THOUGHTS ON THE RECENT TROUBLES

Now that some time has passed since the WTC attack, I'm hoping I can express some sensible points of view without seeming to be not patriotic enough. Some of the following is my own thinking, and the rest was picked up from discussions all over the media. There's no way I can sort out which idea came from where, so forgive me if I don't give credit where it's due.

KISSINGER ON CHARLIE ROSE

I watched part of Henry Kissinger's interview on the Charlie Rose show the other night. He related an anecdote in which he asked President Truman what he was most proud of. According to Mr. Kissinger, Truman said that he was proud of having utterly defeated his enemy (in this case Japan) and then rebuilt them and brought them back into the community of civilized nations.

Mr. Kissinger mentioned this in association with a number of options regarding the prosecution of the War on Terrorism. It seems like every plan he thought sensible began with the utter defeat of the Arabs. I've always admired Mr. Kissinger's intellect, but he's got a one-track mind about the Arabs.

He also warned against softening our position on the Palestinian issue and warned against intervening in the decisions of Arial Sharon regarding his handling of the Palestinian situation. He said that doing so at this time would create the impresson that the terrorist attack on the WTC had caused a change in American policy and would encourage more attacks.

On the one hand the truth of his position is self-evident. On the other hand, the footage I saw of Arabs dancing in the streets suggests to me that they already find the attack thoroughly gratifying and are likely to try it again whether or not they get more encouragement.

If you take the terrorists at their word, failure to change our policies will result in more attacks. If you accept Kissinger's idea, then changing our policies will result in more attacks.

LANGUAGE LANGUAGE

War on Terrorism. One of my favorite TV shows is Junkyard Wars. I note that in the UK it's called Junkyard Challenge. Why do we in America have to couch everything in terms of war? The War on Drugs, War on Poverty and War on Crime have all come up short so far, despite the investment in time and money. The fact that we're calling this a War on Terrorism does not inspire confidence.

Roll Up. I'm hearing people talking about "rolling up" terrorist cells. What does that mean? Arrest or kill the members? Sieze their assets? Interrupt their communications? The term has a meaning in Napoleanic military tactics, but I wonder what it's supposed to mean here. We should know what it means before we tell the government we want them to do it.

Crusade. Bush should have been better advised on this one. Arabs, like the ones he wants to join his coalition, react to the word crusade the way we in the West react to the word jihad.

Operation Infinite Justice. How come military operations always have to be named something grandiose? Overlord. Desert Storm. Just Cause. Why not Operation Possum? Operation Stinkbug? Opperation Caffiene Buzz?

THIS IS A WAR ABOUT RELIGION

No. It's about real estate. If it were about religion, there would be no conflict at all. Christians, Jews and Moslems all accept the Old Testament as the authoritative word of God, and that book promises certain lands to the Jews. All the parties claim to honor the word of God, and the real estate contract between God and the Jews is pretty clear. As best I can figure out, this fight is about escrow. That is to say, there is some provision of the contract that is unfulfilled which prevents the Jews from closing the deal on the whole promised land and enjoying the perpetual peace and prosperity God promised them.

So here's the snag. In Deuteronomy, God admonishes the Jews not to take anything from a vanquished enemy, not his property (excepting the promised land itself, of course), not his weapons from the battlefield, not the coins from his pocket and especially not to melt down enemy idols for their gold and silver. The problem as God sees it is that taking the goods from a vanquished enemy might cause the Jews to become wicked like them.

Back in mid February a vanquished enemy of the Jews, namely Germany, Krups, Siemens and other companies, offered to pay billions of dollars in reparations to holocaust survivors and to Israel as remedy for slave labor impressed in the 1940's.

It was right about the time that Arial Sharon began his campaign of political assassinations against leaders of resistance groups within the Israeli occupied territories. I found the situation similar to that of occupied France in 1940.

I'm not the religious type myself, but if you can illustrate your point with stories from the Bible, you don't have to convince people of the validity of your point. And people who have given up doing their own thinking often find Bible verses more persuasive than logic. So I read in it some and don't set much store in it. Personally, if I had a dog that caused as much trouble as the Bible, I'd soon have myself a new dog.

