It may be,
however, that the fireworks are about to begin. Tony Blair
gave a speech on Tuesday that announced an imminent strike
targeted at military installations and designed to avoid civilian
casualties: but, don't worry, Tony opined, some good
will come of all this, because, according
to Ananova, the "world community" is "drawing together."
There now feel better?
concurs that weeks of seeming inaction are about to come
to an end, telling us that "massive" air strikes on Afghanistan
are "just days away," and that the operation will consist
of two phases: an initial foray of missile strikes, bombs,
and "limited" special forces attacks, and a much larger-scale
"orchestration" of land, air, and sea power. The big news,
however, is in the very last paragraph, where we are told
that the "big problem" with this strategy is what happens
next? "It still remains unclear whether the target will remain
Afghanistan, as Secretary of State Colin Powell wants, or
a broader offensive against Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Colonel
Gaddafi in Libya, as advocated by Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz," writes Kim Sengupta. Libya? Gee, that
wasn't on Bill
Kristol's list! Sengupta continues: "If the hawks have
their way, Operation Enduring Freedom could well sink into
a very messy and enduring war." Let's hope Operation Enduring
Quagmire never comes to pass.
As I put
it in my
last column, "everybody has their little agenda" which
they want to attach to the American war effort, and moving
quickly to take full advantage is India, Pakistan's major
adversary in the region. The
Times of India asserts that, if we follow Osama bin Laden's
money trail, it leads directly to Islamabad: to hear them
tell it, our ally Pakistan is just as guilty as the Taliban,
and Al-Qaeda if not more so. How do they know this? Because
California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Off-the-Wall) said
region is about to blow are everywhere: a car bomb went
off outside the state assembly building in Kashmir, and the
subsequent 7-hour gun battle between Islamic militants and
state security ended with 31 dead and 75 wounded. India blames
the Pakistanis, and New Delhi sent
a stern warning to Washington, the Times of India
tells us, which was delivered personally to President George
W. Bush although it wasn't clear exactly what the Indians
threatened to do if their demands were not met. Cut off the
US from its vital supply of curry?
DOWN AT THE
by the lack of military action, and possessed by the idea
that it is necessary to do something, anything, US
government agencies (and all too many Americans) are taking
it out on anyone who happens to be within range. The other
day I visited my favorite corner store, which is run by people
of a Middle Eastern hue. I knew, I just knew that they
had been hassled, and as I walked into their little shop,
I could tell by their downcast eyes and restrained manner
that there had been trouble. What I didn't know was how much
WHAT COULD BE
Now, I am
normally on very good terms with these guys they give me
credit when I'm broke, and they're friends as well as neighbors.
But there was a certain, uh, distance in their greetings
as I made my first appearance in weeks, after coming back
from a trip, and I really expected more of an enthusiastic
welcome. Oh, they tried to be effusive, but beneath
the outwardly cheery air I could sense a certain
"So, is anything wrong?" I asked. Wrong? What could be wrong?
"Well, I mean, what with the World Trade Center attack, and
all has anyone been hassling you?" Oh, no, no, not
at all! But I could see in the guy's face that he was lying:
unlike some others, my friendly corner store grocer is not
eager to establish his credentials as a victim. Indeed, he
seemed deeply ashamed by even the implication of it which
is how I knew that something was up. "Are you sure
said the grocer, "there was this one guy who came in
and said something about us being Arabs. But when I told him
I'm from Greece he seemed to calm down, and said: 'Oh, I guess
that's okay, then, since Greece is a member of NATO right?'
Then there was the guy who just came in and yelled at us,"
said my friend, "although I couldn't really say what he was
angry about. I don't think he knew himself."
