June 4, 2007

Capability low, intent very high

I think there's a tendency among critics of George Bush to write off stuff like the JFK terror plot because it is so "amateurish," as even the feds acknowledge. While it may be true that the Bush administration seems better at arresting harmless crazies than combatting actual threats, I think that misses an important point. For one thing, I'm happy to have these schemes busted up in the planning stages, even if they were unlikely to ever get past them anyway. What's the argument against that, exactly?

But a bigger problem is that in being too dismissive, I think we miss an opportunity to highlight the real problem, which is that five and a half years after 9/11, the number of people around the world, and around the U.S., who want to engage in terrorism has increased dramatically. They may not have the capability, but they have the desire, and I think that can largely be put down to the conduct of the Bush administration and the Republican party, which have never, from day one, taken national security seriously. (The number of actual international terror attacks have also increased dramatically under Bush's watch, even not counting incidents in Iraq.)

There is nothing a government can do to persuade the entire world to love the United States, but when the sphere of people inspired by al Qaida has metastasized to Guyana and Trinidad, it's safe to say that things are trending badly. It will take decades, at the least, to undo the damage George Bush has caused this country and make America safer again.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Trending badly, no question. But I'm not sure it will take decades: wouldn't closing Guantanamo and leaving Iraq pretty much instantly turn perceptions around?

Such measures will help change perceptions (though not accomplish that instantly) among people who dislike Bush but are not themselves terrorists - Europeans, Middle Eastern moderates, etc. That's important and will help in the long run, but the people who have already been drawn into radical Islam over the last six years will not forgive and forget so quickly. Fundamentalism - both religious and political - is self-sustaining. External stimulus can push people into it, but rarely draw them out again.

I don't know that Bush critics are arguing against the arrests themselves, so much as the exaggerated scare tactics employed in the press conferences announcing the arrests. Granted, the amateurish nature of the JFK plot was acknowledged more plainly and readily than that of past busts — but it still looks to me like an effort to convince people we've been rescued from a near-massacre, when there wasn't anything "near" about it. It wouldn't bother me so much if it were a one-time thing, but at this point, it seems to be policy, dating back to Jose Padilla and dirty-bomb plot that wasn't.

So my question is: If we (civilians) are in such grave and present danger, why haven't any of these terrorism busts uncovered anything legitimately grave and present?

I don't mean to undercut your point about the damage Bush has done to our reputation (and Hillary's claim that we're now safer is, of course, absurd). But even a military judge will tell you, hating America is not in itself a crime. The degree to which civilians are actually in danger (discounting one-percent doctrines and the like) is a question that the media have made little actual effort to address. And overblown press conferences just contribute to a political atmosphere where talking points are treated as infinitely more relevant than facts.

I don't know that Bush critics are arguing against the arrests themselves

I didn't say that exactly, but as evidence -- one piece off the top of my head, I'm sure there's more -- that people write off the plot itself, not just the coverage, I give you HuffPo.

But you make many valid points too.

I agree about decades; at least a generation or two, since torture is something that, for some reason, a torturee is unlikely to forget. Maybe their kids might remember it, too.

Plus, the next administration has to not only stop the offending behavior, but repudiate it. This is especially necessary w/r/t torture, a state crime that would require a massive self-examination along truth and reconcilliation or war crimes trials lines, to fully undo the damage. And barring a Kucinich surge, I don't see that happening.

I think there may be something to the argument that if you simply watch these people and let their plot develop, it could lead to "larger fish", so to speak. But you'll probably never find a law enforcement official willing to take that chance. I don't blame them.

But you're right about the repudiation, which of course will never happen. Yes, Dick Cheney seized incredible powers for the executive, but will the next president (even a Democrat) voluntarily give them back?

That's why, as a practical matter, impeachment would accomplish almost nothing, but it would send quite a message to the rest of the world.

I've always been outraged that Bush & Co take credit for protecting us, while not being responsible for failing to prevent 9/11. A tightening up of security would happen regardless of who was in the White House. Hillary defended the War on Terror at the debate, and said we're safer. If you believe that, then we have al Qu'ida to thank just as much as the Bush administration.

"...five and a half years after 9/11, the number of people around the world, and around the U.S., who want to engage in terrorism has increased dramatically."


Not to undercut what you're saying elsewhere; I don't in any way doubt that we've lost major credibility and respect around the world since 9/11, but measuring a group of people who want to fuck us up is pretty much impossible. It is just likely that we are more attuned to such noise and are willing to act on it more quickly than ever before.

If you develop a test that catches cancer in its earliest stages, and is somehow then able to prevent cancer, have you proved an upsurge in cancer? Or lowered cancer's mortality rate? Or neither?


"In early 2005 the directors of both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency testified to this effect before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, saying that the Iraq war was serving to recruit terrorists... In early 2006, the British Joint Intelligence Committee, which comprises leaders from the various British intelligence agencies, published a top secret memo similarly concluding that the Iraq war "has reinforced the determination of terrorists who were already committed to attacking the West and motivated others who were not." This follows similar determinations by the United Kingdom's two most respected security policy think tanks, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and Chatham House (formerly the Royal Institute for International Affairs) "

Trinidad!!?? Guyana??!!

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