Category Archives: War on Terror

Terrorist Origins

The local paper today had columns from Gwynne Dyer and Charles Krauthammer about the ongoing Muslim terrorists and their origins. It was interesting to see just how differently the two columnists use the same facts (more or less) to arrive at two very different conclusions. I’d have to guess the newspaper editors were cognizant of this.

The major disagreement was whether our actions, like invading Iraq, have led to the bombings, as opposed to a longer-term Islamist malignancy. The money quotes follow, first from Dyer.

Every major terrorist attack by Islamists since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, has targeted the citizens of countries that sent troops to Iraq: Americans, not Canadians; British, not French; Spanish, not Germans; Australians, not New Zealanders.

He goes on to mention that originally most of the attackers were Arabs (perhaps due in part to the long-standing actions of the West in the Middle East) but since Iraq other Muslims are taking up the attack. His final sentence is Actions do have consequences.

Now, from Krauthammer.

The fact that native-born Muslim Europeans are committing terror acts within their own countries shows that this Islanist malignancy long predates Iraq, long predates Afghanistan and long predates 9/11.

Now I’ve tried every line of logic I can think of to justify this sentence, and I can’t find it. It just doesn’t make any sense. Would it be unthinkable for people, depending on their experiences, to change from peace-loving to terrorists?

So it’s pretty clear I come down on Dyer’s side. But it is a disturbing side to come down upon. Is it true that our invasion of Iraq has increased our potential adversaries, from the Arabs (who comprise 25% of Muslims) to all Muslims? Nice work, George! Unfortunately, I’m guessing that Dyer is correct, and that we’ve got a long hard road to go down.

July 15, 2005

Walter Cronkite

Why in the world would Walter Cronkite be a topic here? After all, he retired several decades ago, handing his anchorship of CBS over to Dan Rather, who has also recently retired. I saw him a couple of years ago; he’s not moving around too quickly any more; but he still has his mental facilities. His name was on a fund-raising letter from the Interfaith Alliance, a group whose main interest seems to be defeating a bill to allow churches to become more politically active while maintaining their tax-exempt status. A letter from him was part of the packet. I thought that letter was quite well-written, and I’ll reproduce parts of it here, leaving out all the begging for money parts. My younger readers might keep in mind that Cronkite was so trusted by middle America that when he finally came out against the Vietnam war, it became a lost cause.

When I anchored the evening news, I kept my opinions to myself. But now, more than ever, I feel I must speak out.

That’s because I am deeply disturbed by the dangerous and growing influence of people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on our nation’s political leaders.

Especially after Robertson and Falwell both shamefully blamed America’s courts and the highest levels of our government for the horrific September 11 attacks on our nation. They said it happened because we “insulted God”. Falwell went on to blame feminists, pro-choice Americans and other groups he despises.

Like you, I understand that freedom of speech is a founding principle of our nation, and I respect people with the courage to speak their minds.

As a concerned person of faith, however, I have watched with increasing alarm as the Christian Coalition and other Religious Right groups manipulate religion to further their intolerant, political agendas.

Over the years, Robertson and Falwell have gained considerable influence on local school boards, in the administration, and in Congress. They have shrewdly twisted the traditional healing role of religion into an intolerant, political platform.

Using religion as a tool to push their personal political beliefs – especially, in a time of national tragedy – not only insults people of faith and good will, it also diminishes the positive healing role religion can and should play in public life.

The Christian Coalition has more than two million members and a growing coffer of funds, helping it influence elections and political candidates.

In response, many members of Congress are forced to cave in to its demands. Even politicians – who privately dislike its tactics or are uncomfortable with its political agenda – have been scared into submission.

June 21, 2005

Torture

Never in a thousand years would I have thought that I’d ever be writing about torture. Today’s confirmation of Gonzales has brought the topic back up. I have no strong feelings if he should have been confirmed or not. I’m not sure how I would have voted had I been a Senator. It would have been a balance between giving the President the people he wants, and a fair amount of moral outrage.

The idea that the U.S., regardless of the circumstances, would even consider torturing captives of any sort is totally foreign to everything I’ve always thought the U.S. stands for. Or, should I say, everything the U.S. used to stand for. Any more, I’m not so sure. And as I listen to all the Administration’s supporters try to either justify or deny what has been going on, I just go nuts. Here’s some of the pathetic things we’ve all been hearing.

(1) This was just a few bad apples, some misguided night-duty guards. Unfortunately, the memos indicate that there was a long-term discussion about how to dismiss a wide variety of civilized-behavior norms – things like the torture conventions and the Geneva accords. I doubt either Mr. Bush or Mr. Rumsfeld ever gave orders to torture the prisoners. They wouldn’t be that stupid. But they certainly set the stage where torture was seen as acceptable, and not just in Iraq.

(2) This wasn’t really torture. The Red Cross is a bunch of pussies. This was just blowing off steam. Cheerleaders build pyramids too. Torture happens only when the pain approaches that of major organ failure(thanks to our medicare regulations for that particular gem). Well, I don’t know exactly where persuasion ends and torture starts. But why would the U.S., of all countries, even be playing around close to that line? Have we become so disrespectful of our fellow human beings? Have we no decency? Where is our Christian heritage?

(3) This is a new type of war and we need additional “tools” to fight it. First, I have a hard time considering that this is a war. Fighting a war is not consistent with tax cuts. Fighting a war is not consistent with major new entitlement programs. Fighting a war is not consistent with a bunch of civilians running it. Beyond that, our enemies in this “war” do not represent an existential threat to our country. Even during WWII, when there arguably was a threat to our country, we didn’t resort to torture. I’ve heard stories of marines that treated Japanese prisoners pretty badly, but as far as I know once any prisoners reached a POW camp they were treated fairly well.