But a thing like this threatens my cynicism. God says loot from your enemy carries your enemy's curse, and by dang it happened to the Israelis just like catching a cold only faster.

The Israelis have to give up the money in order to comply with the original covenant. (I've got no biblical credentials, by the way. I just read what's there on the page.)

Here's my suggestion. Put the money into roads and sewers and electricity and schools on the West Bank, hire Siemens and Krups to contract the work and hire Palestinians to do the labor. That accomplishes a number of things. First, it keeps that dirty cursed cash out of your hands. Second, if Europeans accept the idea that this money is adequate remedy for wrongs suffered by the Jews, then "paying it forward" forces them to accept the self same money as adequate remedy for wrongs suffered by the Palestinians. Third, large capital improvements spent in occupied territories will tend to legitimize Israel's claim to that territory. Fourth, Israel will look benevolent and magnanimous for rebuilding the homes and infrastructure they destroyed. (Remember the Marshall Plan.) Fifth, a young Palestinian living on clean streets in homes with running water and electricity with some hope of getting an education and a profession might be less likely to walk onto a crowded buss with a stick of dynamite in his pants.

Israel's vanquished enemy has provided her with a means to gain a measure of peace and security without giving up any territory.

I CAN'T UNDERSTAND WHY THE ARABS HATE US SO MUCH

In 1094 El Cid conquered Moslem-held Valencia and the next year Pope Gregory declared the first crusade. For the 250 years up to that, the Moslems had been minding their own business. For the 907 years since that time the Arab world has been under constant attack (meaning at least one invasion per generation) and sporadic occupation by some European Christian power or other. Despite 30 generations of violence, the boundaries between the Christian and Moslem territories remain just about where they were in 1095.

The Arabs see the team of the U.S. and Israel as just one more of those incursions. Fifty years ago a bunch of Jews showed up in Palestine (right after the British left), threw out all the Arabs, took their property and founded the state of Israel. So the Arabs hate Israel. Israel has survived in part due to large amounts of foreign and military aid from the U.S., so the Arabs hate the U.S.

REFUGEES

All this saber rattling on our part has caused Afghan civilians to pull up stakes and head for the Pakistan border.

These are the poorest people in the world. Even in good years they live next door to starvation. So in anticipation of our military action they leave their marginal livelihoods, hike a couple hundred miles across mountainous desert with only what they can carry on their backs and check into a crowded, unsanitary refugee camp.

If the threat of military action uproots a million (I've heard numbers ranging from 1.5M to 7.5M) Afghans, and one half of one percent die under the stress of migration and internment, that's 5,000 needless Afghan casualties. Nobody's even even done anything yet and already the misery has doubled.

INTERNAL SECURITY

Even in Israel, where internal security is very tight and the area guarded is very small, terrorists manage to stage frequent attacks. In France under Nazi occupation the Germans executed multiple civilians for each German killed by the resistance. Disproportionate retaliation did not stop the resistance and likely resulted in strengthening its resolve.

There's only so much that can be accomplished by increasing internal security. A determined enemy will manage to get something through, and harsh retribution does not prevent future attacks.

Current security measures (if sincerely implemented), like searching carry-on luggage at airports, checking I.D.'s, will require the terrorists to spend resources on more clever weapons, bribes, forged documentation and false identities. If one of the hijackers had been caught with a forged drivers license or writing a hot check he might have been deported before he could have done any damage. For a lot of these guys, the hijacking was the first crime they ever committed here.

These guys got visas and drivers licenses and bought property and took flying lessons under their real names while they were on terrorist watch lists. What's the point of the paperwork if nobody compares the names on the visa applications to the names of known criminals? Doesn't anybody look at those forms? The security measures we've got in place should have prevented this attack. After Pearl Harbor, there were accusations that Roosevelt allowed the attack to occur in order to create an emergency. Such accusations are likely to arise in this case as well.

Note added 10/7/01: A couple of days ago I saw on the news that only three of nineteen hijackers were known terrorists. The rest were "new players" with no known link to terrorist organizations. However, on September 12th, the national news networks had the names of sixteen hijackers. How could they have identified sixteen passengers as the hijackers overnight if they had not been on a watch list? This more recent story sounds to me like bureaucrats trying to protect their jobs.

