The Dartmouth Observer
Tuesday, August 27, 2002
Stopping the Terror
I have eagerly awaited a reply to my perhaps overly partisan criticism of the execution of our current war, and now I have been offered a competent one by Frank Webb. However competent, I do not feel that it significantly addresses the problems our nation has encountered in its prosecution of this war effort.
First, while I will not deny that any information we can get from captured al Qaeda may be useful - even if there is no information to be gleaned, while these individuals are under duress, they will not be terrorizing anyone - I have a great deal of skepticism as to the usefulness of this information. Until I am shown otherwise, I have a strong inclination to believe that the knowledge of these individuals in "common patterns of assualt [sic], attack and organization at the lower level of Al-Qaeda" is not worth as much as those celebrating their capture would have us believe. I would posit that it is precisely the ineptness of these individuals that allowed them to be captured, especially since we know many Qaeda supporters successfully slunk away from our onslaught. Many of the people that went to Afghanistan in support of their Muslim brothers would be of as much intelligence value - from any standpoint - as I would be were I to drive to Canada to help resist an onslaught of Quebecois.
Frankly, I blame the escape of any of these individuals on our ineptness. Here I would make the substantive criticism that the decision to put as few American lives at risk as possible, in this case, was not good calculus. Unlike the spectre of Somalia - or even that of Vietnam - which I am sure was raised in the minds of our military establishment, this battle had the overwhelming support of the American people, and even the world. It is in an environment such as this, when our nation is willing to sustain significant casualties without demoralization, that we should utilize techniques that provide us greater gains, albeit with greater risk. Our troops should've been on the ground at the forefront of the early operations to scour the wilds of Afghanistan. We must remember that we have a volunteer army of professionals whose job is to fight. They are not afraid to suffer casualties; politicians are. The soldiers that were removed from Somalia because of political pressure have said time and again they would've preferred to finish the battle. The loss of their colleagues demoralized the American people moreso than the military. In Afghanistan, the morale capital was present in the American people, but we failed to utilize it at the time. I think it is fair to fault the administration for this, especially since it now seems willing to commit a large number of ground forces to a war with less immediate support from the American people (even in the face of the best argument otherwise) as the front in Afghanistan.
Webb moves on to say that we have no need to fret about the intelligence community, since it is the job of the relevant House and Senate oversight committees to do so. While I agree with Frank that press release of the procedings of these hearings is probably not a good thing, having personally attended post-September 11 hearings on the Hill as regards, for one, the failing (by all accounts) Transportation Security Administration, or, in another instance, observing the testimony of Robert Mueller III as regards his agency's failure to respond appropriately to Colleen Rowley's memorandum, I am convinced that Congress is unable to micromanage when is necessary. While I do not advocate micromanagement in general, there is a problem when Congress mandates a deadline, and the administrator responsible for running the agency meant to meet said deadline immediately begins to offer excuses. Deadline passes, nothing happens. What was the point of setting the deadline in the first place? These are the bureaucrats that need a serious fire lit under their asses by both Congress and the White House, and the latter's failure to light said fire is what I referred to when I lamented this administration's lack of real leadership and clarity - something they claim to have in abundance. By all accounts, as regards the intelligence community, there is a large problem with the sharing of information, and the structure necessary to force such resource pooling will be implemented from outside these agencies. This is the criticism I will make of our intelligence apparati. While I agree with Frank Webb that "the individuals of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and the collective Armed forces are all trying to save american [sic] lives," the institutions in which they are employed govern the methods in which they go about exercising their intentions. While the code-breakers and analysts at the NSA may have the best intentions when they gather communications, if the institution for which they work fails to pass the relevant information on to the CIA, or the CIA, in a turf dispute, fails to pass the information on to the FBI, the institutions need to be meaningfully held accountable. The process in which they are held accountable is at least on behalf of the public, and it is my honest assessment that sufficient action has not been taken to do so. Again, this is a failure of the leadership to direct efforts, not the men and women who sincerely do their best to protect our nation. Notice I am not even claiming Bush has bad intentions; I am not making a partisan criticism here. I am claiming, regardless of its intentions, this administration is failing to provide the leadership and clarity it promised in the situation where it is most urgently needed.
I find an easy error in Webb's "answer" to my question. While he notes that "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 [sic] and finally the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. Since the start of the 'war on terror,' there has been no major attack..." Well, Frank, this war has been underway since what...November? Think about the amount of time that elapsed between the events of which you speak. The fact that there has been no attack since we begun our work in Afghanistan is statistically insignificant. Furthermore, I agree with you on the "problem" at hand. However, I have not seen convincing evidence - and, imagining your reply will be that much is going on "behind the scenes," respond that I am dubious of this when we seem to be committing our resources elsewhere.
Frank Webb suggests that I will not be satisfied with the destruction of the terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan and the capture of a few hundred peons and one higher echelon foe. He's right. However, his suggestion that I am a modern day Neville Chamberlain, as I hope you've seen by my criticisms here, is exactly wrong. I don't want to see the troops abroad brought back home, I want a stronger commitment of said resources. I want them deployed against terrorists hiding within the boundaries of our "allies" in the Middle East, clandestinely and unilaterally. Instead, we are choosing a unilateral approach against Iraq, where we could attempt a UN supported action if we work correctly through diplomatic channels, and took a multilateral approach where we could've acted more significantly if we worked unilaterally and immediately. My solution is more strength and leadership, not fluffly uber-Leftist rhetoric. I don't want to "understand" the terrorists. I want to see them defeated. That's the bottom line, and I will remain observant and critical of our attempts to do so in order to provide constructive criticism until we succeed, lest our government become complacent in fighting to ensure that success.