Friday, August 13, 2004

Whack-A-Terrorist: Longest post ever 

Dick and Lynne Cheney are having a good old time ridiculing John Kerry for saying we need to fight a "sensitive war on terror." No, of course that quote isn't accurate. What Kerry said -- in its entirety -- was: "...I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side." And that is exactly what we need.

I've never really put down my general thoughts about the "War on Terror," (or "Tara," as Dan Rather would say) so I might as well do it now.

An effective "war" on terror must be all the things Kerry said -- with "proactive" being of paramount importance. We're not winning the war on drugs by wasting tax money putting small-time users in jail. We're not winning the war on crime by single-mindedly building more jails and putting record numbers of men inside them. We're not keeping health care costs down by encouraging insurance companies that pay only for treatment and not prevention. We are a society that can't stomach proactive measures, instead choosing only to react -- which costs us incredible amounts of money in the long run. This should offend even today's far-right conservatives. But when it comes to terrorism, steering the ship of state on a different course means embracing the complexity of the issues, and abandoning third-grade notions of the world as black and white, good and evil.

Anti-terror measures must focus on root causes in addition to a military response. Bush could march Osama down the aisle at the RNC and while it would make us feel better about 9/11, it wouldn't make us significantly safer going forward. That's right. It will not matter. Someone will take bin Laden's place, and that person will only be madder and more determined to destroy us. It's happened already with many high-ranking Al Qaeda officials. So what should we do?

1) We go after the camps and the terrorist hotbeds with everything we have. With the billions of dollars spent in Iraq, we should have been securing our ports and nuclear plants, funding our first responders, improving our intelligence, and focusing our military strength on the right front. Our chemical plants are virtually unguarded. How can this be?! By attacking Iraq, President Bush not only neglected the Afghan front, but also fulfilled Osama's longtime recruiting mantra that the U.S. wanted to attack and occupy an Arab nation. Good move there.

2) Re-engage in the Israel-Palestinian Conflict. Bush's policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been to not get involved. He's paid less attention to this crucial issue than any other recent President. Does this make sense when it's clear that the root of the terrorists' anger (and our so-called Arab allies' thinly disguised anger) is our role in that very conflict? Changing the situation won't be easy. Maybe it's not even possible. But why not try instead of declaring when you arrive at the White House that you're going to just hang back. My personal belief, in spite of my Jewish heritage, is that we and the Israelis must give a significant amount of ground in order to reach a true compromise and settle this shit once and for all. But I realize that's not going to happen anytime soon.

3) End the cowboy crap. Like it or not, when it comes to getting the best help to combat terrorism, our attitude and allies matter. We have the military might to dominate anyone, and everyone knows it. So why in the hell would we act like a bully? It's a crazy and counterproductive way for the world's lone superpower to behave. We can gain great advantages with -- indeed! -- a more sensitive foreign policy, all the while knowing that sensitivity and intelligence do not leave us militarily vulnerable. As President Clinton said at the Convention: "Strength and wisdom are not opposing values."

Specifically, a more sensible foreign policy will help undercut the support that terrorists are getting from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, etc. Perhaps if these countries weren't so bitter toward us, they wouldn't be doing such a half-assed job at "rounding up" terrorists. They're on our side, but barely. And if these sovereign nations turn against us, it won't be a pretty scene. As for dealing with Al Qaida: it's true that you can't reason with lunatics. But you can certainly make it more difficult for the lunatics to do their work, and you can make it less likely that they'll be so angry that they'll choose this new terrorist lifestyle.

Bush's rhetoric on terrorism is far more shameful than his actions. He never misses a chance to tell us that "America is safer" because of his efforts. Then his henchman tell us twice a week that we're likely to be hit again before the election. You might recall he's even said something similar himself, admitting in a rare moment of candor that it's a big country and it's impossible to stop every terrorist plot. But then he went right back to playing on people's fears, telling them he's keeping them safe and implying Kerry would not. So which is it, George? If we play your little game and give you credit for keeping us safe, I hope you're prepared to accept the firestorm of blame when we're attacked again.

The war on terror as it's being fought today is a global game of Whack-A-Mole that we will never win. We can continue to root out terrorists, break up plots, and maybe get away with only a couple thousand dead every few years when they sneak a plan through. Or, if we stop the elaborate plots, they'll recruit suicide bombers to pick off 10 or 15 of us at a time inside the U.S. We can't win Whack-A-Terrorist any more than we can win the war on drugs by rounding up addicts, putting them in jail, and then putting them back on the street to start using again.

So if the alternative is something that's tough, smart, and sensitive, then by all means bring it on.

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