Thursday, September 11, 2008

Well, it's the last day of my three day challenge, so let's see how it goes.

I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie last night at Cherry Creek. Cherry Creek has pretty good shrimp and catfish, but more importantly, when I eat there it has the comfortable feel of hanging out at a friend or relative's house. It's not fancy at all- it's just a low key neighborhood restaurant with decent food. Comfort food in a friendly, comfortable environment.

Last night I also watched V for Vendetta again. It's still a good movie, and I think I enjoyed it more this time just because I hadn't read the book recently (when I saw the movie before, the book was still fresh in my mind, and it was hard to avoid constant comparisons. This time it was easier to let the movie stand on its own merits, and since I wasn't keeping track of things they had left out or altered from the book, the movie was easier to enjoy). It's definitely a pop culture, action blockbuster sort of movie, but it still manages to carry some pretty profound messages about the role of government and its use of fear and distrust to control people and consolidate power. Pretty powerful themes for a superhero action movie.

Hurricane Ike keeps barrelling toward the Texas coast. I watched a fairly in depth analysis of the hurricane's projected path on the weather channel last night, and I came away from it with the impression that the hurricane's actual course following landfall is going to be pretty difficult to accurately predict (there seems to be a combination of a couple of fronts, including one blowing in from the west, which will change the storm's direction once they collide, but variations in the speed and intensity of the fronts as well as speed and intensity variations in Hurricane Ike make it extremely difficult to tell at exactly what path the storm will take). Anyway, Beaumont already has a mandatory evacuation order, so Mandy will soon have her family back up here, and I will soon have her brother's dogs, Woody and Dolly, camped out in my back yard. If it's true that global warming is causing this increase in the frequency and strength of hurricanes, I probably ought to consider building a guest house out back that I can rent to hurricane evacuees every summer when hurricane season comes. These evacuations might start becoming a regular yearly tradition.

Today, of course, also marks the 7th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. I was listening to some interviews of family members of 9/11 victims this morning on the radio, and the sadness of the whole event came rushing back to me. Aside from feeling bad about the loss of life associated with 9/11, it also occurred to me how much that event has changed our country and our national culture.
In some ways I think we became a smaller country after 9/11. We became scared and more xenophobic. Feeling that the "American way of life" was under attack by fanatical Muslims, American Christians became more defensive about their religion and more aggressive in demanding that religion play a central role in our goverment and public affairs (the Establishment Clause took a few hits). We became a nation less tolerant of dissent and more insistent upon unquestioning loyalty. We began to take on a national attitude that rejected foreign viewpoints and criticism simply because it was from other nations- we took on an almost belligerent mindset toward most foreign countries (and this because we had been attacked by one relatively small group). We redirected our righteous anger toward old enemies from unrelated conflicts and used 9/11 as an excuse to angrily cut off diplomacy with unfriendly nations. We surrendered our civil rights, giving up our privacy and the accountability of government in the face of a continuing, invisible, but presuambly all prevasive, terrorist threat.
To some things up with an overly simple phrase- we overreacted.
It might seem impossible to some people to consider the possibility that there could be an overreaction to a unilateral attack against the U.S. that produced thousands of civilian deaths, but, nonetheless, I still believe this to be true.
I say we overreacted for at least two reasons:
First, I firmly believe that it was Bin Laden's plan all along to get the U.S. to lash out in retaliation against the Muslim world with a broad, nonspecific response that would inflict a large amount of "collateral damage" against the Muslim population of the Middle East. I think that this was Bin Laden's plan when he bombed the World trade Center the first time in 1993, and when that was unsuccessful (he got the explosion, but the buildings didn't fall), he went right back to the drawing board to come up with a new way to accomplish the same mission. Bin Laden knew that he had some very effective places to hide, and he also knew that there was no way the U.S. was going to let something on the scale of the 9/11 attacks go unanswered (and I think he was counting on the fact that we would have an emotional response, rather than a calculated, measured one). Bin Laden knew that the U.S. would end up hurting a whole lot of Muslims in the search for perpetrators of the bombing, and he probably hoped that we would attack some unrelated target (but a Muslim one) once we got frustrated.
Osama probably believed that once America committed large scale violence against Muslims following 9/11 that he would have the perfect rallying issue to pull more and more Muslims into the conflict against the west. Furthermore, the U.S, would have to come to the Middle East to hunt the terrorists, and this would give anti-American radicals a much better opportunity to attack American forces (and the very presence of American military forces during an extended deployment in the Middle East would fan the flames of Muslim indignation and outrage).
Anyway, I think our broad, sweeping response to the 9/11 attacks played directly into Bin Laden's hands. I hate to say it, but it was kind of a typically American response to assume that Bin Laden was in league with Hussein just because both men were Muslim. I think that the ramifications of our invasion of Iraq are just beginning to be felt and that a whole new generation of fundamentalist Muslims are going to grow up with strongly anti-U.S. sentiments etched into their brains. The surge may have worked up to a point, but the final measure of success will come when our forces finally withdraw from Iraq and the country either stands on its own or tears itself apart (and I think we're far from having an answer to that question- we still have an enormous troop presence on the ground, and we're still apparently buying off local militia groups in order to keep them from fighting with us and each other).
The second reason I'd say we overreacted is just as a result of looking at the numbers. It may sound like a cold calculus, but we suffered something like 2,752 deaths as a result of the September 11th attacks. In response, so far we've suffered 4,155 American military combat deaths in Iraq. The number of total Iraqi deaths, including enemy combatants as well as civilians, is apparently difficult to estimate, but reliable reports have put it at numbers around 1,000,000 people. These deaths occurred during a war in a place that had no relationship to the 9/11 attacks, and yet the Iraq War never would have occurred if Bin Laden hadn't kicked it off with the events of 9/11.
Now note that I'm not saying that we shouldn't have had a response to 9/11, and I understand that these war casualties occurred with an eye toward protecting America in the future (although I think it would also be naive to think we weren't at least as interested in avenging the events of 9/11). I'm just saying that we needed a scalpel to take out a malignant tumor (i.e., Bin Laden), but instead we used a sword or an axe and we cut off an entire limb. There had to have been a better, more efficient way to go after Bin Laden, using special units, better intelligence, and with the cooperation and support of ally nations who were sympathetic toward us (at least back then) because of the harm we had suffered.

