Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: It's Come to This

Thursday, August 17, 2006

It's Come to This

Yow, I wasn't prepared to be up this late at all! Although the first show of Busting Out was Tuesday night, Wednesday night was the big opening party. There were lots of friends there, and I thank everybody for coming out (and I apologize that I didn't get to talk to you longer).

I'd planned to write a big, expressive piece about how I can't believe I now agree with George Will. I didn't have a blog at the time, so you'll have to take my word for it, but I've always believed that September 11 and other terrorist activity should be the jurisdiction of law enforcement. Sometimes an army might be necessary, but our terrorist goal should be to get our man, not to destroy the Middle East enough that its residents finally see the light and adopt Jeffersonian democracy. And that's apparently what George Will believes, too.

As I said, I'd planned to write a fair bit about the implications of Will's column and how it's essentially a complete repudiation of Bush policies, but it's late enough that I'm doing well to just avoid and/or correct the typos I'm making. So I'm just going to quote him quickly and go to bed. Read the whole thing.

Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror." In a candidates' debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

Good night.


At 4:54 PM, August 17, 2006, Blogger Peter Collinson said...

The "debate" you've weighed in on reminds me of nothing so much as the fable that tells of how the communist Chinese dealt with their drug problem.

The story goes something like this . . . They rounded up all of their drug dealers and shot them while rounding up all of their addicts to put them in treatment programs. Now, I don't know how much truth there is to that tale, but it's a perfect illustration of the brand of thinking in action that is sadly absent from the status quo political landscape of the U.S.

Too many people on the Right won't understand that killing the dealers won't effect demand and too many on the Left won't understand that hospitalizing all the addicts won't effect supply. The simple truth is that both sides (or rather all sides) of the equation are required to attack the threat of Transnational Jihad. Which is to say that now is not the time to put any of tools back in the box.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not advocating no-warrant wiretaps or anything. I'm only pointing out that a) a fairly sizable number of those tools are either broken or ill-equipped for certain tasks

. . . For instance; on the law enforcement side, DEA and ATF are doctrinally equipped for anti-terrorist activity (a reliance on field work, human intel, undercover work, area and language expertise) the FBI is by contrast woefully ill-suited to such tasks and b) there doesn't seem to be either a diplomatic or law-enforcement answer to terrorist breeding international crises like Afghanistan was, Somalia is and Darfur seems likely to become.

I guess my point here is that at the moment we don't have the luxury of holstering any guns. More importantly, while both George Will's point, and your agreement it, are well taken, the logic seems to descend from Kissinger-esque RealPolitik and isn't that what got us into this mess in the first place? I know we both agree that neo-conservative-think exacerbated the situation, but didn't Kissinger-think lay the groundwork for this contagion, didn't Brzezinski-think ignore it while it metastasized? Doesn't that mean it's time for us to approach these issues through the lens of a new paradigm?

At 10:27 PM, August 17, 2006, Anonymous Doug said...

At this point, we are holstering our law enforcement and diplomacy guns. All we're using is the sledgehammer of the military, and after smashing things up in Afghanistan for a little while, we even moved that to the wrong place. I'm not saying we should never use the military, but we should only use it when and where it's appropriate.

You're going to have to expand on your point about Realpolitick. While I agree that such policies allowed current-day terrorist networks to develop, I'm not sure the argument that we should use appropriate methods to combat those networks adds up to the same thing.

At 2:07 AM, August 18, 2006, Blogger Peter Collinson said...

You're right; law enforcement has been sidelined for the so-called war on terror. We should be relying on it more. But, the question to answer given the state of things isn't "what should we do," or even "how should we do it," it's "what can we do?" By which I mean to both stipulate your point and ask which law enforcement agency you had in mind.

The FBI is just plain not up to the job (neither is the CIA for that matter). The GAO's latest report on our readiness for anti-terror activities really made me appreciate the NSA.

Relying on law enforcement is a fine idea, but in practice it would require 3 to 4 years, immediately extending the jurisdictions and increasing the funding of DS, DEA and ATF while simultaneously gutting and re-orienting the CIA, the FBI and probably the State Department for good measure.

Only no one seems to be talking about doing that, so a policy that presumes otherwise strikes me as irresponsible. All of which just means that while I agree in principle, (and even though I suspect I have a slightly lower send in marines threshold) I feel that Will's argument is accurate but that it puts the cart before the horse.

At 2:08 AM, August 18, 2006, Blogger Peter Collinson said...

. . . . RealPolitik will have to wait for daylight.

At 8:08 AM, August 18, 2006, Anonymous Ron said...

The modern military is an expression of State power, and has proven effective in maintaining and expanding that power in struggles with both disorganized mobs and other organized States. However, the military as currently structured, has proven darn ineffective in countering that modern phenomenon, “the network.”

Networks like the Viet Cong, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, etc., not only survive State military power, they actually feed off it.

The argument between those who claim the answer to the al Qaeda challenge is law enforcement verses those who believe the answer is military force may be moot since both law enforcement and the military as currently structured are expressions of an old paradigm.

I personally strongly lean toward the law enforcement angle, but that’s because I believe that structure can evolve more rapidly than the military.

The twisted logic behind the Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq is that they actually believed they could create a “new model” state in the Middle East that would prove more attractive to the “man on the street” than “the network.” In some ways it’s the strategy behind everything they do. In their 60s-soaked minds, dirty hippies, women’s libbers, and democracy in general have created anarchy by undermining State (and parental) authority and calling into question the defining myths of the Christian republic. The reactionary response, as always, is to apply ever-increasing force to maintain the status quo.

What a friggin’ waste of time, money, and lives.

