September 18, 2006

How serious is the threat?

George Bush has declared that the "War on Terror "™ is the "decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation." Really? Like World War II? All this talk of Hitler and (Islamo)Fascism has me and a whole lot of people wondering. If this really IS the struggle that George W. Bush and his apologists say it is, why are we not mobilizing like they did in WWII? If you don't know what that was like, go have a chat with someone in the 70-90 age range. They will tell you of food and gas rationing, of women giving up their nylon stockings, of women going off to work in the factories while the men went to war, of Liberty Bonds, Victory Gardens, rolling bandages, and the like. The nation was unified and EVERYONE sacrificed.

Instead, in this struggle no one is asked to sacrifice, save the families of our brave men and women in the military. As Frank Rich puts it in his September 17th column, The Longer the War, the Larger the Lies (behind the NYT firewall):

Perhaps the only way to strike back against this fresh deluge of fiction is to call the White House’s bluff. On Monday night, for instance, Mr. Bush flatly declared that “the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad.” He once again invoked Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, asking, “Do we have the confidence to do in the Middle East what our fathers and grandfathers accomplished in Europe and Asia?”

Rather than tune this bluster out, as the country now does, let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s pretend everything Mr. Bush said is actually true and then hold him to his word. If the safety of America really depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad, then our safety is in grave peril because we are losing that battle. The security crackdown announced with great fanfare by Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki in June is failing. Rosy American claims of dramatically falling murder rates are being challenged by the Baghdad morgue. Perhaps most tellingly, the Pentagon has nowstopped including in its own tally the large numbers of victims killed by car bombings and mortar attacks in sectarian warfare.

And that’s the good news. Another large slice of Iraq, Anbar Province (almost a third of the country), is slipping away so fast that a senior military official told NBC News last week that 50,000 to 60,000 additional ground forces were needed to secure it, despite our huge sacrifice in two savage battles for Falluja. The Iraqi troops “standing up” in Anbar are deserting at a rate as high as 40 percent.

“Even the most sanguine optimist cannot yet conclude we are winning,” John Lehman, the former Reagan Navy secretary, wrote of the Iraq war last month. So what do we do next? Given that the current course is a fiasco, and that the White House demonizes any plan or timetable for eventual withdrawal as “cut and run,” there’s only one immediate alternative: add more manpower, and fast. Last week two conservative war supporters, William Kristol and Rich Lowry, called for exactly that — “substantially more troops.” These pundits at least have the courage of Mr. Bush’s convictions. Shouldn’t Republicans in Congress as well?

After all, if what the president says is true about the stakes in Baghdad, it’s tantamount to treason if Bill Frist, Rick Santorum and John Boehner fail to rally their party’s Congressional majority to stave off defeat there. We can’t emulate our fathers and grandfathers and whip today’s Nazis and Communists with 145,000 troops. Roosevelt and Truman would have regarded those troop levels as defeatism.

The trouble, of course, is that we don’t have any more troops, and supporters of the war, starting with Mr. Bush, don’t want to ask American voters to make any sacrifices to provide them. They don’t want to ask because they know the voters will tell them no. In the end, that is the hard truth the White House is determined to obscure, at least until Election Day, by carpet-bombing America with still more fictions about Iraq.

Rolling Stone has an excellent article on Bush's Phony War on Terror, with the sub-title: President Bush not only created a fake "War on Terror" to scare voters into supporting his policies -- he is failing to address the real threat facing America. The article goes on to list the five lessons that George W. Bush needs to learn:
  1. AL QAEDA HAS VIRTUALLY BEEN ELIMINATED AS A THREAT
  2. WHAT WE DON'T KNOW ABOUT AL QAEDA CAN STILL HURT US
  3. THE THREAT HAS GONE VIRAL
  4. FIGHTING TERRORISM IS FOR COPS, AND SPIES, NOT SOLDIERS
  5. TERRORISM CAN'T BE DEFEATED - EVER

Each point provides interesting information (especially #1) but I wanted to especially call out the last point. Under # 5, the author, Robert Dreyfuss explains, and is a point with which I heartily concur:
Terrorism is not an enemy, but a method. As such, it can never be defeated -- only contained and reduced. Even if the United States were to wipe out every terrorist cell in the world today, terrorism would be back tomorrow, because new grievances and new cries for revenge will continue to create new terrorists. In addition, there will always be violence-prone, armed insurgent groups that use terrorist methods in conflicts around the world, from Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon to rebel and dissident groups in Kashmir, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Spain, Colombia, the Philippines and the Congo.

In the short term, the cops and spies can continue to do their best to watch for terrorist threats as they emerge, and occasionally, as in London, they will succeed. But they are the first to admit that stopping a plot before it can unfold involves, more than anything, plain dumb luck. In the end, the advantage is with the conspirators. "Stopping a terrorist plot before it happens is rare," says Pillar, the government's former chief Middle East analyst. "It's tremendously satisfying, but rare. It's a mistake to think we can improve our intelligence specifically to come up with that sort of prevention."

Rather than waging a global war, experts say, the United States needs to work closely with foreign intelligence services that know the lay of the land in their own countries to take down terrorists one by one. "Progress is measured one terrorist at a time, one cell at a time," says Pillar. "We will be attacked. But there's a chance that we will be attacked less often, and less lethally." As unsatisfying as it sounds, that approach suggests a definition of "victory" in battling terrorism: The best we can do is to reduce the threat of terrorism to that of an ugly nuisance.

But back to my original point. If this is as serious a struggle as they insist it is, what sacrifices are being made here at home? None. Zero. Zip. Nada. Why are revenues not being raised to fund the army we need to "win" this war? Why have we not reinstituted the draft? Why are billionaires being given tax cuts while our veterans benefits are being cut?

And why are our leaders determined to make us as fearful as possible instead of assuring us that we can overcome this "enemy?" Because it's not about preventing terrorists attacks, it's about keeping us as scared as possible so that we won't question anything they do. It's about winning the election and keeping the political power they have. This isn't about protecting the American people or the Bush administration would long ago have made it possible for our early responders to communicate with each other, protected our chemical and nuclear plants, and they would have apprehended Osama bin Laden...not let him roam free for five years.

Instead they choose to grab as much power as they can, pee on the Constitution while doing it, and fail to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. A fearful population is an unthinking population. It's time for us to call their bluff.

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