Thursday, August 10, 2006

On Terrorism and Security

MSNBC's First Read this evening discussed the Republican strategy for using the Lamont victory in the Connecticut Democratic Primary and the announcement this morning from England that they thwarted a plan to blow up an estimated 10 airplanes flying from England to the United States some time next week.

According to the report, the Bush Administration hopes to use these events to convey a message that we are safer under Republican rule than we would be under the "cut and run" Democrats.

It’s a message that sounds something like, “Give us political power and you will live. Give political power to the Democrats, and you will surely die.”

Mark Murray, the author of the entry, wrote (quoting an unnamed senior Administration official):

The official [said], "So if you have Lamont Democrats who say, 'Bring'em home, turn away, and it will be all over,' the American people say, 'You're kidding yourself. We're in a war and the only way you walk away from a war is as a victor, defeating the enemy.'" (Of course, that begs these questions: How, exactly, do you win the war on terror? And just who, exactly, is the enemy?

Murray’s questions in this quote deserve more than a parenthetical reference.

The nameless Administration official seems to be hoping that we will think of this ‘war on terror’ as we would think of World War II. That was certainly a war in which we faced a simple choice – to win, or to be defeated. The consequences of walking away from World War II would have certainly been disastrous, and any who would have suggested it could be reasonably and rationally condemned.

However, World War II had another feature that the current conflict does not have. We can expose that feature by asking, “What event can we hope for that would be the ‘war on terror’ equivalent of VE (Victory in Europe) Day or VJ (Victory over Japan) Day?

In World War II our enemy had a leader and a chain of command. The goal was to get those where at the top of that chain of command to announce, “From this day on, we will fight no more.” When we accomplished this, the war was won, and everybody could go home. Civil liberties and other restrictions once enacted during a temporary emergency could be restored.

The Bush Administration appears to be struggling for such an end in the ‘war on terror’ – the day when the enemy surrenders and they can claim, “Mission Accomplished.”

That goal is not out there.

I am not saying that America lacks the will or the power to achieve this goal. I am saying that the goal does not exist. The Bush Administration has staked its victory on the functional equivalent of discovering a round square.

Because this end state cannot exist, and we cannot obtain that which cannot exist, those with a healthy respect for reality will recognize that we have two options.

(1) An Endless Quest that will require an endless sacrifice of life, health, liberty, and property.

(2) The wisdom to reach for a real-world goal.

The 'war on terrorism' will be won the day that no human thinks that it is a good idea to kill large numbers of his fellow human beings and/or the institutions that they value for some personal goal. Properly understood, the ‘enemy’ is not limited to Al-Queida. It includes the Unibomber, Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols responsible for the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who tried to kill their classmates at Columbine High School Massacre, John Wilkes Booth, Leon Czolgosz (who assassinated President McKinley in 1901), those responsible for the Wall Street Bombing of 1920, a group of people in Florida who allegedly wanted to bomb targets such as the Sears Tower, another group in Canada planning actions such as beheading the Prime Minister of that country, as just a representative sample.

If a political faction is going to offer to ‘keep us safe,’ then these are the people that they need to protect us from. This, then, brings up the questions, “Does it make even the most remotely rational sense to say that the best way to fight these groups was to spend the lives of 2,500 American soldiers killed, 20,000 American soldiers wounded, and $400 billion in Iraq?” How, in any sense that remotely approaches sanity, is an attack on Iraq supposed to be the road to protection from these types of individuals?

This leads to the next question, “How can any sane person think that the best option is to trust our future security to somebody who does not seem to be able to know where the enemy is at, and spends all of these lives and all of this money in the wrong place?”

Why are these terrorists doing this, anyway?

All intentional human action can be explained as an effort to fulfill the more and the stronger of one’s desires, given his beliefs. If a group of people fly an airplane into a building, we can assume that they think that this will best fulfill the more and the stronger of their desires, given their beliefs. If a group of people want to blow up 10 airplanes on their way to the United States, we can infer that this would best fulfill the more and the stronger of their desires, given their beliefs.

If we do not want people to be intentionally crashing airplanes into buildings, blowing up jets over the Atlantic, blowing up sky scrapers, beheading Prime Ministers, and the like then we need to create a culture in which as few people as possible can fulfill the more and the stronger of their desires, given their beliefs, with these types of actions. We have to target the beliefs and the desires of our fellow human beings.

We have no other option. This is the only way to prevent human beings from engaging in these types of intentional actions – to reduce the incidents in which beliefs and desires combine to recommend such actions.

From this, we have a way of testing alternative strategies. We can ask, “What is the effect of this strategy on reducing the incidence of beliefs and desires that tend to cause people to engage in these types of actions?”

The goal, then, is to reduce as far as possible the incidents of those beliefs and desires that have people crashing airplanes into sky scrapers or otherwise killing off as many people as possible. This is still and ‘endless quest,’ but not one that requires endless sacrifice of all that is good. It is the classic ‘endless quest’ to create a society with as much good as we can.

We cannot pursue this type of goal by supporting an administration that favors (1) torture, (2) arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, (3) widespread destruction of the life, health, and property of innocent civilians, (4) unilateral arrogance to do whatever one pleases with only casual disregard for the opinions and welfare of others, (5) a monarchical executive with the power to disregard the courts and the legislatures when he wishes to do so, (6) the elimination of a system of checks and balances, (7) the use of religious dogma as sufficient justification for inflicting harm on others, (8) the idea that it is permissible and even virtuous for a person in a position of leadership and authority to epitomize the traits of intellectual laziness and intellectual recklessness, to name just a few of the ‘values’ that this Administration is working to promote.

The only thing that this type of administration can provide us and our children is a world filled with torture, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, widespread harm to civilians, unilateral arrogance, and the like.

There can be no security in that kind of world.

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