Monday, September 04, 2006

A bit of a shock

I'm not normally home at this hour (which is why I'm not writing frequently), but today is an exception. And when I loaded up the Washington Post, I discovered some shocking news:

Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter, is dead.

I can't believe it. I thought that guy was invincible. Or at least, I thought he would get eaten by a croc or poisoned by a snake. Instead, it's a freak accident. Terrible. Nature shows will not be the same.

I am saddened.


At any rate, I've been quite busy since last I posted and events have clearly outpaced my ability to comment. There's a lot of political stuff going on at home and abroad, but the one I want to comment about is terrorism.

A week from today is the 5-year anniversary of 9/11. This date raises many issues, but mostly, are we any safer today than we were on September 10, 2001. I think the answer to that is a resounding no. I was discussing this issue with my wife and her brothers yesterday and the point they continually emphasized (which is logical given their experience of growing up here in Colombia) is that you can't beat terrorism with security. If they want to hurt you, they'll find away.

When you think about it, no truth has ever been as self-evident. For as much money and attention we spend on the airlines, the subways are undefensible. International ports have porous security at best. And hundreds of thousands of public places all across the US are distinctly vulnerable (Mall of America, anyone?). We simply don't have the security level they have here in Bogota (bomb smelling dogs, vehicle checks, security to enter all buildings including shopping malls, military checkpoints, etc) and even with the extreme security in Bogota, it's still not enough to stop terror. How can we possibly imagine that we are "secure"?

Beyond that however, I feel we are dangerously more vulnerable for two reasons:

1. We didn't finish the job in Afghanistan. By all reports, we had Al Queda on the run. We disrupted their operations, the world was sympathetic to our position, and while not finished, Al Queda was essentially rendered useless (See the CNN Amapour documentary playing now for more on this. It's actually quite good.) But, we didn't continue to focus on Afghanistan. Instead of having US/Brit soldiers do the job, we trusted warlords. Bin Laden escaped, Al Queda regrouped, and now, four years later, the Taliban is a significant force in the country again. In short, we blew it because we didn't have sufficient troops on the ground and we shifted our focus too quickly to ensure success.

2. Iraq, however, was an even greater mistake. There are many fine reasons why we shouldn't have gone into Iraq, but now, in retrospect, it seems clear that terrorism was the greatest reason. Where Afghanistan left Al Queda in shambles, Iraq was the resurrection. To many people in the world, the US invasion of Iraq (seen as unprovoked aggression) was telling evidence of a Western conspiracy to dominate the oil rich, developing world. Whether their perspective was correct or not is not the issue. What is the issue is that clearly the US invasion of Iraq played a critical role in reorganizing Al Queda. Support was up, recruits were up, and money rolled in, and internal criticism died down. In fact, it could be argued that invading Iraq was the best thing Bush could have done for Al Queda since it spread US forces thin, shifted global opinion, and provided a new base for Al Queda operations and training.

Mission Accomplished, George!

Now, five years after 9/11, one year after London, and two years after Madrid, the world stands once again on the precipice of terrorism. The warning issued on Saturday should not be ignored. The specific internal Al Queda criticism of 9/11 was twofold. First, while 9/11 was a tactical success, it was a strategic failure. The subsequent invasion of Afghanistan decimated the organization's logistics, communications, and training. But, more pressing, Bin Laden was specifically criticized for not giving the "heathens a chance to convert" or warning them of an impending attack - both of which are specific requirements prior to launching jihad, according to the Koran.

Well now, five years later, it is chilling to know that and to see a such a warning a week before the anniversary of 9/11. The spin on this story seems to be, don't worry, it's not a warning, it's an attempt to change Al Queda's image in the US. But I'm not buying that.

For a variety of reasons, I actually think that spin is either downright stupid, or intentional disinformation. Now, I'm not interested in being a scare monger like the current administration (although I'll upgrade the probability of me using profanity to Alert Status Red), I do think that the Western media should not be so trusting of Islamic media. Obviously I can't accuse anyone of anything, but it does occur to me that the Arab media are either a) too close to the situation to be objective (they want exclusives, sources, etc.) or b) directly complicit with the large bulk of terrorism that is ongoing in the world.

But not only is it self-evidently stupid to placidly follow the "opinions" of Arab media on this issue, it's also self-evidently stupid to think that Al Queda is niave enough to believe that "softening it's image" could help it recruit more Americans. It doesn't matter whether they are perceived as a religious movement or not - the point is, they use violence to accomplish their goals. You'd have to be a blithering idiot to be fooled by a suddenly "softer" Al Queda, especially when there are THOUSANDS of other Islamic "religious" movements that you could join that AREN'T on the world's most wanted list. Face it - joining Al Queda is an active choice to terminate your own life. Anybody who signs up knows EXACTLY what they're getting into - softer image or not. There are 3,000 dead Americans that will testify to this.

For these reasons, it is my belief that world should emotionally prepare itself for new terrorism on US soil. I have no idea when or if this will occur. But my gut says that with a reconstituted Al Queda that has a love for symbolism, 9/11/2006 is a pretty fair guess for a return of terrorist "shock and awe". If it does happen again, what will George do this time?


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