Anyway, maybe I shouldn't have made this post today because the anniversary of 9/11 is a pretty sensitive time, but this stuff has been on my mind because, of course, the ramifications of 9/11 far go way beyond the tragic loss of life that we suffered (which was, by the way, more than bad enough). I remember the feeling of the country suffering together and pulling together to help one in another in the days and weeks following 9/11 in a way that I really wouldn't have believed possible if I hadn't lived through it myself. I guess that I just want to feel like we, as a nation, took some legitimate lessons away from the 9/11 experience, and I'm hoping that those lessons amount to something more than locked airplane cockpits, increased x-ray checkpoints, and a perpetually yellow Homeland Security threat level.
It just drives me nuts that, to this day, I feel like we not only played in Osama Bin Laden's hands, but that he pretty much got away with his plan. He wanted to spur us into the sorts of actions that would make us look like mosters to large segments of the rest of the world, and he definitely had some measure of success (words like torture, rendition, Abu Ghraib, enemy combatant, and Gunatanamo Bay didn't used to be the sorts of things people associated with America). And the bastard is still out there!!!! Aaaarrrgh.
That ol' Nietzsche quote still seems appropriate when I think about Bin Laden had the reaction that the U.S. has had to his work:

"He who goes out seeking to fight monsters should take care, lest a monster he become."

Man, that's a lot of rambling, and I'm not sure I should post it all. At least it's not about the election. (well, not directly, at least)


Meredith said...

Okay so day three down and successful.....GOOD FOR YOU!!! You did it! Call your friend Jennifer and tell her you could hold off talking election politics for three days and you still found a LOT of interesting topics to cover. :)

Now, to your post today. Wow, a lot to process. But the one phrase that stood out in this to me was, "I hate to say it, but it was kind of a typically American response to assume that Bin Laden was in league with Hussein just because both men were Muslim."

I think the US government knew that Hussein and Bin Laden had differing views and goals in the Middle East and, to that end, they became rivals in the region. So, attacking him was NOT to get to Bin Laden. I can't pretend to be an international affairs scholar, because I am not one.

But this man is one....and he has a lot to say about the reasons we went after Hussein and this was published one year before the 9/11 attackes even happened.

I did not read this entire the highlights, but wanted to put the link so you can see there are other reasons to go after a ruthless dictator other than the fact that he happens to be the same religion as the perpetrator of one of the worst crimes on US soil.

On another be safe during this nasty Ike business....Austin is in the path. My folks and brothers (and host of old friends and family too) are in Houston and are all ready with flashlights, full tanks of gas and random groceries they will most likely never need :) But hope you guys are prepared too!!!!

J.S. said...

Thanks for the concern. It might be nice for us to get some good rain if it doesn't flood, actually.

On the Hussein thing, I definitely agree that he was a bad man and he shouldn't have been in power. It just seems like typically, though, as a foreign policy, we don't commit U.S. troops and risk U.S. lives just to remove nasty dictators (I don't necesarily disagree with this policy by the way- I don't know if it's our place to play police to the rest of the world, and I definitely have reservations about whether we should risk American lives unless we have SOLID proof that a threat is posed to U.S. security). North Korea, Iran, The Congo, Sudan and other places all have had some serious human rights violations by their leaders (and we know that a couple of them are experimenting with nuclear power), and yet we don't intervene. Russia just invaded one of our allies and we didn't intervene. So what made Iraq so different?
I think we were sold the argument for going to war in Iraq by way of extremely flimsy evidence of WMDs, and that evidence would have been held up to more careful scrutiny if we weren't so eager to retaliate for 9/11 against SOMEONE. I don't think Bin Laden knew exactly how we would retaliate, but he understood us well enough to know that we would find a way to vent our anger against someone, and it would probably be an Arab/Muslim target. He was seeking a war between Muslims and the west, and he managed to get himself one without a regular military to work with or a nation of his own. And now he's got a bunch of people really, really angry at us who are pretty legendary for their ability to hold a grudge (just ask the Israelis).
Anyway, there were definitely some good reasons to remove Saddam from power, but if we're going to remove all of the people from power across the world who are up to bad things, we're going to be spreading ourselves pretty thin.

I MAY have my Dad at my house if he has to flee the hurricane, by the way. He wants to come up here and leech off my air conditioning... ;-)