MORE THOUGHTS ON THE RECENT TROUBLES

EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED

It really hasn't. Something magical happens to a man on his fortieth birthday and he just stops believing all the slogans. For as long as I can remember the government has assigned some foreign goofball to be "The Middle-East Madman." When I was a kid it was Idi Amin, then Khaddafi, then Khomeni, then Saddam, now Bin Laden. It's like pro wrestling. It gets louder. The costumes get more colorful, but underneath it all it's the same old game. Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.

SETTLING THINGS ONCE AND FOR ALL

Not likely to happen. The Romans occupied the near east for two centuries, and every dozen years or so they had to send in the army to settle things once and for all. Same deal with the British Empire. Same deal with the Christian armies throughout the crusades, even during periods of relative peace.

If you're going to have a large population that is politically, economically and religiously disaffected and you put big foreign army bases nearby to maintain the status quo, you're going to get uprisings and revolutionary organizations; and from time to time you're going to have to go in and put them down.

I'm not questioning the necessity of going after Al Quaid, but it's like mowing the grass. If the root causes persist something just like it will grow back and we'll just have to go in again. People call for war because they want decisive action, but if wars were actually decisive, civilization would be done with war by now. We've been solving our problems with wars for ten thousand years and we've still got the same problems.

WHY NOW

The technology of destruction is only getting cheaper and more available. Waiting around for a year or two to start this house cleaning will only allow our enemies to obtain more effective weapons.

THE ANTHRAX PANIC

They got us this time. Now that they've got the country in a panic, a couple hundred junk mail envelopes dusted with corn starch will paralyze the postal system for a week and cost millions and millions of dollars in cleanup and medical precautions. This tactic has given the terrorists a high return on their dollar. They spent two bucks in postage, we spent millions to counter the threat. In addition to which, the administration is paying for the cleanup of American Media in Florida. Just like before, Bush went to the treasury inappropriately.

Then there's Tommy "All is Well" Thompson who the day before assured us that we were safe from just such an attack. I won't go over that again. It's all been said.

FEDERALIZING SECURITY AT AIRPORTS

The legislator said it best who pointed out that oversights and failures by federal agencies let known terrorists remain in the U.S. with expired visas under their real names. Granted, airport security is pretty ineffective, but this legislative push is just the Washington bureaucracy trying to blame somebody else for its own failure.

HAVING IT BOTH WAYS

I watched a 60-Mintues story in which some well-off Pakistanis said that our present problems in Afghanistan arose from the fact that we bugged out after the Mujahideen pushed the Russians out.

Wait a minute. I thought the big complaint those near-easterners had about us was that we came to the party and never left, that American help implied an undesirable lingering military presence. So we're wrong if we stay and we're wrong if we leave? Thanks for clearing that up for me.

THE NORTHERN ALLIANCE

Let's not kid ourselves about these guys. They were Soviet allies when Reagan was backing Bin Laden and referred to the Soviets and their allies as the focus of evil in the modern world. They only like us to the extent that we're blowing up their enemies. Afghanistan under them might or might not be better that Afghanistan under the Taliban. I guess it's worth a shot, though. How much worse could it be?

THE MOST LIKELY OUTCOME

American foreign policy in the third world is like a jukebox with one record. The corrupt, repressive unfriendly regime gets replaced with a corrupt, repressive friendly regime.

The Al Quaid personnel have scattered like roaches. After we've decllared Al Quaid crushed, these same guys are going to show up somewhere else with new lettterhead, just like a boiler room telemarketer. (Come to think of it, that might be a useful model for pursuing these guys.)