I grunted disapprovingly, "is that it?"
yeah, really it's nothing."
really?" I looked at him skeptically.
there were those two guys from the FBI
As it turns
out, my friendly corner grocer and his helper, whom he
says is "half Palestinian" (yeah, right!) had a
visit from two G-men, who flashed their badges and asked a
whole lot of questions. It seems someone had reported the
two of them for uttering "anti-American" sentiments. The agents
were very polite, and apologized even while they probed: "We're
just doing our job," they explained. "We have to investigate
atmosphere of fear and suspicion has invaded the tree-lined
streets and elegant Victorians of "enlightened" oh-so-liberal
San Francisco Pacific Heights, no less! No one is safe,
not even the guys who run the corner store half a block from
my door. But those guys are no more terrorists than the British
guy who lives upstairs and plays disco full blast at 3 in
the morning, or the elegant old woman who, decked out in matching
chemise, hat, and shoes, walks her fox terrier by my doorstep
at precisely 4 in the afternoon each and every day.
how the FBI is busily "protecting" us from the terrorist threat
by following up "tips" phoned in by cranks whose lives
have been given new meaning by the crisis? Don't they have
anything better to do? Apparently not, if news of their recent
activities is any indication. That very night I
was astonished to read in the Houston Chronicle
that the feds had seriously "investigated" the random remark
of a fifth grade kid in Garland, Texas, who reportedly told
a teacher, on September 10, that World War III was going to
start the next day. Perhaps the teacher recalled, after the
twin towers went down, how the kid had said, according to
the Chronicle, that the war would start "and the US
would lose." Was this a miniature fifth columnist in her class?
She reported it to school officials, who passed the "tip"
to the FBI. As it turned out, the whole incident seems to
have been a case of mass hysteria, with the teacher later
claiming she couldn't be quite sure of just what the
kid had meant. So, let's get this straight: the FBI spent
how many hours, and tax dollars, "investigating" the
ramblings of a mere child and a hysterical female?
IT'S THE FBI!
living in a nightmarish world where the FBI can knock on
anyone's door, come barging in and administer an on-the-spot
loyalty test, asking about certain "anti-American" sentiments
supposedly expressed. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark
Brown relates the
story of what happened to Itedal Shalabi and her family,
one day, when her 11-year-old son burst into her room with the
news: "Mom, mom, it's the FBI!"
"As you can
imagine, Shalabi awoke in a hurry," remarks Brown. Yeah, I'll
just bet. The two female agents informed Shalabi that some
unnamed woman had accused her of "raising a terrorist." Shalabi
says that her accuser had characterized her son as "a possible
Hamas who wanted to die as a fighter." The agents went on
to say that the whole basis of this was a newspaper article
not that they had seen or read the article themselves, you
understand. Someone had merely reported this information,
and they were just following up. No doubt they apologized,
and gave out the same line their buddies gave to my corner
grocer: sorry, we're just doing our job. But are they?
Then why didn't they follow up this worthless "tip" in the
public library, where back issues of most newspapers are archived?
(The answer to this question is beyond human understanding.)
Instead, they barged into Itedal Shalabi's home and asked
her if she was raising a little terrorist.
alleged "evidence" that Shalabi was bring up a little Osama
bin Laden was based on a newspaper article, published last
December in the Chicago Tribune, on the rise of
Arab-American political activism, and here, in toto, is what
it said about the "suspects":
''Itedal Shalabi's son Suhiab, 8, has asked if he
could fight with other young Palestinians against the Israelis."
tell him, 'No. You can fight instead with an education. You
can educate millions,' said
Shalabi, a social worker who specialized in working with Arab
to educate her son, she was nurturing a little terrorist
this was the accusation John Ashcroft's "Anti-Terrorism
Task Force" was confronting her with. Suhiab Shalabi, by the
way, is all of 9 years old.
