Friday, July 08, 2005

HERE IS a moving photograph from Jeanne at Body and Soul.

Elayne Riggs links to public statements on the London bombings from British officials, global and religious leaders, and from Rudy Giuliani (who was near one of the stations when it was attacked).

Charles at Freiheit und Wissen notes that Thomas Friedman is being even more nauseatingly repulsive than usual in his column today about London. Friedman apparently feels that the terrorist attacks in London are more appalling because they happened in a "civilized" Western country with cultural values similar to America's. Friedman bemoans the danger that, because Muslims attacked a Western country, they will be more at risk for reprisals; but places the blame for any such reprisals squarely on Muslims.

He also makes a point that I find particularly interesting, given his well-known cheerleading for Bush's policies in Iraq.

We must do all we can to limit the civilizational fallout from this bombing. But this is not going to be easy. Why? Because unlike after 9/11, there is no obvious, easy target to retaliate against for bombings like those in London. There are no obvious terrorist headquarters and training camps in Afghanistan that we can hit with cruise missiles. The Al Qaeda threat has metastasized and become franchised. It is no longer vertical, something that we can punch in the face. It is now horizontal, flat and widely distributed, operating through the Internet and tiny cells.

Yes, Tom, that's true. And how did that happen?

Of course, Thomas Friedman is not the only influential public figure who advocated and continues to advocate an approach to fighting terrorism that doesn't work because it's modeled on outdated assumptions about the enemy. Barbara O'Brien points to the pervasive concept of terrorist attacks as being battles in a war and concludes this is a big part of the reason why the problem is getting worse.

Let's think about semantics and reality. Many on both the Left and the Right argue about whether 9/11 or M11 or 7/7 were crimes or acts of war. To me, this is an absurd and pointless argument, because mass terrorist attacks by stateless organizations don't fit either category. Trying to shoehorn 9/11 into an old classification system is a bit like finding a new species of critter and calling it a "dog" because it wags its tail and barks, even though it also flies and lays eggs.

The point of the semantic argument is, of course, to figure out what to do about terrorism. If it's a crime we'll send out the cops; if it's war, we'll shoot at it. And we'll put our new critter in a dog pen and be astonished when it flies away.

The moral is, sometimes you need to put semantics aside and deal with things as-they-are.

The Right made up its mind that terrorist attacks are acts of war, and the proper response to an act of war is to go to war--with armies, ships, artillery, bombs, etc. But these are instruments of old-fashioned, fighting-over-territory war, and terrorism is not constrained by terroritory or national boundaries. We're shooting flies with a shotgun.

Truly, when Bush first starting talking about a "war on terror" I assumed he was using the word war in a metaphorical sense, like war on cancer. Fighting terrorism by means of conventional war is absurd.
At this point it may be that al Qaeda isn't much of anything but a name adopted by multiple Islamic factions, but that's part of our cognitive problem. Wars against nations are wars between definable, finite entities with geographical locations, whereas a war against al Qaeda, whatever it is, is a war against something without definite form or mass or location. We're dealing with multiple leaderships and multiple groups that form and unform and reform, and with "troops" of ever-shifting identities and loyalties and numbers.

But the Right, heaven help us, is still thinking in terms of fronts and geographical objectives. Might as well dress our troops up in knee pants and three-corner hats and arm them with muskets.

Ironic, given the Bush administration's constant harping on 9/11 having "changed the world as we knew it" and on this being "a new kind of war." Terrorism has changed the world as we knew it, but we're still using the old language and the old concepts to fight a threat for which war, in the sense we've always thought of it, is not the solution.

And so to people like Rich Lowry at National Review Online, who advocated treating all terrorists everywhere as if they were all part of one nation, Barbara says, Get a grip, guys! Terrorists and nations are not the same.

Lowry et al. can't wrap their heads around the fact that we aren't dealing with a nation, or anything like a nation. They can't grasp terrorism as-it-is.

And dealing with terrorism as if there were just one big global terrorist organization, when in fact there isn't, is stupid. Dealing with terrorism as-it-is means developing multiple strategies to deal with multiple terrorisms, because that's reality. To do otherwise is to fight a fantasy enemy instead of a real one.

I really thrill to finding wonderful new bloggers (new to me, at least), and Melissa at Shakespeare's Sister has done that for me today by complimenting John Howard's "way of boiling things down to their barest bones. ..." His blog is called Upon Further Review. Here is what he has to say about expecting the best of America.

I watched a little bit of that fucknut Bill O'Reilly last night. As much as I could stomach, anyway. In his little introduction, he basically says that anyone who is criticizing America is helping the terrorists, and that people criticizing the good guys need to realize who the real bad guys are and if you don't agree with him, then you're helping the terrorists. Oh, he also said that The Guardian is edited by Osama Bin Laden.

Of course, I have lots of problems with this nonesense. Obviously, to these idiots, everthing is black and white, there are good guys and bad guys and everything the bad guys do is 100% evil and everything the good guys do is 100% wonderful. And since we all know the terrorists are bad guys, that makes us the good guys, therefore everything we do is ok. But here's the problem, in the real world, we all know the terrorists are the bad guys, but that doesn't justify everything we do as long as we say it's to fight the terrorists. We America hating liberals don't need to spend time condenming the actions of terrorists, because terrorists are expected to be evil, everyone recognizes that. We do need to spend time criticizing our own government when they do things we are not happy with, because it's not what is expected of it, and because we don't want it to continue. Criticizing the War on Terror is not about saying America is the bad guy, it's about saying that if we really want to fight terrorism, then maybe we should actually go after the actual terrorists, instead of going after whoever is convenient and then hanging a terrorist sign around their necks. Expecting the best from our government is pretty American to me, and when we don't get it, demanding it is also important [emphasis mine].

Finally for this go-round, Kevin Drum hands out awards for the worst commentary on the London bombings, in several different categories. I think the winner in the last category could also -- on the basis of the second sentence in the post -- win an award for Most Callously Self-Centered.

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