ATTACKS ON TRAINING FACILITIES

Are we going to use a million dollar cruise missile to knock over a bunch of tin shacks in the desert? What's the point of that?

Are we going to send in the special forces to find some of these terrorist leaders and gun them down? The Israelis have been doing that for years and it hasn't stopped the bombing. If you just have to do something along these lines, bringing them back alive to stand trial is the only thing that's going to preserve our good guy status.

Bringing a recruiter back alive might be illustrative to potential terrorist recruits that the recruiter himself is unwilling to die for his cause.

Occasional raids and frequent rumors of raids might serve some useful purpose. Terrorists might be forced to spend a lot of time and resources relocating and rebuilding. If they're moving, they're not training. If camps they believed to be secret get attacked, they might begin to suspect the loyalty of their own members. If certain camps don't get attacked and they begin to feel safe, they might tend to consolidate their operations there, putting all the rotten eggs in one basket.

FINANCIAL WARFARE

The bad guys need two things to attack us -- money and kamikaze recruits. Attacking the financial assets of terrorist organizations is likely to be the most effective tactic. It won't be as viscerally satisfying as a rambo-type raid, but it will keep them from buying the stuff they need to work violence on us. Without $25,000 there would have been no flying lessons for the WTC hijackers. Without money they move their people by bus instead of by plane. If their electronic transactions are constantly hounded, they'll have to transport conspicuous and cumbersome quantities of bills. When their electronic assets become unavailable they'll likely resort to counterfeiting, which is just one more good way to put them behind bars.

I have to wonder, if the IRA took all the money they spent on guns and bombs since 1969 and had spent it instead on education and capital improvements, how would life be different today for the Catholics in Belfast?

WHAT DO TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS DO

Like most organizations, they don't do what they say they're doing. If it suddenly became really obvious that Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland enjoyed political and economic equality, what would all those IRA guys do? The bottom would fall of the assassination market. What happens to the PLO if they actually liberate Palestine? They move from the headlines to the breadlines. They've got no peacetime survival skills. Victory is a big demotion in social status for them.

Terrorist organizations' survival depends on their not achieving their stated goals. Every organization from the Girl Scouts to college fraternities to business entities to political parties, bureaucracies and banana slugs all have the same primary goal -- perpetuation of their species. For a terrorist leader, success is annihilation, which explains why terrorism has been going on for forty years despite forty years of failure to achieve any political or social goals.

Once upon a time a terrorists goal would be specific and immediately achievable, like the release of some political prisoner. Today the goals, if any are ever stated, tend to be vague and out of immediate reach, like the destruction of a political system or the destabilization of a region.

In the seventies terrorists used to publish manifestos and lists of demands as accompaniment to their criminal acts. In the eighties they dropped that pretense and settled for claiming credit for attacks on the assumption that everybody knew their goals already. Today they've even dropped that pretense and claim to be sending a message or making a statement. If they would drop just one more layer of pretense, they'd admit the statement is always a declaration along the lines of, "See what we've done. Look how powerful we are."

And that statement is the source of their appeal to the disenfranchised, whom they recruit.

HOW TO SUCCEED WITHOUT REALLY WINNING

Wiping out some definable organization, such as happened with the Red Brigade, seems to accomplish more than it really does. Extremists who would have joined the Red Brigade simply found themselves another group. Money and arms which would have been distributed to extremists through the Red Brigade found another avenue.

THE QUESTION OF RECRUITMENT

Internal security, financial warfare, military raids and arrests by law enforcement can reduce terrorism temporarily, but the terrorist organizations will eventually adjust their tactics and methods. The only thing for which they can not compensate is a decrease in recruitment. Unlike governments of countries, they can't just draft another batch. They have to lure them in.

Our foremost concern is the reduction of their recruiting effectiveness. It's easier to "roll up" a thousand terrorists than ten thousand. First, don't do anything that's going to help them recruit.

They attacked us and the CIA reported a 700% increase in job applications. If we attack them in some conventional and noisy way, they will enjoy a similar boost in recruitment.