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

The notion that the Israelis orchestrated the WTC attack in order to draw the U.S. into the conflict doesn't make much sense to me. Having the U.S. involved on an all-out-fight-to-the-finish basis represents minimal advantage to Israel in the case of American success and enormous danger to Israel's continued existence in the case of American failure. Worse still is that each success carries with it a moment of crisis. Here's what I mean:

Imagine the end of WWII. Hitler's in his bunker in Berlin. The Russians are mere hours from kicking in his door. At that moment, if Hitler had one V-2 and one nuke, or perhaps a carrier pigeon and a test tube full of germs, and therefore he had the ability to lash out in a big way with his final breath, would he have done it? You damn right he would.

Well, the administration's Most Wanted List names thirty countries that have to be overthrown, each one with a leader that's going to be facing the same crisis the hour before his downfall. And once you get through that list of countries, there's another list of individuals the president's team wants killed or arrested. Each one of those carries the same crisis with his demise.

That combined list of fifty or so share a common hatred of us and Israel. Perhaps they don't have any big nasty weapons at their disposal now, but the president has promised us a war lasting on the order of decades. Sooner or later, when one of George W.'s evildoers goes down, some big city is going with him. P.S. Many of these countries share a border with China.

Even more frightening is the idea that these few dozen countries and entities might get together and decide that if there were no Israel, the U.S. wouldn't have any more reason to attack them.

Therefore, from Israel's point of view it's much better if the U.S. is on the sidelines. No sensible friend of Israel would want the U.S. bull in this China shop. For the Israelis to pearl the U.S. into their local anti-terror campaign amounts to a game of geopolitical Russian roulette.

Finally, such a conspiracy wouldn't stay secret long because it would require the cooperation of too many people with too many divergent agendas, and sooner or later, one will get angry enough at one of the others to leak the evidence to the press. Since exposure of such a conspiracy would result in the immediate end of the special relationship between Israel and the U.S., and since the end of that relationship would mean the end of Israel itself, any Arab journalist who could uncover such a conspiracy would be highly motivated to do so.

So that hypothetical conspiracy promises little, risks much, and is likely to be quickly exposed. It's a suicidal gambit, and I think they're smart enough to recognize it as such.

EVIDENCE LINKING THIS AND THAT

The administration says they have evidence linking Bin Laden to the WTC attacks. Well, if they had the kind of evidence that would have convicted O.J., it would be all over the papers, wouldn't it? Sure, we'd like to have a cancelled check for flying lessons with Bin Laden's signature on it, but apparently we don't. The evidence has been shared secretly with allies who have already signed on to the anti-terror campaign.

I'm not saying we shouldn't go after Al Quaid. Bin Laden has declared his intention to destroy us. He is unlikely to change his mind, so we've either got to destroy his stuff and kill and arrest him and his people or find some other way of keeping him from doing what he wants to do.

Even so, the rest of the world is likely to decide that the evidence points where the administration wants it to point, and that's to the next name on the administration's hit list. Everybody who's on that list knows he's on that list. They're not going to wait around until the next thing happens and the "evidence" points to them.

BRINGING THE EVILDOERS TO JUSTICE

President Bush has promised repeatedly that the "evildoers will be brought to justice." Hey, what about the "perfidious villains" and the "scurrilous knaves?"

People might still doubt that he's the real president, but there's no doubt about two things: He's writing his own material and he's a fan of the old Batman series.

LANGUAGE LANGUAGE

"Ground Zero" is the name for the point on the earth directly underneath an air-burst atomic explosion. It is inaccurate (thank goodness) to refer to lower Manhattan as ground zero.

TARGETED ASSASSANATIONS

Isn't it hypocritical for us to criticize Israel's campaign of assassinations when we're speciifically targetting Bin Laden?

Yes. But there is a significant difference in the two situations.

