the enemy guessing, as a massive airlift of troops and materiel into the region (which could tip our hand as to timing) would not be necessary. Removing Saddam via special ops will not be easy, but it's an option that should be given serious consideration.I think there's two problems with this. One is that I take it that we've been trying to foment an anti-Saddam coup and it hasn't been working out for us, so it may not be possible at all. More importantly, though, with the lower cost of the coup option also comes a lesser upside. Any government that replaced Saddam under this scenario would have to be staffed largely by high-ranking officials of the Hussein regime, and I seriously doubt that any saints fall into that category.
How comfortable are you with the idea of a small and potentially fractious group of turncoat former Ba'athist generals controlling an arsenal of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons? How much faith would you put in their guarantees that they'd ceased WMD research? Not only would we still have bad toys in the hands of some bad boys (albeit, perhaps not quite as bad), but we'd also lose the pretext (Saddam) for imposing a stringent inspections regime.
As Josh Chafets (and others, I believe) have argued the replacement of Saddam Hussein by a democratic regime might put us a long way toward these goals.
Monday, June 10, 2002
So now Bush is not only to the left of Richard Cohen on guns in the cockpit, now he's to the left of The American Prospect on the war! Is this because of Karen Hughes' departure?But I think it's a little simplistic to look at the "is this a war on terrorism or a war on Islamic fundamentalism?" question in simple left-right terms. The issue that Lou Dobbs has raised is basically the question of whether or not our problem is with the ideology of our enemies or simply the scope of their goals and the methods that they use to achieve them. To a person of the left, whether or not you think war in general or this war in particular is justifiable, religious fundamentalism is always (i.e., even when it's the fundamentalism of the Christian Coalition or United Torah Judaism) A Bad Thing, so insofar as we've been dragged unwillingly into a war against some fundamentalists, we may as well attack their fundamentalism. To many (not, by any means, all, but many) on the right, however, a little religious fundamentalism (particularly protestant fundamentalism to the American right) is all for the best, so the main problem we're faced with is the immoral tactics (terrorism) and the wide-ranging (global, it would appear) goals of al Qaeda.
A certain amount (and I don't want to make too much of this) of sympathy with religious fundamentalism mixes with the right's historic alliance with the oil industry, it's distrust of "nation building" and idealistic universalism, and it's Nixon-Ford-Kissinger strain of "national interest" foreign policy thinking to make much of the right want to see this war in as limited terms as possible.
Of course, many of the left never accepted the war at all in the first place, and to those it, of course, doesn't make much sense to construe it broadly. Others, however, who saw the need for a military response to 9/11 and who do not sympathize with the theocratic leanings of some in the Republican party (a group that includes people on the left like Welch and Layne but also people on the right like Sully and the professor) would like to see the US take the opportunity to thoroughly defeat a thoroughly pernicious ideology, not just to afford the United States some small measure of protection against terrorist attacks.
Those of us who hold this latter view, I think, also think that broadening the scope of the war is necessary for our long-term safety, but I, for one, would think that eliminating the Saudi monarchy would be worth doing (depending, of course, on what price we'd need to pay) even if it had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism. They're just bad guys and they shouldn't be running a country.
Then again, President Dubya's never been big on knowing what's going on.
Sunday, June 09, 2002
The whole obsession with homeland defense is, I think, an unfortunate outgrowth of the administration's (and the non-Lou Dobbs media) decision to call this a "war on terrorism." Terrorism is a tactic and, of course, you combat tactics with countermeasures; you combat terrorism with homeland defense. Nevertheless, "terrorism" is not the enemy; militant Islamism is. If terrorism is the means du jour then, of course, we must be prepared to combat terrorism, but the goal should not be the prevention of terrorism -- it should be the elimination of the enemy.
Of course, to fight a war one needs intelligence. Foreign intelligence, primarily, and fortunately we've got it. We know which country (Saudi Arabia) is the leading source of funds and ideology for global Islamism. We know which countries (Syria, Iran) fund Hezbollah and which country (Lebanon) is its main base of operations. We know which nuclear-armed power (Pakistan) has allied itself with fundamentalist terrorists in Kashmir and we know which dedicated opponent of the United States is seeking its own nuclear arsenal (Iraq). We know which countries would be likely allies in a struggle against those powers (Israel, India, Russia, Turkey) and we know that the correlation of forces is on our side. What are we waiting for?
The answer, I fear, is another devasting attack. Wishful thinking (and willfull deception from Washington), unfortunately, seems to have convinced people that a better airport security system will make them safe, but no system of airport security will stop someone from smuggling a nuclear weapon across the border, and any attempt to thoroughly search all cross-border traffic would mean the devastation of our economy. The only thing that will make us safe is the destruction of those who would destroy us, or at least a sufficiently vigorous effort that those who remain will see that an attack on US soil will not allow them to achieve their objectives.