is happening in America is the hallmark of the "new era"
everyone insists is upon us. It is an era of sheer madness, in
which the constitutional
protections afforded to ordinary citizens are being
discarded, willy nilly, like
so much excess baggage from a sinking ship. The war
hysteria affords a window of opportunity for the spiteful, the
ambitious, the cretins among us to come out of the closet in
all their hideous glory, not only unafraid of rebuke but
positively basking in the wartime atmosphere of fear and
unreason. So far, the FBI has received a grand total of
225,000 "leads" on the twin towers terrorist attack: over
100,000 from an Internet site where anyone can settle a score,
in total anonymity. Another 18,000 were hissed in over the
phone, and 106,000 have been generated by the efforts of FBI
investigators. Brown reports that "tips are screened and
only wonder what sort of standard is being applied here that
would lead the FBI to the doorstep of Itedal Shalabi, some
schoolboy in Texas or my friendly corner grocery. You have
only to read Seymour Hersh's devastating review of "What Went Wrong,"
in the New Yorker, to see all too clearly that we are
dealing with a bunch of Keystone Kops who are pitted against
some of the cleverest, most fanatical, and certainly the most
ruthlessly efficient enemies the US has ever had to confront.
A PICKUP BASKETBALL TEAM?
the bureaucratic rivalries between various departments, the
warring fiefdoms that make interagency cooperation completely
untenable. We are told that the FBI, which is so concerned
about what the two Arab guys on my corner are up to, is convinced
that the 9/11 terror plotters were just a bunch of amateurs.
"The investigators," Hersh writes, "are now split into at
least two factions":
centered in the F.B.I., believes that the terrorists may not
have been 'a cohesive group,' as one involved official put it,
before they started training and working together on this
operation. 'These guys look like a pickup basketball team,' he
said. 'A bunch of guys who got together.'"
believe this jerk? An underground cell pulls off the most
spectacularly destructive act of terrorism in US history, in
which 6,000-plus were killed, and we are supposed to believe
that this was nothing more than a bunch of guys who got
together? Yeah, I can see it now: they were all sitting
around the kitchen table on a Saturday night, wondering
whether to go to the Bodacious Strip Lounge or stay home and
read the Koran, when someone said: "Hey, I know: let's hijack
four commercial airliners, run one into the Pentagon, ram two
into the World Trade Center, and aim one at the White House.
to the FBI upper echelons, the terrorists got "lucky." Hersh
cites an unnamed official, who elaborates on this exculpatory
your wildest dreams, do you think they thought they'd be able
to pull off four hijackings? Just taking out one jet and
getting it into the ground would have been a success. These
are not supermen."
might be said of America's G-men, who didn't have a clue about
a plot that had been generating right under their noses for
years. Hersh writes that the FBI "is still trying to sort
out the identities and backgrounds of the hijackers. The fact
is, the official acknowledged, 'we don't know much about them.'"
The fact is, the FBI doesn't seem to know much about anything
except how to harass law-abiding loyal Americans and make
"were simply lucky" that, in a nutshell, is the thesis
of the highest law enforcement agency in the land, and it
isn't very comforting, now is it? Nor is such a transparent
excuse very convincing: entirely aside from how incredibly
self serving it is. To anyone who actually saw the twin towers
go down, and saw what they did to the Pentagon, either on
the scene or on television, such an explanation sheer luck!
is incredible on its face. Incredible, and scary, because
it raises a question: So these are the people charged
with protecting us? As Ayn Rand once asked, in a not-so-different
context: "Who will protect us from our protectors?"
the various bungles, and simple bureaucratic inertia, that
set the context for the 9/11 catastrophe, but draws no conclusions
himself, aside from speculating that there are going to be
a few personnel changes, starting with CIA director George
Tenet. His analysis is that the various federal agencies charged
with defending the nation were far more interested in defending
their own bureaucratic turf. George W. Bush thinks this can
be solved by creating yet another federal agency, one
with the ominous moniker of "Homeland Security." Endless duplication
is how government reproduces itself and grows bigger by the
year, the month, the hour. Like some sprawling amoebae out
of a grade-B science fiction movie, the Blob that is Eating
America separates, and fuses, splits and re-fuses, its various
tentacles ceaselessly waving, probing, grasping for
of Keystone Kops paralyzed by bureaucratism and motivated
by the spirit of petty self-aggrandizement and perpetual infighting
is truly frightening. For what it tells us is that there is
something very wrong with our institutions, and the elites
that run them, and therefore we are all of us in mortal danger.