The U.S. backed Saddam Hussein in the Iran/Iraq war. The Reagan White House traded arms for hostages with Iran when the Ayatollah was the declared enemy of the U.S. and the official policy of the U.S. was that we didn't negotiate with terrorists. The U.S. gave support to Bin Laden in the Taliban's war with the Soviet Union. The U.S. supported Noriega in Panama. The Nixon White House ordered a covert operation overthrowing the democratically elected government of Chile, allowing for the ascension of Pinochet. Lest we forget, the Shah of Iran was pretty repressive, and he was our boy. And that's just what I can think of on the spur of the moment. You've got to admit we create a lot of our own monsters. How does that happen?

The next time we want to support a candidate in a foreign election, don't ask the Intelligence Community for suggestions, for the same reason you don't ask the Hells Angels to get a blind date for your cousin. They don't know any nice girls. Intelligence services don't associate with people other than bandits and rogues. So if you ask the CIA who would make a good president for some new republic, we're pretty sure the boy's a crook before we know his name.

For all our talk about equality and democracy, we've given a lot of help to some nasty people, so when terrorist recruiters portray themselves as the good guys and us as the bad guys, they don't have to do a lot of convincing.

RTJ--10/1/2001

MOSLEM EXTREMISTS

How come we never hear anybody called a "Christian extremist" or "Jewish extremist?" Surely there must be such a thing.

THE ADMINISTRATION'S RESPONSE THUS FAR

Since September 11 the administration has spent the projected surplus and has broken open the social security lockbox in order to distribute cash, aid, low interest loans, tax breaks, bailouts, "economic stimuli" and other compensation to everybody even marginally affected by the atttack. Families of victims are getting $25,000 each from the government just as if they had been soldiers killed in the line of duty. Every military, law enforcement and emergency service interest is using the attack to push for budget increases. The administration has opened up the candy store and everybody is coming around.

My first concern is that money is being spent in haste, with little regard given to the damage the debt will do to our economy or to the relative benefits derived from all that spending.

My second concern is that foreigners will see this as panic and disunity. They're relating the president's high approval rating to the fact that he's shoveling money out of the treasury as fast as he can. Those guys are getting the impression that American domestic political coalitions are built through distribution of public money. We are confirming their worst anti-American prejudices. As a result, the Pakistanis showed up with their hands out and so will everybody else. What they see suggests that the Bush White House pays cash for loyalty. Allies recruited under these conditions are likely to turn on us when it's convenient for them to do so. Allies that the White House is courting this way are ones that have hated us for years.

Consider also that the Arabs might be trying to beat us to death with our own stick. History is full of ironic situations in which one power falls victim to a tactic it once employed successfully. In 1940, France had invested enough resources to equip a hundred divisions in the Maginot Line, which the Germans neutralized in a matter of hours. Flush with victory, what did the Germans do? By 1944 they invested enough resources to outfit a hundred divisions in the Atlantic Wall, which the Allies neutralized in a few hours.

Twenty years ago we beat the Soviets by running them out of cash, making them panic spend on extravagant programs they could ill afford. Maybe the Arabs are doing that to us right now. I wouldn't put it past them. If they can spend a thousand to make us blow a million, such a plan could do us some serious economic damage and undercut our ability to support Israel. And given the precedent of the extravagant relief package the administration has applied to this attack, it's going to be easy for terrorists to run up the bill on us.

I wouldn't put it past them. Arab alliances with western powers have historically been somewhat fluid. Remember that the White House is trying to build a coalition that includes people who hate us. The Gulf War Coalition lasted a few months and was shaky from start to finish. The White House has said this campaign is likely to last years.

While we're thinking unpleasant thoughts, how do the Arabs view the lifting of longstanding sanctions? In his atttempt to build a coalition, all over the Moslem world George W. is dropping economic and political sanctions that have been in place for decades. From the point of view of these countries, this is capitualtion on the part of the U.S. Since it occurred wholesale within a month of the attack, they're bound to see one as the result of the other. Those countries which benefit will likely see the WTC attack as a great success, resulting in substantive changes in American policy. All they have to do cash in is pay a little lip service to George W.'s coalition, figuring they can bail out when the going gets rough.

10/7/2001

Arkansas Traveler's home page | Matters Literary | Some More Thoughts on the Recent Troubles