Friday, September 14, 2007

9/11 Attitudes Revealing

The present day attitudes toward the tragedy of September 11, 2001 reveal magnitudes about the full world view of groups and individuals as to so many issues.

Recall statements from John Edwards that the global war on terror was just a bumper sticker, John Kerry recently reverting to the law enforcement theory of dealing with terrorist incidents and the Democrat's now politically correct dictum to separate, wherever possible, Iraq from any association with a fight against terrorism?

How about The New York Times effort to distinguish Al-Qaeda Mesopotamia? Here's the WSJ's James Taranto pointing out the humor in this September 12 post in Best of the Web Today:

In an item yesterday, we noted the following hilariously awkward sentence from a New York Times report on the Petraeus testimony: "When Representative Gary L. Ackerman, Democrat of New York, suggested the war was not integral to the anti-terror effort since members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, sometimes called Al Qaeda in Iraq, the homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence agencies have concluded is foreign-led, is not part of the Qaeda network behind the Sept. 11 attacks, the general offered a quick retort. "

What we didn't catch is that the sentence isn't even grammatical: The subject of the dependent clause that begins the sentence, members, does not match the verb, is, which is understandable since the two words are separated by a participial phrase and another dependent clause.

We also missed this equally riotous passage, from a "news analysis" in yesterday's Times by Michael Gordon: "The National Intelligence Estimate issued last month made a similar point--and General Petraeus quoted from it in his testimony. 'We assess that changing the mission of coalition forces from a primarily counterinsurgency and stabilization role to a primary combat support role for Iraqi forces and counterterrorist operations to prevent A.Q.I. from establishing a safe haven would erode security gains achieved thus far,' the estimate noted. A.Q.I. is the abbreviation the intelligence agencies use to refer to Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia, a predominantly Iraqi organization with foreign leadership."

Hmm, if AQI an an abbreviation for "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia," what does the I stand for? We suspect this is another case of an NYT* reporter protesting the Times's policy of forced editorializing in stories about al Qaeda in Iraq.
* An abbreviation for Nieuw Amsterdam Times.

The notion that there is no "Global War on Terror" is actually very common.

Tony Blankley offers this analysis in "The War On Terror Six Years On":

Overwhelmingly in Europe, and to a lesser but still large extent in the United States, the vastly unpopular Iraq war has been conflated with the broader war against radical Islam. This regrettable fact has been compounded by the intense hatred of President Bush, who has prosecuted the war with such personal determination and whose own rhetoric has contributed to the confusion.

As a result, six years after 9/11, there is little consensus in the United States or Europe as to the nature and magnitude of the threat, and many -- including government officials, experts and the general public -- still believe there is little to fear from radical Islam and its terrorists. These people -- perhaps two-thirds of Europeans and 30-40 percent of Americans -- believe the terrorists can be dealt with merely with law enforcement, as previous 20th-century European terrorists had been. Those who hold this view are likely to wrongly see President Bush, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others, such as me, who agree with them as exploiting the fear of Muslim terrorists for crass political advantage.

Thus, much of the ferocious controversy over electronic intercepts, Guantanamo, CIA renditions, semi-secret foreign-based CIA prisons, coerced interrogation methods, and the Patriot Act provisions is a product of not seeing a sufficient threat to national security to justify tough wartime intrusions into civil liberties.

If we in the United States can't agree on the nature and magnitude of the threat, we aren't likely to agree on the means of protecting ourselves from it. Until a majority can be convinced that we face real danger from radical Islam, virulent political strife in Washington will continue to delay the design and implementation of an effective, united national defense.

He concludes:

In the days following Sept. 11, I realized we were in for a test of our strength, will and capacity to persist for decades in a harrowing task. But I never imagined that six years into the ordeal, we would remain so utterly divided in the face of a unique and little understood enemy. That constitutes a collective act of abdication of duty without parallel in our long history. We live in greater jeopardy because of it.

To prove Blankley's thesis, here is a portion of my local paper's lead editorial on 9/11 - the Asheville Citizen-Times and "6 Years Later, Time to Take Stock, Correct Mistakes". Here are some paragraph headings and their conclusion:

Initially, our invasion of Afghanistan weakened and displaced the Taliban, but our distraction in Iraq has enabled the Taliban to regroup.

Our invasion of Iraq was not related to the “War on Terror,” despite what the Bush government would have us believe.

With the Patriot Act, we have undermined our Constitution and civil rights.

By pursuing torture in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq, we have violated the Geneva Convention and many of the human rights principles we hold so dearly.

By over-committing our military, we have placed personal hardships on many military families, run up tremendous amounts of debt and reduced our ability to fund many of the infrastructure and social needs at home.

It’s time to turn back from our mistakes and head in a different direction.
This involves:
• Significantly reducing our forces in Iraq, redeploying some of them to Afghanistan and the Pakistani border to go after real terrorists and bringing large numbers of them home....
• Actively pursuing diplomacy and dialogue with all parties who can contribute to a solution in Iraq including Iran and Syria....
• Reaching out without arrogance to moderate Muslims around the world diplomatically and with economic aid where appropriate....
• Closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, charging in court or releasing to their home countries all prisoners housed there and recommitting the United States to the Geneva Convention.
• Scaling back our military-industrial complex to the size needed to defend our country and pursue real terrorists. This involves a retreat from the role of the world’s policeman and a reinvestment of some of our military spending into debt reduction, infrastructure, health insurance and social programs for the American people.

