The Dartmouth Observer

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Monday, August 26, 2002
America's Failure to Gain Ground in the "War on Terror"

Would someone please lay out for me the concrete gains we've made in the war on terrorism?
While I wait for a response, let me go ahead and inveigh against what I anticipate to be the conservative cheerleader reply.

1. We have disrupted al Qaeda's ability to organize and communicate.

Really? Then how come we are still intercepting "chatter?" For that matter, if we can intercept it, how come we can't track it and arrest the elusive terrorists? Or, if we assume that there was some small amount of contact between al Qaeda members around the world with their "home base" in Afghanistan, then haven't we made it harder to track them by laying waste to their base? Of course, it's wishful thinking to imagine that they needed to make contact with higher-ups in order to have spending appropriated for buying box cutters.

2. We have gained intelligence from capturing "terrorists" and holding them in Cuba.

While I admit putting the "enemy combatants" in Cuba was probably the wittiest thing the Bush administration has done (No other country wants them...we don't want them...solution: put them in another country in such a way that the other country has no say - and that rhymes, easy for Bush to remember), I wonder how much useful information they've gleaned from these people. If a private in our infantry were captured, do you think he could divulge the grand strategy for Mr. Bush's War? Then why does our administration think it plausible that Joe bin Bloggs al-Talib knows what al Qaeda's plans are? Sometimes I wonder if the administration actually believes half the things it says, or if it is making truth of its facile hypotheses by foisting them on the public and riling up such fervor that they become "true" - at least until we get another little wake up call in the form of a few hundred people twitching like that cute white dog in the CNN video. As for the capture of Abu Zubaydah, great, one out of who knows how many. Oh, and maybe we killed another important guy in the bombing. Who knows. But meanwhile...

3. The United States has strengthened its "homeland security" since September 11.

Perhaps, but have we strengthened it in a meaningful way, or are we merely making our skies more secure against acidic breast milk? Does forcing a woman to drink from two bottles of her expressed breast milk to show that it is not really some secret milk-based explosive really make us any more secure? There is a fallacy floating around that September 11 was caused by a massive failure of airport security. Wrong. The reason that such items as box cutters were allowed upon commercial airlines is that they were not deemed to be a great enough hazard to the successful completion of the flight. I would surmise that someone figured that if a few guys with small blades stood up, they would be quickly overpowered by passengers. Correct. So why didn't this happen on September 11? The one minor detail that everyone forgets. A guy stands up after the flight attendants have been knifed and says "Hey, I have a bomb, don't resist." No one resists. Plane crashes into building. The use of a weapon as simple as a box cutter does not represent some brilliant tactic, as the offal being spewed by pundits suggests. This attack was no stroke of genius. It represents someone reading a Tom Clancy novel (yes, he thought of the same sort of attack years earlier) and basically combining that strategy with the tactic of yelling "Fire!" in a theater (replace "fire" with "bomb" and "theater" with "plane"). Bada bing, bada boom. Can this happen again? Well, people can still scream "bomb" on a plane. What will happen then? While perhaps unlikely, it is certainly possible that we would shoot down the plane if the terrorist was convincing enough (or actually did have a bomb and intend to pull more September 11 hijinks). Boom, they just killed a few hundred more people. Correction: we would've killed them.

I can think of hundreds of scenarios, not involving airplanes, in which terrorists could easily wreak havok on our country, and yet only the most "outdated" ideas are even being considered when we plan defensive measures. Even worse, in implementing plans to counter these outdated schemes, the government has acted in a fashion that leads me to believe that even when they consider this to be a time of crisis, bureaucrats and/in the Executive Branch are woefully inept at quickly implementing security measures, and still have the chutzpah to pass the buck (evidence: "bomb sniffers" in airports) when they can't implement Congressional mandates. Meanwhile, pundits have been mulling over the idea that weaponry could easily be transported in via the ubiquitous shipping container, yet the government and the media (through polls only directed at answering the following) are trying to lead people to believe that the nation is becoming more secure because nuns are frisked at airports. We need strong leadership in the agencies and administration working synergistically here, but the agencies are unwilling to do so on their own - they are unwilling to streamline, and the administration is unwilling to go "all the way" in making them do so. Oy vey.

Has the world really changed since September 11? Mostly A) in the minds of insular Americans or B) in the minds of our administration (subset of A). September 11, while certainly tragic, has become merely a foregone opportunity for real change and a magical password for allowing this administration to do things that are, at best, revelations of impotence, and at worst betrayals of the trust of the American people and the good will of the world.