(4) In Gonzales’s case, he was just preparing legal memos that explored what our options were. They were not his opinions, he was just doing his job. This sounds like a variant of the Nuremberg defense. And if he was just following instructions, who gave him the instructions in the first place? It would have had to been Mr. Bush, wouldn’t it? Regardless of the legalisms this shows a serious lack of moral character in everyone involved, and this Administration has been keen to proclaim it’s moral righteousness. Moral hypocrite seems more appropriate.

The U.S. historically has more than just followed civilized norms, we have embodied them. We have always led the way to their adoption and have taken great pride in doing so. It is part of what makes America special. It is part of what gives us a moral edge, and convinces us that we are a good country, in addition to being a great country. Please everybody, let’s step back and think about how far down we’ve come.

February 4, 2005

The 9/11 Commission Report

I finally got a copy of the 9/11 Commission Report and I just finished reading it. I was pleasantly surprised how readable it was, and I can see why it has been so popular. The first printing was 800,000, and those are almost sold out. I spotted about 50 copies in an independent bookstore at an airport, but when I returned there 3 days later they were no longer there. I understand a second printing of 200,000 is underway. It is available online, but I much prefer reading from a book, and $10 seems like a bargain.

In some ways it reads like a novel. It starts with the activities of the hijackers on the morning of 9/11, then backs up and then proceeds chronologically. I found the chapters on Al Qaeda’s foundations and activities the most interesting, and had to struggle through the chapters on the US response. The recommendations towards the back of the book seemed well thought out, but I am not familiar enough with the internal workings of the US government to know if they are reasonable or not.

There were several refreshing aspects to the book. It was written in the first person plural, as though the members of the commission, all of whom signed the front, were taking personal responsibility for the Report. When was the last time anyone took responsibility for anything? During the hearings I remember accusations that the panel was being partisan, mostly from critics who themselves had partisan interests. If there was any partisanship in the Report, I didn’t find it. The Report does not try to fix blame anywhere. I think most of us realize that our failings were larger than any one agency, let alone any one person.

Although they didn’t play the blame game, they certainly had some thoughts on the structural deficiencies that gave the US very slim odds of preventing the attack. “Some of the saddest aspects of the 9/11 story are the outstanding efforts of so many individual officials straining, often without success, against the boundaries of the possible.” It noted that Richard Clarke had the best vision of what Al Qaeda might do (he had written some spookily accurate memos), but even he was pessimistic that we could have prevented the attacks.

Over time I plan to write a short series on my reactions to different parts of the Report. In the meantime, I’d encourage all my legions of readers (ha!), assuming they have any interest in the nature of the attacks or what we might be doing to prevent a recurrence, to take the time to read the report.

August 8, 2004

Abu Ghraib

The Abu Ghraib pictures came out about a week ago, and the “retaliatory” beheading was just reported. As much as I have been against the entire project, I would have thought there was some lower limit on our stupidity. The last three weeks have made me re-evaluate where that limit might be. Down and down it goes, and I no longer see any likely way we obtain our originally stated goals there. Quite a few people, from around the political spectrum, are now calling for some sort of scale-back, or even outright withdrawal.

Most people seem genuinely distressed by the events, while a few are trying to justify them. I’m no legal scholar, but my reading of the Geneva Conventions tells me that these acts are illegal. Simple (dare I say Christian) decency tells me we ought not be engaged in torture. This may have turned into a nasty dirty little war, since when does that excuse our acts? Especially since we started it. And I have to ask, “What part of the Geneva Conventions are optional?” People seem to forget that the GC’s are a treaty that we have signed. Treaties, for those not familiar with the term and what it implies, become the Law of the Land, the enforcement of which is not at the discretion of the government. At least not in a country where the “rule of law” applies.

Should Rumsfeld resign? It a tough call; he does have some admirable qualities, and a long history of success. I have little doubt that he didn’t personally order the torture. BUT, the bounds within which any organization operates are pretty much set by the men at the top. And what message are they sending to their organizations when they consistently downplay the importance of international norms and global cooperation? How many times have Bush and Rumsfeld tried (and in many cases, were successful) to circumvent these norms? Do you want me to start the list? Whether they intended it or not, their disrespect for non-Americans has seeped into their organizations. Abu Ghraid is just the latest, and most disgusting, example of what arrogant attitudes lead to. Bush and Rumsfeld are both adults, they are both pretending to be leaders, and they had better understand this. To the extent that they don’t understand, or don’t care, they are culpable. Rumsfeld should go. Bush’s exit will be a decision of the voters.

Should we cut and run from Iraq? I still think that would create a mess that we would then have to live with for a very long time. As just one potential: how does $100 per barrel sound, after a radical government in Iraq starts exporting revolution to Saudi Arabia? Or, more likely, all of Iraq’s neighbors get dragged into a civil war there? To save Iraq now, we’d have to really get serious. Raise taxes, maybe institute the draft, gear up for a very long and dangerous trip. Throw money at the reconstruction of Iraq. Of course we won’t do any of this. Whatever sins Iraq has committed towards us (come to think of it, I can’t find any, even in retrospect) aren’t enough to make us take that type of commitment. Which is why I’ve been against this adventure from the start.

May 12, 2004

War on Terror

Terrorism has become a leading issue for our government and our elections.  Terrorist acts, especially if committed by Muslims, are always front-page news,  So every politician is keen to appear “tough” on terrorism.  Is being tough the best way to fight it?  I’ll be examining that and other angles surrounding both terrorism itself and our reaction to it.