During the past six years we have expended vast amounts of money, driving the nation deeply into debt, undermined our Constitution and exhausted our military, and yet Osama bin Laden is still running a terrorist network. Invading Afghanistan, where the terrorists found safe haven, avenged the attack on our nation. We had the moral high ground and an opportunity to destroy the heart of the terrorist threat. But that objective was neglected when we took our eye off the ball and went into Iraq, and the broader problem has been dramatically exacerbated by that move. The fact Osama is still releasing tapes is inexcusable.

As the arch terrorist tries to ratchet up our fear, we need to remember this: Terrorists can hit us, they can hurt us, but they can’t take the country from us. Only we can do that.

I always think when my paper is late that the Democratic National Committee must have been late with the day's talking points email and so the lead editorial in the Citizen-Times wasn't ready on time.

Seriously, these two points of view on the war on terror certainly serve as frames of reference and a clear predictor of the world view and specifically the political views of the opinion holders for almost any issue. Think about that.

America Is No Roman Empire

These days I cannot think of politics or economics without an over-hanging and omnipresent context of the war in Iraq. In the next several posts, I will highlight several recent opinions that helped me clarify my thinking on the broader issues of where we actually are in the Global War on Terror and in Iraq, and how those two issues shape not only my thinking but most thinking of the engaged citizenry of the United States.

In some sense, these posts are all the same in that they are more contextual rather than strategic or tactical in nature. I am an optimist about where we are and what we have done --which certainly seems to be a contrarian opinion held by a very few people. Perhaps some of the following may make you slightly more optimistic too or you may conclude I am delusional. Either way it will impact your thinking at least a nudge in spite of any opinions you bring with you to the arena.

Gerard Baker, whom I enjoy reading, has a piece in The Times (London) today, A Quick History: America Is No Rome - The Tired Analogy of Imperial Decline and Fall. Here are some cuts:

...Gibbon himself noted in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times.” Which brings us back neatly to General Petraeus and the Iraq war.

...You can argue about the surge. The evidence is encouraging that the increased US military effort, together with a change in tactics, has reduced the violence in Iraq. On the other hand there are legitimate questions about the long-term viability of the strategy. But if America is to emerge from Iraq with a renewed sense of its global role, you shouldn’t really debase the motives of those who lead US forces there. Because in the end what they are doing is deeply honourable – fighting to destroy an enemy that delights in killing women and children; rebuilding a nation ruined by rapine and savagery; trying to bridge sectarian divides that have caused more misery in the world than the US could manage if it lasted a thousand years.

It is helpful to think about Iraq this way. Imagine if the US had never been there; and that this sectarian strife had broken out in any case – as, one day it surely would, given the hatreds engendered by a thousand years of Muslim history and the efforts of Saddam Hussein.

What would we in the West think about it? What would we think of as our responsibilities? There would be some who would want to wash their hands of it. There would be others who would think that UN resolutions and diplomatic initiatives would be enough to salve our consciences if not to stop the slaughter.

But many of us surely would think we should do something about it – as we did in the Balkans more than a decade ago – and as, infamously, we failed to do in Africa at the same time. And we would know that, for all our high ideals and our soaring rhetoric, there would be only one country with the historical commitment to make massive sacrifices in the defence of the lives and liberty of others, the leadership to mobilise efforts to relieve the suffering and, above all, the economic and military wherewithal to make it happen.

That’s the only really workable analogy between the US and Rome. When Rome fell, the world went dark for the best part of a millennium. America may not be an empire. But whatever it is, for the sake of humanity, pray it lasts at least as long as Rome.

Posts follow giving more context and will, as always, reveal my present thinking from the choices of articles I post.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thoughts on My Return

I have been away from posting for about four weeks but now I am re-energized and ready to go again. I had to travel and I dealt with some family health issues - I still managed to read even more than usual and I had a great deal of time to think which surprisingly none of us seem to take the time to do anymore as we should.

I think getting away gave me me time to calm down from the rhetoric we hear and read so much of everyday and to get a better grip on the drivers behind the opinions, false statements and deluded lies so frequent in our discourse. I am also incredibly amused at how we "modern" Americans like to believe that past Americans, particularly our Founding Fathers (and Mothers, no pun intended) as well as our past Presidents and legendary political leaders, were more civil and less prone to mistakes and blunders than we are today. That certainly is not the case. I am also amused at all the issues over which we are said today to be in a "constitutional crisis" when the constitutional crisises of the past were much more serious and absolute threats to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights than anything we see today.

One real Constitutional crisis of our early days was the passage of the Alien Friends Act and the Sedition Act which resulted in the deportation or arrest of journalists, leaders of political parties and even members of Congress. From the excellent book "Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence" by A. J. Langguth (not on the web):

To Madison and Jefferson, the [Sedition] act was clearly designed to silence the press and intimidate Republican leaders through the elections of 1798 and 1800.

Prominent examples of arrests under the act included John Daly Burk, a Republican editor of the New York Time Price and Congressman Matthew Lyon (R - Vermont). Here is A.J. Langguth again:

Lyon had accused [President] Adams of avarice and a lust for power and adulation. During the [U.S. House] debate, he further outraged Federalists by spitting in the face of an opponent. Lyon was convicted of sedition, fined one thousand dollars, and sentenced to serve four months in an unheated jail cell usually occupied by runaway slaves.

[See note below.]

Other egregious examples of a real Constitutional crisis in our history would have to include Lincoln's treatment of the Constitution during the Civil War (which I think was justified) especially the suspension of habeas corpus as President Lincoln pleased and Roosevelt's internment policies of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Wonder what our current press geniuses would think about those days? Wire tapping a foreign originated telephone call under FISA might not seem such a big deal compared the past reality of going to jail for writing bad things about the President.

Special thanks to those who missed me.

Note: A $1000 fine in 1800 using a basis of the unskilled wage rate calculates to be in today's dollars approximately $266,300.