Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The War on Terror: 9/11, 9/12 and the "stupid" decade

Been getting interesting nibbles on the issue of the War on the Military. But let me pause for a moment to be timely.

In his September 30 column “9/11 Is Over,” Thomas Friedman, one of the brightest but also most erratic and infuriating of pundits, said: “9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

“It is not that I thought we had new enemies that day and now I don’t. Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.”

Friedman is cogent. It is an excellent article and I urge anyone and everyone to read it.

Alas, though wise, it strays by focusing on evidence-for-stupidity that amounts to relative minutiae, like a decline in the number of tourists who are choosing America as a destination. Yes, that is telling; our declining popularity translates directly into declining influence, wealth and power to influence change. Still, tourism?

Even when Friedman speaks of our decaying infrastructure, deprived of investment in favor of futile “nation-building” in a faraway desert, I am less than fully moved. Because all of these things are second order effects, compared to the main show.

Indeed, I have been saying pretty much everything that you’ll find in Friedman’s piece, for three or four years. Back when he was among those hooked by the Iraq War fever, I declared that --

“We (Americans) won the Terror War the very day that it began. Our victory It happened the moment supposedly-decadent Bostonians and New Yorkers, aboard flight UA 93, did what enemies of our civilization always find surprising -- they stood up.

“In their spontaneous eruption of grit, mental agility and sheer moral competence, those passengers showed what their ancestors did, after Lexington and Concord, after Fort Sumter, after Pearl Harbor -- that attempts to terrify or intimidate our people would face a steep, uphill journey, resisted by average citizens at every turn.

“Disproof-of-decadence is a test and a trial that each generation of Americans must pass. This time in fact, compared to other generations, we took care of the chore with remarkable efficiency and got off super-cheap.”

Of course it was a bit of a polemical reach to say “the war started and ended on the same day.” I suppose one might extend its duration a bit, to include the Retaliation. The overwhelmingly competent, fierce and surgically professional way that our armed forces, diplomatic corps and intelligence services collaborated with allies to topple the enemy Taliban regime -- in Afghanistan -- using operational plans mostly worked out during the Clinton Administration. (Do the math. Bush had little chance to meddle with an off-the-shelf scenario, only just enough time to say “go!”) Certainly that display of the Powell Doctrine in action was enough to cause any likely foe to blanch and think twice about sponsoring terror against us, ever again. That is, if we had stopped there, declaring victory.

Indeed, at that point, both the Iranians and the Saudis began offering frantic olive branches! Both were turned down, for diametrically opposite reasons.

Compare that situation to the way our military’s precious aura of invincibility has been frittered away since, a daunting reputation, now transformed into an image of floundering futility. And that is only the surface of the demolition of our armed forces.

So, other than claiming that I was three years ahead of Friedman (on the other hand, he reaches three orders of magnitude as many people), what else can I complain about?

1) Has Thomas Friedman pondered in whose interest it has been, for us to spend the first part of the 21st Century “stupid?” The old Watergate phrase “follow the money” leads -- at minimum -- to use of the word “emergency” to over-rule defense and homeland security contracting procedures, leading to billions flowing to Bush family friends. (The liberal obsession with oil as a reason has amounted to monomaniacal tunnel vision.)

At maximum, following the trail of who has benefited leads to a certain group of people -- also Bush family friends -- who were the only civilians allowed to fly through American skies, on 9/12, while the rest of us were kept on the ground.

2) “Stupid” has many levels. Friedman seems to be pointing at something societal - a pervasive, cultural, turning-away from the assertive confidence that used to characterize America. Is this why the lesson of flight UA 93 has been so thoroughly downplayed?

Indeed, that event wasn’t the only sign of powerful vibrance on that day. The behavior of citizens, in New York and Washington DC, was also superb. Indeed, the only actions that worked, on that day. Elaine Scarry of the Boston Globe, pointed this out. I have repeatedly called it the “Day of the Citizen.”

In effect, New Yorkers stood atop the rubble, turned to face east, and snapped: “Is that the best you got?”

No, Friedman needs to take a closer look at his thesis -- (which seems, at the surface, to be a lot like Jimmy Carter’s whine about “malaise..”)

For one thing, on a cultural level, this mood of trepidation has never overwhelmed the parts of this nation that -- ironically -- remain in the cross hairs of any future terror attack. So-called “Blue America, which consists in large part of the cities that will inevitably bear the brunt, next time. Citizens in those cities have demanded -- and not timidly -- to be allowed to get back to business and back to the 21st Century, despite the danger!

No. The drumbeat of fear -- justifying a permanent state of emergency -- has risen primarily from portions of the country and the population who seem the least at-risk. Is that odd? Just one more weird aspect of “culture war.”

