Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Stupid, as they Say, Has Been Known to Burn

Last night on Scarborough Country, the host and his distinguished panel were discussing the recently foiled terror plot involving the jet fuel pipeline feeding into JFK airport. Incidentally, as Arthur Silber points out quite humorously (via J-Hen), the plot and the plotters were marked by an ineptness and ignorance that is typical of the recent wave of would-be terrorists. Thoreau reminds us:

But looking at the big picture, it’s also clear that while these guys deserve punishment, they aren’t exactly a dire threat, and that there’s been a pattern here since the 9/11 attacks: We are no longer facing the A-list terrorists of 9/11. Rather, we’re facing amateurs with grandiose but ill-conceived plans: The idiots who were going to destroy Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch. The guys in Miami who mostly just wanted to scam Al Qaeda. (”Oh, no, we don’t need bombs. But we could use some cash, cars, digital cameras, combat boots, and guns. Preferably automatic weapons that fetch a nice price on the black market.”) The British guys who were going to blow up a plane with liquids that almost certainly wouldn’t have worked. And probably a couple others that I’m forgetting.

I'd add Richard "Quest for Fire" Reid, and the Fort Dix bumblers to the list as well, but point well made. Unfortunately, I tend to agree with Thoreau that we may be dealing with a higher caliber of terrorist in the near future:

But, having expressed optimism about our success in disrupting the networks that were forged in Afghanistan, and having disparaged Al Qaeda’s Second Wave as a bunch of idiots, let me express my fears of the Third Wave:

The Third Wave is in training right now, but not at a camp in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Rather, they are getting real field experience in Iraq. They are learning guerrilla warfare the hard way, and learning to make deadly use of improvised bombs and small arms in urban environments. The Iraqi Civil War may very well be killing a lot of them off, but that doesn’t mean that “flypaper theory” works. Iraq isn’t really flypaper. It’s more like a horrifying mix of bacterial culture medium and antibiotics: It promotes proliferation followed by ruthless selection that preserves only the hardiest strains. The survivors of this process will be experienced and battle-hardened.

That’s my scary prediction: The pathetic terrorists that we’re facing here right now are just the (relative) calm before the storm blows in from Iraq. God help us.

Which brings me back to Scarborough Country. As The Cunning Realist noted, there was an absence of any mention by the would-be JFK terrorists of Iraq as a motivating factor in the materials that Alberto Gonzales made available to the press (same goes for the materials released with respect to the Miami and Fort Dix plotters as well). What an odd silence, though, considering the prominence of Iraq in world events - especially, one would assume, for Muslims moved to attack the US. I don't suppose that someone with the integrity and honesty of Alberto Gonzales would be selectively disclosing and concealing portions of the record so as to distract from politically damaging evidence of Iraq-related blowback?....Nah - that's just my Bush Derangement Syndrome acting up again.

While I took a xanax to calm my BDS, the unmedicated Scarborough gang proceeded to engage in a bit of reckless speculation - wondering whether the latest crop of would-be terrorists were in any way inspired, motivated or radicalized by the invasion and ongoing conflict in Iraq. Imagine that.

But seriously, while most of Scarborough's guests were realistic about the situation - agreeing with the US intelligence community, as well as trusty old common sense, in concluding that Iraq is exacerbating the extremism/terrorism problem - the host himself made one of the most patently absurd arguments that I would have thought it parody had it not been for the smug smile he was sporting at the time. The transcripts have not been released yet, but paraphrased, Scarborough argued:

The invasion of Iraq cannot be a motivating factor for terrorists now because we were attacked on September 11, 2001 - which happened before we invaded Iraq! Thus, terrorists would want to attack us regardless. QED

Honestly, that's what he said. And he repeated it several times as his one-size-fits all rebuttal to more detailed and insightful analysis. Each time, I felt a new sprig of gray hair sprouting up. According to the Scarborough Test for Terrorism Containment, nothing we can do from a foreign policy standpoint could negatively impact our effort to contain and marginalize terrorists and other extremists because there were already some terrorists (and extremist ideologies) in existence - as evidence by the 9/11 attacks. Nothing we do going forward will matter.

It's the ultimate blank check. Think about it. What if someone suggested nuking Mecca as a means of sapping terrorist zeal and letting "them" know that "we mean business." For the sake of argument, assume such a notion was gaining favor in the White House. Then, while debating the action, someone (most likely from the peacenik State Department or CIA) raises an objection based on the theory that nuking Mecca would greatly radicalize the Muslim world, increase the popularity and support for extremists and lead to the conversion of countless numbers of new terrorists (who would not otherwise so enlist). But then, the nuke-proponents turn to the State Department idealist and end the debate right then and there by pointing out the fact that we were already attacked on 9/11, thus our actions would do nothing to create or aid terrorists. Terrorists already exist!

In the real world, which has apparently allowed Scarborough Country to secede (to the benefit of all, perhaps), our policies, rhetoric and standing directly interact with and influence the levels of support for, and participation in, terrorism. We can, alternatively, adopt policies that support reformers, moderates and peacemakers, or take actions that weaken them vis-a-vis extremists, terrorists and the bellicose. Invading Iraq has greatly hurt our cause, and been a benefit to bin Laden and his ilk in myriad ways: from increasing recruitment, fundraising and support levels, to providing a training, networking and indoctrination staging area in the center of the Muslim world, to presenting him with various illicit avenues that can be tapped to provide cash for operational overhead in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Yes, terrorism would have been a problem had we never invaded Iraq - and some terrorists would have existed, and probably planned attacks and the like. Further, there is nothing we can do in the short term (and perhaps long term), that will completely eradicate the terrorist threat. But that doesn't mean you completely disregard sound policy in favor of any reckless approach because nothing we do will be 100% successful. With the Bush administration's approach in mind, there's a lot of room between zero and 100% on the efficacy scale - and I prefer to stay closer to the top of that range. Maybe living in lower Manhattan has made me a little skittish.

And yet, so many pundits and citizens are locked into this hyper-simplistic, overly categorical approach that makes the immaculate the enemy of the good. This type of ignorance burns - both figuratively and literally.

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