Bin Laden is not under the protection of American law. He's not a resident or a citizen and his rights are not protected by our government, as would be the case if he were living in the U.S. or an occupied territory like Guam or Puerto Rico. The Israelis are assassinating their own people, people living in land governed by them. It would be as if, back in the 1960's the U.S. sent Army hit squads and attack helicopters to kill the Black Panther leadership, which advocated violence in the furtherance of their political goals. The U.S. government is bound to respect the rights of suspects living within its borders more than suspects living in other countries. Their rights of due process should be guaranteed by those other governments. I've seen OBL in videos training with weapons and he's declared his intention to make war on us. That's good enough for me. Bin Laden is an actively hostile soldier supported and protected by the government of another country. That distinguishes him from an American citizen like McVeigh, whose rights the constitution protects.

By the way, I'd like you to notice that the Israeli campaign of targeted assassinations hasn't reduced terrorism in Israel.

The idea that one bullet can change history is unsupported. If Hitler had been killed in his beer hall days, one of the other Nazis would have become dictator and WWII would have been similar. Germany created Hitler, not the other way around. Remember early in his career he was backed by prominent industrialists. Had he been absent, they would have found somebody else who espoused their views.

Bin Laden is clever and influential and valuable to his organization and his cause, but he's not indespensable to Al Quaid. He got his supervillain evil genius status through a concerted, sustained and deliberate effort by the media, kind of the way Nicole Kidman became a movie star. Targeting him individually creates ethically touchy problems regarding our criticism of Israeli policies. Sending an expensive bomb and sending special missions to get one guy is distracting to our overall efforts, and success is in the end irrelevant. Any army has some smart cookies at the top; but if one general dies, a colonel moves up.

MAKING WAR ON THE TALIBAN, NOT ON THE PEOPLE OF AFGHANISTAN

This is a fine distinction from the spin doctors, but the civilian refugee is unlikely to think the distinction is valid. It's as absurd as the idea that the 9/11 attack was not against America, but against the Republican party.

VIETNAM OR NOT VIETNAM

NOT LIKE VIETNAM: Our military technology is miles ahead of what it was thirty years ago.

LIKE VIETNAM: Enemy soldiers look and dress just like civilians and can blend right in to indigenous populations.

NOT LIKE VIETNAM: We have the opportunity not to repeat mistakes made in that war.

LIKE VIETNAM: Rumsfeld has a businss background, as did Secretary of Defense MacNamara during the Vietnam War. So we can at least expect good stats and a strong balance sheet out of this war. Remember, though, that running a successful business means increased output, expanding demand, expanding production and consumption. In other words, a successfully run business makes more and more business. An ideal military campaign, conversely, puts itself out of business through success.

NOT LIKE VIETNAM: No jungle to hide in.

LIKE VIETNAM: The special war powers measure voted to President Bush smells just like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

NOT LIKE VIETNAM: Attacks against U.S. interests and forcees are not limited to one region.

LIKE VIETNAM: I heard Colin Powell in an interview respond to the question of when the campaign would be over, what were the goals and what constituted success. He replied that the war would end when we are all safe and there is no more terrorism in the world. That is tantamount to declaring that the war is not intended to end ever. Absolute safety is impossible. General Powell is the member of the administration with the most sense and the best developed ethic. I can't believe he came up with that himself.

NOT LIKE VIETNAM: Nixon was very smart. Bush is below average for a head of state.

LIKE VIETNAM: This war spills past all kinds of national borders, some of which we won't dare cross in pursuit.

NOT LIKE VIETNAM: There is no global superpower backing the other side.

LIKE VIETNAM: Our enemy can defeat us by merely existing. They don't have to win, they have to not lose. The ability to stage an attack, no matter how small, means that they have not yet lost. As long as they have not yet lost, our armies have to remain in the region, and that's eventually going to offend the natives and create more enemies for us. The moderate elements in coalition countries are tolerating us now, but the longer we hang around, the more likely we will be to make ourselves unwelcome.

We have to maintain at great cost a large high-tech army in the field 24-7. All they have to do is stage a couple of attacks a year to keep our expensive military machine wound up.

NOT LIKE VIETNAM:

LIKE VIETNAM: Lots of secret ancillary campaigns.

11/7/2001

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