3) If, on the other hand, “stupid” is all about the management of a skilled civilization, then why have Thomas Friedman and his fellow pundits paid so little attention to the Bushites’ central obsession? To their relentless War Against Professionalism?

Subsuming the GOP War on Science and the oppression of the military officer corps, it also covers the campaign of intimidation and distraction that has kept the civil service, the law enforcement community, the FBI and intelligence community from doing their jobs -- uncovering corruption and shining light, the great disinfectant.

4) Friedman asks: “If Disney World can remain an open, welcoming place, with increased but invisible security, why can’t America?”

The answer? For a problem to be fixed, it must be in the interests of those who are in power to fix it. Ideally, that should mean the people. But let’s not kid ourselves. Things have changed. A combination of gerrymandering and Diebold have rendered the vote relatively ineffective. But there is worse.

The restoration of the American class system has accelerated to a point where (just to offer one stinging example) the rich no longer fly first class. Hence, they do not share even a mild version of our pain, at the crowded, awful airports. The new lords avoid frisking and probing, simply bytaking a limo ride to the charter or business jet terminals. (A majority of “first class” passengers are now regular folks, bleeding off frequent flyer miles -- hence the steep decline in first class service, which has thereupon helped fuel the trend, driving the rich elsewhere.)

This is just one example of how a deteriorating situation will force moderate people like me -- who hated communism and believe in free enterprise -- to recall something important from history. That Adam Smith was the first “liberal” and he hated, above all, market-warping shenanigans by “cronies of the king.”

American liberalism is not currently as radical as Fox News commentators paint it to be. But if this goes on, it is sure to rediscover its roots. And the middle class will rediscover theirs.


Keitousama said...

More and more people are starting to wake up. Hell, I just did, for good, last week (I have you to thank for that, in part, both on this blog and at the coffee klatsch at WorldCon. So, Dr. Brin: thank you.)

Most people hate the war; they don't trust the government; they know the security regulations and legislation are all a fraud, useless for any real security (at least against terrorists.) But like Thomas Friedman, they're mostly still scratching their heads and saying, "Well, it doesn't really make sense...." And they're chalking up to stupidity and ignorance what is in fact carefully planned malignity.

Have you ever heard of Alex Jones? Check out his documentary Terrorstorm if you haven't (it's on google video.) He's going all out in his fight against the wannabe aristos, shouting warnings as loudly as he can and as often as he can. He's loud, brash, and in your face, with the eloquence of a fire-and-brimstone preacher and the kind of raw passion that only someone who really has a handle on the truth can have. The man is a Thomas Paine for our generation.

The people aren't awake yet, but they're starting to stir. Every angry voice, every incident of police brutality, and every flight someone takes, we all get a little closer to waking up from this horrible nightmare.

Stefan Jones said...

I think it's important to have several, um, levels of shrillness.

From Keitousama's description, Alex Jones's documentary might be a bit over the top for many people. It might tic them off rather than motivate them. Micheal Moore might appeal to some of those Jones turns off, but irritate others.

As bothersome and blythe as he can be at times, Friedman serves us be appealing to those who need their rants yet more tempered.

If Colin Powell announced that he was through being a Good Soldier and laid into the neocons . . . that would be true tipping point.

Nate said...

Thomas Friedman has been one of the main people pushing and supporting the Iraq war, and much of the "stupidity" he laments, he encouraged.

That said, he does seem to have reached some level of sense. Hell, on the Colbert Report the other day, he even said it wasn't time for another six months in Iraq. Thomas Friedman, the very person the "Friedman Unit" of six more months, reliably, year after year, about the Iraq war, said the time for six more months has passed.

I fear it may be far too little, too late. It certainly should be for Friedman's reputation as "serious" or "insightful", or even "brightest", since he's spent years proving he's not. Unfortunately, there seems to be no accountability for pundits who are wrong, year after sorry year.

Anonymous said...

How about this for a creepy idea. If the hypothesis that we are watching a manchurian candidate scenario play out is true, then maybe the situation with our troops has been planned to train them how to supress resistance at home when it becomes nescessary.

They are learning to fight against small-scale enemies entrenched in cities. Those who are not entirely loyal are being culled. Maybe Iraq is a big fat training ground for a future attack on US. It would not be called an attack, of course, but if another "emergency" occurs, and the election needs to be "delayed" or somesuch, I can see the need to put down angry armed protesters being of paramount importance.

Tony Fisk said...

Bush veto for child health bill

...The vetoed bill proposed higher tobacco taxes to provide an extra $35bn (£17bn) to insure some 10 million children (compare with the request for $190bn funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008)

...Eighteen Republican senators joined Democrats last week in passing the legislation by a 67-29 vote. (what happens to GOP senators who step out of line?)

...(Rahm Emanuel) said: "The president has asked for an open-ended, open-wallet commitment to Iraq, and the American children get an empty stocking."