The fact is, you don’t need a studio to make a movie, and you don’t need a state to make a war. The jet engine and AIM now allow like minds of every stripe to form self-reinforcing cliques. Our “world party” will now forever breed a few stateless ideological cells committed to gaining fame and soothing their challenged male egos through acts of violence. Effective management of this problem will only come through an evolving law enforcement strategy, not by spending trillions of dollars and thousands of lives in a silly and futile attempt to reconstitute the State.

At 9:09 PM, August 18, 2006, Anonymous Doug said...

It's great to want to look at things from a new perspective, to shine a new light on them, to squint at them from a new angle, but calling for an unidentified "new paradigm" is one of the easiest things to do in the world, it essentially gets us nowhere. It's fruitless to start arguing about how we should adjust the ATF budget if we can't even agree whether or not the ATF should be used in the first place.

International law enforcement has been neutered on the terrorist front because the powers that be (i.e. the neocons) have decided that they didn't want it, that it would get in their way. How could they push the meme of Mohammed Atta meeting an Iraqi official in Prague if intelligence sources can show it never happened? What good are CIA agents if they doubt Saddam had WMDs? We need to shift our philosophy back toward an appreciation of international law enforcement and the finesse and subtlety such agencies can offer before we can move on to the details of policy.

Richard Clarke's been talking about it intelligence and law enforcement against terrorism all along. John Kerry started to talk about this in his presidential campaign until the Bushies jumped all over it and scared him away from the issue. Lawrence Wright talks about how law enforcement could've prevented 9/11 in his new book, The Looming Tower. The conversation's out there. It's irresponsible not to talk about it.

At 11:44 PM, August 18, 2006, Blogger Peter Collinson said...

You're arguing a point I've already conceded.

Using the FBI is a great idea, I'm for it, I love it, but the simple fact of the matter is that according to Richard, Clarke, The 911 Commissioners, The GAO and the FBI itself the FBI as an institution is, as pointed out above, both doctrinally and physically ill-equipped to deal with transnational terrorist threats.

Meaning that on top of being somewhat under-funded these days and not having been handed the ball, so-to-speak, by those neocons you mentioned, the FBI neither pursues investigations nor staffs-itself in a way that treats anti-terror work differently than anti-mob work.

Clarke argued that the FBI should have been dramatically re-oriented and set loose, emphasis on "dramatically re-oriented." Since it hasn't been, asking the FBI to take the lead now, would be exactly like asking a receiver with a broken leg to go long.

Any Federal Law Enforcement Agency built the way New York's anti-terror unit is could have prevented 9/11, that's true. But, that avoids the whole part where New York had to get advice from MI5 because the FBI was to incompetent to give it and had been since before the neocons took over in DC. And yes, Kerry did talk about Law Enforcement.

But, doesn't the fact that he backed down so easily indicate that he would have lacked the wherewithal to break the FBI over his knee and rebuild half of it along the lines of MI5? (Which was, I should note, John Edwards stated position right up until he became a running mate.)

By the way, I get it. Bush and Co are evil and all evil in the world is born of their rancid flesh. I'm a liberal democrat, though not a pacifist, remember? Doesn't that mean that the problems at "their" FBI are probably worse than those alluded to above?

At 3:53 AM, August 19, 2006, Anonymous Doug said...

You're trying to set up an argument that I'm not making. My point is that we should stop putting our entire terrorism-fighting strategy into a military response. You apparently agree with that. While I believe more and more people are coming to agree with that philosophy, I don't think anyone in a position to do anything about it has started paying attention, so that should be where the struggle is focused for the time being.

Once we have enough agreement that we want to shift our strategy more toward law enforcement and intelligence activities, then we have to figure out how we can start making that a reality. I'm not a law-enforcement expert, and I've made no detailed study of the problem, and I'm hardly qualified to start spouting about details. Other than a vague sense that we should listen to Richard Clarke and on the subject, I've got no specifics.

To demand those details at this point, as you're doing, does little more than diffuse the discussion. If we can't address the issue without offering chapter and verse of a complete solution, the net effect is to sit with our arms folded and watch our forces get mired further and further into the mess of Iraq. That's no longer acceptable.

At 8:35 AM, August 19, 2006, Anonymous Ron said...

We don’t need a “new paradigm” as much as we need to stop pining for the old one. Bush/Cheney etc and so forth are American imperialists in the grand TR turn-of-the-twentieth century style, and all their groupies are guys hoping against hope that they’ll be able to muscle the world back to a time when the orders of dominance were clear and unarguable: frat boys trump faggots, men trump women, white trumps brown, “adult races” trump “child races,” the United States trumps everybody.

Bush gives it away whenever he talks about how he, unlike all us stupid liberals, “believes brown skin people do want freedom.” The man is steeped in a culture of clear and comforting hierarchies, and he firmly believes that if he and his comrades can control the system long enough, the natural order will be put right.

It’s the same story that has been told over and over for the last 150 years or so: whoever is on top is on top because nature intended it; they won the “survival of the fittest” battle. But at the same time they are growing weak due to constant assaults by "lesser peoples" and the lack of will (or self-loathing) on the part of fellow class/race members to do what it takes to maintain continued progress and the “natural order.”

What’s this got to do with this tread?

Only this, our military response to the challenge of terrorism is built on a meaningless premise. There is no natural order or natural political progress. And we are not going to be able to restore the illusion of such ever again. We have only two choices, accept that we no longer have a monopoly on power and learn to live with a certain degree of uncertainty, or exhaust our resources in a holy civil war in a vain attempt to prove our manhood and righteousness and then disappear in a puff.

Which path would you say we are on today?


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