Impressions Amid the Winds of War
many impressions crowd against one another as the war clouds gather.
Perhaps it is a blessing that the Bush administration seems to be
going about the business of planning reprisals or attacks with a
fair amount of deliberation. There might be time to sort through
the blizzard of information to develop a coherent attitude. And
there might be time for various parties to communicate the importance
of intelligence, in both common senses, informing the American response.
know that those I talk to do not constitute a randomly or "scientifically"
selected cross-section of the great American public at large. But
I am struck by how much more commonplace are calls for restraint
and perhaps even a modicum of caution in fashioning a response among
the Americans I've been talking to and listening to than is apparent
among the top leadership and the mainstream media.
be sure, I listen mostly to NPR when riding in my car, but I have
punched buttons on other Los Angeles talk stations. I attended a
dinner of the Orange County World Affairs Council Monday night.
By the nature of demography most institutions in Orange County have
a decidedly conservative tinge, and the WAC is no exception. Yet
while the anger is palpable, the appetite for retaliation is restrained
by a desire that perhaps it should actually do some good or at
least not do harm to American interests this time around. I sense
more patience than I had expected among ordinary Americans, and
a certain sadness that some form of retaliation seems necessary
IS THE TARGET?
of the reasons is that despite a good deal of sleuthing it is still
not entirely clear that Osama bin Laden was the mastermind behind
last Tuesday's horror, although a good deal of credible evidence
certainly points to involvement at some level.
what if, as would comport with some of what has been written about
him, he has essentially empowered or "franchised" various
groups telling them, in effect, "here's some training,
here's some indoctrination, here's some seed money; now go out and
wreak havoc on Satan America, but don't tell me about it in advance"?
That would make him an instigator, but would he be a mastermind
or even a co-conspirator? Would Americans accept an attack on him
if there weren't ironclad proof of direct involvement?
the present mood of the country a lot of people would not only accept
it, they would demand it. And it seems important to our political
leaders, who have been yammering about Osama for years, to do something
effective about neutralizing him. And maybe that time had to come
that leads to the question of just how to accomplish neutralization
without creating more terrorists in the process. One of the speakers
Monday night was Hasan Nouri, an Afghan-American who is a successful
entrepreneur in Orange County. He pointed out that not only is Osama
bin Laden not an Afghan, hardly any of his followers are Afghans,
and none of those identified as among the active terrorists in last
week's attack were Afghans.
with the help of the former government of Pakistan which brokered
the deal, bought his way into Afghanistan with money to prop up
the then-shaky (and still shaky) Taliban regime, which also cynically
uses religion to justify dictatorship. The biggest losers in all
this are the Afghan people.
the initial impulse is to launch missiles, bombs and eventually
commandos on a poor country that has endured 10 years of Soviet
occupation and destruction, followed by a destructive civil war,
followed by a destructive regime whose excesses have sparked another
civil war. And a country that has successfully resisted foreign
invasion and occupation by the mightiest powers of the time for
hundreds of years.
might be necessary to use military force against Afghanistan in
order to dislodge Osama bin Laden. But the prospect doesn't make
many Americans comfortable strategically, tactically or morally.
So I sense more willingness out there among the general public to
wait until there's a little more certainty and something resembling
a plan than you would sense from watching television.
of the media, I wonder just how conscious most of those in the media
are about how actively they are promoting and pushing the process
of preparing the American public for war. I would be the last to
deny that many of the rescuers are genuine heroes and that the attack
has triggered something of an indomitable spirit in this country.
But the constant repetition, the dropping of any pretense of objectivity
in fawning over rescue workers and public officials is a bit much.
I heard it once, I heard it a hundred times over the weekend
some TV talking head "explaining" to us that President
Bush is preparing the American people for war. I wanted to scream
at the screen, "So are you, and I'll bet you know you're helping
out as much as possible because you think he isn't all that good
is crass to say it but just as war is the health of the state, war
and other crises is the health of all-news cable networks.
To mention this is not to suggest that a media cabal is plotting
to get the country into war. But if a crisis occurs, they'll milk
it and magnify it. You can't have an OJ trial every few months,
but the political system is such that you can have a crisis. Foreign
crises followed by military action have more news staying power
than documenting that chickens aren't being inspected carefully
enough, and the like.
that's one reason President Bush is getting something of a pass
regarding some of his more egregious misstatements.
Friday at the National Cathedral the president declared that the
American mission would be to "rid the world of evil."
On Sunday he refined it slightly, describing the mission as one
to "rid the world of evildoers."
Even leaving aside the potentially ticklish question of whether
the best way to get rid of evil is to drop bombs and kill people,
let's hope that when he meets with military advisers they come up
with a slightly narrower set of objectives perhaps even achievable
objectives just for fun.
WAR FOR PERMANENT PEACE?
the articulation and then the repetition of absurdly unachievable
goals for this war highlights one of the dangers of declaring war
on the somewhat more definable but still vaporous enemy of "international
terrorism." This war could put the United States on something
of a permanent wartime status footing, with all the attendant dangers
to civil liberties, property rights, independent thought and journalism,
free communications, dissent, doing business and the right to be
don't think it's a conspiracy or some plot pulled off by our noble
leaders (for starters I wonder if they are competent enough). But
the beneficiaries of this act of terrorism are precisely those elements
in the U.S. government who have been most eager to clamp down on
the unruly freedom the American spirit combined with new technologies
we have new calls for a national
ID card, demands to make it even easier to wiretap people and
invade computers, for controls on cryptology, new curbs on immigration,
ways to make prosecuting people with undesirable opinions easier,
fewer curbs on the CIA and the FBI. None of these proposals is new.
They have been part of the wet dreams of the establishment for at
least a decade. Now it is likely they will become reality.
strongly suspect that while the American people, despite the polls,
with their vaguely worded questions, are more uncomfortable about
the war to come than their leaders, the time is not yet ripe for
certain relevant questions. Soon enough more Americans will be ready
to discuss the extent to which U.S. interventionist foreign policy
feeds international terrorism, to consider options to military assault
on ever-shifting targets.
was an attack on American soil, one that brought the war home in
a powerful way that will be felt for some time to come. And regardless
of the extent to which American meddling, blundering and arrogance
contributed to making more people ready to think about and do the
unspeakable, those who carried out the assault do bear primary responsibility
and should be subject to some kind of sanction.
the emotions are still strong, those who question the advisability
of war now and will do so in the future might do well to begin to
develop a strategy against terrorism that doesn't require a huge
increase in government power and perhaps even minimizes military
action. I have read about one group of businesspeople assembling
a $1 billion reward for turning in bin Laden, for example. A few
statements have been made to the effect that the international drug
war does a great deal to finance and facilitate international terrorism.
Some people have mentioned the possibility of contacting reform
or dissident groups in countries alleged to harbor terrorists.
time more people will be ready to consider alternatives to war.
We should have our intellectual and practical ducks in a row when
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