The Dartmouth Observer
Tuesday, August 27, 2002
Like No Other
Jonathan Eisenman asked what concrete gains we've made in the war on Terrorism? The problem with this question is that this war has more in common with policing organized crime syndicates than any sort of conventional battle. Before I make my attempt to answer Eisenman's question, allow me to address his pre-emptive responses to the conservative reply.
After accurately describing in the inherent problems with trying to deal with Al-Qaeda's decentralized operatives in his first point, Eisenman's second point is to question the value of the information being learned from those members of Al-Qaeda we have detained in Cuba. What may be learned from these "independent footsoldiers" may not be Al-Qaeda's specific future plans, nor grand strategy, but that does not mean the information being gleaned is not valuable. Insights into common patterns of assualt, attack and organization at the lower levels of Al-Qaeda have their worth. Most importantly, the value of any information about the enemy during war has been a lesson learned by commanders since the Ancient War-Lord ravaged days of East Asia. Skepticism about the value of intel is probably the most foolish thing generals have done.
Beyond that, I find it almost laughable for undergraduates such as myself and Eisenman and even D.C. pundits to argue over these intelligence matters since we obviously do not have access to what information is being gathered. How can we judge the value of what is being learned or the cost of that information? Should we simply trust the intelligence community? We don't have to; they answer to committees of both the House and Senate. This is the check offered by the Legislature on the Executive. As shocking as it might be, we don't need the press in on this one since keeping secrets isn't exactly their job.
As to Eisenman's last point, I'll agree that it wasn't a failure of airport security. It was complacency by our culture. The "ok, ok, just don't hurt me" response. Though this may tempt some to blame it on the "feminization" of our culture, I will not be so niave nor un-insightful. The issue rests with our abandoning of our earlier values of independence and a "self-policing" citizenry, which we replaced with faith in the government or rather the belief that the solution to societies problems lies in the federal cofers. (This does bring us back to the spirit if not the letter of the Second Amendment, namely volunteerism in a militia draws its rationale from self-reliance, though I can hear the obligitory groans comming from the "progressives") Americans had, until Sept. 11, been recently taught to conceed to demands in exchange for their safety. Well, it turns out the terrorists weren't and will not be negotiating. Will you or I have the courage to stop an attacker or just watch? I know I will find it difficult to find the resolve, though I may have it if the time comes....but maybe I won't have to. There are a growing number of armed air-marshalls flying on planes, unbeknownst to any but the crew; watching and waiting for the first to try it again. On my flight up to homecoming this past fall I sat and chatted next to a FBI agent carrying a firearm. I felt safer, but I would feel much safer knowing I lived in a country were people are not afraid to risk personal injury to help others and themselves rather than wait for the government to come to the rescue. On I side/personal note, I am tired about hearing Sept. 11 referred to as a tragedy. The Titanic's sinking and the 1906 San Fransisco earthquake were tragedies. The events of September 11 were an attack and an act of war, one no less brutal nor less significant than the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942. That a nation-state was not the perpetrator is irrelevant. Technology has made it possible for organizations and individuals to wage war on this and other nation-states. The national and international laws governing war will have to catch up to the technology and methods.
As to the plethora of other scenarios Eisenman can think of outside of airplane hijakings, it is clearly important to close the gap we were attacked through most recently and most severely, but I would be dissappointed and perhaps shocked to learn that the think tanks at Langely, the War Colleges, et al aren't sitting around thinking about other threats that need to be addressed. After all, that is their job. As Eisenman pointed out so well, Tom Clancy perceived of these sort of attacks years ago. He probably isn't alone, least of all in government buildings where they're paid to be paranoid about everyone and everything.
The flaws of the administration are easy to point out. After a few stellar days, the administration lacks any vision and a powerful voice. (But do we need the micro-managment of the previous administration when fighting such an elusive foe? perhaps for another discussion) However, lost in the ease with which everyone throws slime at GW, one forgets that the individuals of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and the collective Armed forces are all trying to save american lives. That is their priority, they are not some plot to get the President everyone loathes so much re-elected and they do it without press to bother them, just the lives of their loved ones to remind them for whom they work.
Lastly, I will try to answer Eisenman's question. In the recent memory preceeding the start of the "war on terror", there were countless embassy bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, the attempted van bombings of the World Trade Center, many other less memorable airplane hijakings and finally the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. Since the start of the "war on terror", there has been no major attack, nor a major loss of American lives and only a few prevented, though at times bumbling, attempts. The problem is the very framework involved with wars of the past and this one. Is there territory to take? An invader to repulse? Heavy industry to destroy? A government to surrender and sign a peace treaty? The answers are all no.
The concrete gains are hard to find, though the casualties of civil liberties are easier to point out. The latter is, sadly, not new. (But is it avoidable? This is linked to the intelligence/security question, making it hard for outsiders to have credible opinions) Perhaps Eisenman can be satisfied with the capture of "enemy troops" (the detained Al-Qaeda operatives), the destroyed "heavy industry" (terrorist training camps and makeshift weapons shops), and the "invaders" being repulsed (illegal immigrants linked to terrorist groups deported). My suspicion is that Eisenman will not be satisfied, but perhaps he does not want to be. Seeing the civil rights restored to the many detained individuals and the troops abroad brought back will not make us any safer, nor will the invisible hundreds of terrorists plotting more attacks simply disband. Ignoring those who seek to do us harm is not an option and they will not be appeased. We are facing a foe without limit to their demands. Appeasement was the wrong strategy for Chamberlain to use with Germany. Likewise, it will fail against these terrorists. Engagement has been offered by the current administration (a long with the conveniently forgotten massive food air-drops). Anybody else willing to offer a solution to the hundreds of hidden terrorists who will not stop until you and I are dead?