So, it is decreed that taxpayers can't afford to invest $35b for infrastructure, but they can afford $190b for the war racket?

Follow the money, indeed!

ErnieG said...

Don't Be gloomy, 127,000 people stepped forward for liberty these past three months, they donated an average of $40 to Ron Paul for a total of 5.08M which equals or exceeds What McCain will have raised. So this puts a man who wants peace liberty and prosperity in the front ranks.

This includes more active duty military than any other candidate so the revolt of the legions seems to be put to rest.

ON the military issue this country has always not been prepared for the crucial wars. We have had to fire a bunch of military managers and political officers and give control to the warriors every time.

Why do we need something we have not had, a reputation for the best.
Our military was not rated that high even before Bush. Down in the high single digits for a ranking.

Do you want to have the big stick and to use it to over awe someone?

David Brin said...

Within the context of libertarianism, I am an adversary of Ron Paul. I feel that it is part of the movement's sickness that any liberty lover would consider the GOP a hold-my-nose "second choice."

Within the context of American citizenship, seeing one of our major parties hijacked by monstrous fratboys, plutocrat lords and screeching loons who openly declare a desire for the world to end and for me to go to eternal damnation...

...well, Ron Paul looks pretty darn good! The only one of the lot who I would enjoy having dinner with, and arguing amicably with until the wee hours, seeking some pragmatic ways to save the world AND enhance liberty at the same time.

Above all, if he were the GOP nominee, culture war would end overnight. The debates would be about issues and principles and Civil War III would be over.

And we could get some sleep as Barry Goldwater stops screeching in shame and agony from the grave, and gets some well-deserved rest.

Pat Mathews said...

"Americans stood up." Yes, and we're seeing more and more signs of ordinary citizens being forbidden to stand up. Some of the stories out of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath sounded more like stories from the Chinese Empire, where you needed official permission to get a thirsty person a drink of water. And had to be a trained, qualified, professional, certified *by the agency in charge*, to do your thing.

Or why the Rainbow Family and the Evangelicals ended up doing the same god, fighting the same fight, and respecting each other in those dreadful days. The infantalization of the American public - luckily, only another road block in our drive to act. Robert Heinlein would also be turning over in his grave.

Mark said...

A combination of gerrymandering and Diebold have rendered the vote relatively ineffective.

Give me a break. I didn't particularly buy this argument several years ago when you first brought it up, but you did manage to concern me that perhaps I was wrong. But today this just flies in the face of all the evidence. We've had major elections in the past few years and the good guys are winning.

David Brin said...

Mark, do you see any shift in actual power? At all?

The dems in Congress aren't even doing what they could. Don't forget, they may be the "good party"... but they are also politicians and at a certain level, complicit in the gerrymandering scam.

Please don't give me this about lack of cheating. We are in the present position BECAUSE of cheating, in both 2000 and 2004. These folks are tuthless and terrified of prison, if America starts working again. They will do whatever it takes, next year. Anything.

Mark said...

Mark, do you see any shift in actual power? At all?

Um... Yes.

But more to the point, we are talking about gerrymandering and it clearly did not work. The Republicans were unable to hold on to the House, which was supposed to be the entire point.

The power issues you are talking about have nothing to do with votes or gerrymandering.

Don't get me wrong, we need to be damn sure the next election is fair. And despite my complaints of going overboard with the conspiracies, no election should ever, ever, EVER be in doubt in this country. It is not okay when we can't go back and prove the right person won.

Nate said...

Well, yes and no, on gerrymandering.

In 1994, when the Republican "revolution" took the House, the Republicans got 6% more of the popular vote nationally, but picked up 12% of the new seats. (Wikipedia)
On the other hand, the popular vote numbers there don't add up to 100%, there's like 5% missing, which must have all gone to independents, or Mickey Mouse, since they don't show it on that chart, like they do for 2006

In 2006, when the Democrats had a n 8% advantage in the popular vote, they only picked up about 7% of the seats in Congress. (Wikipedia)So yes, the popular vote percent and the representative percent are closer to matching now, but to get that much difference, I don't think Tom Delay's years of gerrymandering can be discounted.

The most important part of gerrymandering is incumbent protection. Only 7% of the seats in the House of Representatives changed hands. More than 400 went to the incumbent in their district, Republican or Democrat. There's advantages to having politicians who gain experience and stuff, but the House was designed to be the part of Congress that changed the quickest to match the will of the people. And that, it's blatantly NOT.

On the other hand, I wonder how many of those "safe" seats would really be safe, if the parties all ran candidates in each district. Or, hell, if we had a system that allowed more than two parties in. Though that can have problems of its own, as well.

Rotten said...

Native Bostonians and New Yorkers are decent but urban leftists are indeed the biggest bunch of phony elitists in the country. Red stater opinions of them are 100% accurate. They're all total phonies.