Sunday, January 03, 2010

Can we handle the truth?

Jack Kelly reminds me of the movies in the Dirty Harry series after the first, but before they got really silly (you know, when he got the even bigger hand cannon or was chased by a radio controlled toy car). There was often a sense that criminals manipulated the system with ease, and even if they did go to prison it was like going to a resort. Now, I will admit that money affects everything, so in the past and even still some criminals did have such good legal defenses as to escape justice, while (as we now know) innocent men were sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit, often because of out and out racism (that’s something Kelly doesn’t mention).

I am referring, in all this, to a quote from today’s Kelly column “"Do you think that most Americans prefer that this guy is a) watching cable TV in a warm cell funded by taxpayers and enjoying his right to remain silent; or b) at an undisclosed location being waterboarded to learn about his little friends back in Yemen and their plans to kill us?" a friend asked Michael Goldfarb of The Weekly Standard.” talking about Umar Abdulmutallab, the man who tried to blow up the Northwest Air flight on Christmas Day.

Of course, Kelly can escape any negative consequences for saying that because he is quoting a journalist who is quoting “a friend”. But I want to focus on another person’s quote in the Kelly column: “"Despite vast databases crammed with evidence, our leaders -- of both parties -- still refuse to connect Islamist terror with Islam," Lt. Col. Peters wrote.”

Kelly is just quoting, but he did choose the quote.

How many Americans actually know what Al Qaeda actually wants? My understanding is that they want the US to leave the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, they want the Middle East to be run by one government (a Caliphate) and they want Israel gone (probably destroyed)( When Iraq was attacking Iran, we supported him as a secular leader (bound to upset very devout Muslims). Our female personnel in Saudi Arabia have walked around in tank tops and shorts, driving and we have generally flaunted an ignorance of Islamic law. So I can see the idea of Al Qaeda wanting us out of the Middle East, although I think most Muslims are simply uncomfortable with our ignorant behavior. But to equate Islam with Islamist terror is like saying all Christians must believe the Earth is only 5000 years old.

I wonder how many people remember that the Nazi’s of Germany were initially an anti communist movement? That in the twenties and even more I think in the thirties communism was popular with the unions, and unions (and probably some of the ideology of communism) were popular with workers in thirties, who didn’t feel much sympathy from management. I am sure the various bosses were alarmed by communists, and so for a long time US foreign policy was at most neutral about the Nazi’s, if not a bit positive. It also puts Joe McCarthy in a somewhat different light (although by the fifties everyone involved were mostly disenchanted with communism). And by the way there is room for debate about how much the cold war was really about stopping the Soviets from taking over the world, or the Soviets trying to defend themselves from aggressive American “containment”.

My point is that Al Qaeda certainly hates us, would be happy to never see another American in the Middle East, but I think the idea that they want to see us destroyed is silly. Iran can not destroy us, much less a terrorist group of a few hundred (even if it is a few thousand people). Iran could hurt us, and hurt us more with nukes, obviously the same for Al Qaeda. But we could obviously pound Iran to dust if we wanted to, and we have been pounding on Al Qaeda for the last eight years (and change). I don’t know why we dropped the chance to get Osama Bin Laden in 2001 (except that if we had Bush would have lost his excuse to invade Iraq), but we still have fumblingly done a fair bit of damage to Al Qaeda.

Obviously Al Qaeda is still a threat to our country, but we need to remain clear about what kind of threat. Certainly Al Qaeda wants to hit visibility targets, preferably with lots of American casualties (particularly important ones) and they are unconcerned if a few Al Qaeda operatives die along the way. Really typical terrorist stuff actually. Could some downed airplanes and/or nerve gas in a subway really be terrible and painful? Absolutely. But could those acts destroy the US, destroy our way of life? I don’t think so, and put that way I am sure you agree. But like the US with the communists, the story conservatives want to tell us is more important than the reality that exists. Thus I guess Kelly’s choice of quotes.

I don’t think the Obama administration has done a great job with our defense against terrorists, but the mess left us by the Bush administration may be impossible to un-entangle ourselves from. It will be certainly impossible if we delude ourselves with the conservative silliness.

No comments: