The attempted Christmas day terror attack has thrust the issue of terrorism back into the spotlight. Here is how the US can battle al-Qaeda without giving into fear and changing who we are.
First, know that terrorists will succeed in murdering Americans along the way. Politicians aren’t allowed to say that. We can, but I’ll have more on this later.
Second, we use every tool in the box.
These are insanely complex issues that have arisen over generations. They will take generations to fix. Just breaking even after the tragedy we created in Iraq, while another horrible mess was brewing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, may itself take generations.
We must acknowledge our own role in all this. That’s not just a blogger laboring under the strain of liberal guilt. Terrorism starts with our imposition of and support for bloodthirsty dictators. We overthrew a democratically elected prime minister in Iran to institute the murderous reign of the Shah (and Savak).
We propped up Saddam Hussein, a despot so evil that we were compelled to depose him just a few years later, and commit torture in the process. We’ve supported Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, where he, himself, rules by terror and has not held a free election in 28 years. Then, of course, there’s Israel. Even Dick Cheney concedes our support for Israel is one of the “true sources of resentment.” Forget the platitudes. They don’t “hate freedom.” Rather, “The United States is attacked for what it does, not what it is.”
The United States has, finally, declared war on an entity – not a tactic (terrorism), a result (terror), a religion (Islam), nor a race, region or jingoistic cliché (Islamofascism). We are at war with al Qaeda. We’ll prosecute this war as aggressively as possible. Given that there are no actual enemy nations or battle lines, and there’s no real ground to capture, this too will take every tool in the box – including force. However, every time we consider using force, we must calculate whether we’re going to take out more murderers than we’re bound to create.
Now don’t get jealous. I, and probably not you, spent hours this weekend listening to lengthy interviews and Q & A’s with the likes of Adm. Michael Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs, and Richard Holbrooke, the State Department veteran who heads our civilian efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I heard the recent press conference given by Obama’s head of counterterrorism, John Brennan, and the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano.
I caught panel discussions concerning just about every geopolitical aspect of the Middle East with various historians, economists, intelligence pros and retired military – complete with listeners calling in. (Fact is, I was driving close to a thousand miles this weekend where only satellite radio is available, and it did not carry the wildcard games.)
I believe people in this administration are asking the right questions. I believe they are making reasonable decisions based upon the answers. I also believe that Americans will die. Even if the administration makes a perfect decision every single time, the terrorists will get lucky and Americans will be murdered.
Sorry – it’s just a fact. (“True fact” in Bush-speak.) Others have died in bloody scores almost everywhere over the last 50-60 years that the United States of America has imposed or propped up dictatorial regimes — most certainly including hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners, Africans, Asians, and Central and South Americans. Also recall that we’re asking our volunteer soldiers to risk death. Some of us who are not volunteering are going to die too. Call it karma if it helps.
“Hey!” you say, “You promised answers.” So I did. Let me take this opportunity to say that one of the answers is to delegate the details to experts. (Whew.) That said, here’s what else we do.
Outside of our borders:
• Find where al Qaeda is gathering and training, and kill everyone there. We either are at war, or we’re not. I’m afraid we are.
• Quit helping despots that do not share our democratic ideals. You know who you are. (Sorry, Egypt.) Israel, we have some serious talking to do.
• Increase support to countries that do share our democratic ideals, or at least come close. Create a Peace Corps the size of the U.S. Army. It is so very much harder to hate someone with a face, especially a smiling face with a brow sweaty from the effort of constructing water systems, roads, schools and clinics.
• Struggle with the near impossible task of what to do with failed nation states, and those on the verge. (That’s all I got on this one. It’s why we have experts.)
• Focus on the most effective means of national security. Have adults conduct counterterrorism and gather intelligence. Do not waste valuable time playing games with “profiling” or defending the use of our sometimes magnificent civilian justice system. Let the cynical, paranoid neo-con chicken hawks give interviews and write editorials. Children must have something to do while the grownups are working.
• Deal with the fact that, no matter what else, Americans will be murdered in America for being American.
What specifically do we do when a suicide bomber strikes or a plane goes down? No need for experts here. It’s simple enough even for Dick Cheney.
Remember we are Americans. We value rights and liberty. We value an open society.
Think how the Brits responded as one in WWII during the London blitz. Or, at least until others used it to cover their lies, how America, practically the entire world for that matter, came together after 9/11. Do not remember the opportunistic politicization since Christmas of almost every imaginable trivial issue by some very unpatriotic Americans.
We’ll pick up the pieces and fix what went wrong. Above all, we’ll remain Americans, because, as soon as we let the terrorists change who we are – they have won. We have lost. That’s the whole bloody point of terror. We shall not let them win. It’s still true: all we have to fear is fear itself. Let us be brave – American brave.