Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Food for Thought

This article (it's 7 pages long) by James Fallows in the Atlantic Monthly is almost a year old, but there's a lot of food for thought in it. It's an assessment of how the first five post-9/11 years have looked from al-Qaeda's perspective, based on interviews with a lot of people considered "experts" on the situation.

I don't know what an expert on the Global War on Terror is, but I know I'm not one, so I really can't say if the assessments in the article are true or not. But they make a fair amount of good sense to me. Basically what he says is that things haven't been going too well for al-Qaeda, but what has gone well for them has been due to America's mistakes.

There are a lot of other points in the article, too, both big and small, and it's worth reading. What I'm really not sold on, though, is the conclusion he makes in the last couple of pages, that the U.S. should basically "declare victory" on terrorism while still recognizing that it's out there. It has the distinct smell of "Mission Accomplished" to me, and, of course, if a big bomb were to explode the next day, well, how would that look? Also, of course, Osama bin Laden is still at large.

Come to think of it, though, what exactly is the exit strategy on the Global War on Terror? We've had enough trouble coming up with measurable objectives, much less meeting them, in Iraq. How do we declare that we're back in the pre-9/11 era and everybody can let their guard down again? I don't know if we ever can. But what can we do, and when?

One thing the article touches on is that there are the things we're doing that are making a difference --- like monitoring international bank transactions --- and there are things that are basically for show. Are both necessary? I've been flying a lot lately, and I have mixed feelings about the airport security. I've accidentally brought hair gel onto a plane, for example, and it wasn't detected. But it does seem like it would at least take some effort to bring weapons onto a plane; you can't just stroll on with a box cutter, the door to the cockpit is reinforced, and post-Flight 93 passengers aren't going to be so compliant with hijackers anymore.


At Wednesday, July 18, 2007 at 6:41:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Erich Schneider said...

Over years I have repeatedly wondered if any of the administration's top people have read 1984. The fact that there is no obvious point at which we can say "the War On Terror is over" makes it look a lot like 1984's eternal war that justifies any and all of the measures of the Big Brother regime.

At Friday, July 20, 2007 at 4:23:00 PM PDT, Blogger Theodore said...

Most (all?) of the capital-W Wars on Something are bad ideas, whether it's the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, or the War on Poverty. Terrorism, drug abuse, and poverty are chronic ills; there's no way to ever definitively eradicate them for good, at least not anytime soon. But we usually assume capital-W Wars end; World War II ended, even the Hundred Years War finally ended.

But, Erich's right in that once you declare a War on Something, you can't ever be seen to stop: hence, we've got the War on Terror meaning near strip-searches at airports, and the War on Poverty still being used (if not by name) as a Democratic excuse to do really dumb things to the economy.

As an airline security note: I was shocked at how little screening I went through at Fiumicino two weeks ago. I boarded a Very Large Aircraft bound for Newark without having my shoes X-rayed, etc., etc.

At Tuesday, July 24, 2007 at 12:26:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Victor said...

Come to think of it, though, what exactly is the exit strategy on the Global War on Terror?

The very fact of asking that question is exactly the problem. The very term "exit strategy" means because you've already lost the fight by declaring that your goal is for it to be over ("exit") rather than to achieve your aims ("victory").

I agree with the previous commenters that "War on X" where X is not a sovereign (Iraq, Germany, Yugoslavia) or quasi-sovereign (Al Qaeda, the Barbary pirates) entity, is a poor way to describe social policy. It is downright rhetorical obscurantism when applied to social phenonema like "poverty" or "drugs" or "homelessness" (and thus can never be seen as stopping. "Terrorism" may be a tactic, so "war on terrorism" may be a bit dicey, but at least it is actually a tactic of war, pursued by definable entities, and the result of human agency (including in some cases sovereign states).


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