In my the-day-after
column, I wrote:
one well-coordinated blow, the entire free world has been
paralyzed. It is as if a rock-wielding David has hit a glass
Goliath straight between the eyes, shattering the imperial
colossus and bringing down the whole top-heavy apparatus with
an earthshaking roar."
this in the sense of the stark inequality of the two adversaries,
and certainly not to valorize the terrorists in any way, although
the more Biblically-inclined among my readers might have noted
that David was, after all, the good guy in the fable. In any
case, the terrorists are more like the Myrmidons,
if you want to get mythological about it, those merciless
soldiers who sprang up out of soil sown with dragon's teeth,
special pets of Ares, the Greek god of war.
In any case,
the title of that earlier column, "Imperial Paralysis," illustrates
the theme that underlies the haplessness of our government
officials, and their pathetic attempts to "protect" us now
that the horse is out of the barn. Who can doubt that the
intelligence failures exposed by Hersh are just the tip of
the proverbial iceberg? Let's cut the "unity" crap and start
blaming someone someone, that is, other than my corner
WITHIN THE EMPIRE
a thorough and deep investigation of the all-pervasive incompetence
that has paralyzed the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the whole
alphabet soup of federal law enforcement and intelligence
agencies. These bureaucratic fiefdoms are answerable to no
one, not the congress and not even the President, but are,
in effect, entities unto themselves. They are empires within
the Empire, and they are too large, too top-heavy, and too
bloated with tax dollars to be able to move quickly or efficiently
except in the cause of preserving and expanding their budgets,
their perks, and their power.
a structural defect of Empire. It is prone to decadence
that is, it is bound to lose sight of its original purpose
and meaning, and begin to break down. The scope of our various
law enforcement agencies is international, and their combined
budgets total untold billions, deploying armies of agents.
If John Ashcroft has his way, they will be armed with virtually
unlimited power to lock up anyone for an indefinite period
and close down anything websites,
foundations, organizations of any sort on the grounds that
they could be shown to be sympathetic to alleged terrorists,
or possibly "harboring" terroristic ideas themselves. Yet
it is precisely this awesome array, this overwhelming apparatus,
that will prove, in the end, to be its own undoing.
THE FATE OF TYRANNASAURUS REX
For it is
too big to make rational decisions. Like the dinosaur,
it is huge but has a tiny little brain, one big enough to
let it lumber about, and cause a lot of spectacular damage,
but also vulnerable in other ways. The vulnerability of empires,
everywhere and at all times, is too well-known to go into
here. From Gibbon
Johnson, the chroniclers of imperial decline have all
delivered the same funeral oration, with certain stylistic
differences but all emphasizing the same set of themes. While
Johnson analyzes the economic and geopolitical dynamics of
an American Imperium in decline, Gibbon shows how empire corrupts
the moral character of a people, so that in the end they deserve
or a Caligula.
THE WAGES OF
we don't deserve this the bungling, the excuses,
the sheer incompetence of fat-cat bureaucrats who, after all,
hold our lives in their hands. Not yet, at any rate. Jerry
Falwell and Pat Robertson are flat out wrong about how the
terrorist attack was payment for our sins. Right now, we're
paying for the US government's sins: not only those of the
federal nomenklatura, who failed to detect a wide-ranging
and sophisticated operation more than 5 years in the making,
despite several warnings but also those of our foreign
policy makers, who delight in playing with entire peoples
like pieces on a chessboard. Blinded by arrogance, and hobbled
by incompetence, the imperial armies ride off into battle,
headed for certain defeat.
This was a favorite epithet of the World War II New Dealers,
who labeled any criticism of or opposition to their Great
Leader "defeatist" if not downright treasonous. It was self-serving
sanctimonious bullhockey then, just as it is now. I have news
for the FBI, the CIA, and the rest of our "intelligence community":
if they are looking for the secret of how and why Osama bin
Laden succeeded in blowing up the two biggest symbols of a
once great nation, they won't find it at the dinky little
Arab grocery store down on the corner. For that, they need
to look elsewhere and fast.
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