Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why Osama bin Laden won

As usual, Radley Balko has the best perspective on the events of the last couple of days:

In The Looming Tower, the Pulitzer-winning history of al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11, author Lawrence Wright lays out how Osama bin Laden’s motivation for the attacks that he planned in the 1990s, and then the September 11 attacks, was to draw the U.S. and the West into a prolonged war—an actual war in Afghanistan, and a broader global war with Islam.

Osama got both. And we gave him a prolonged war in Iraq to boot. By the end of Obama’s first term, we’ll probably top 6,000 dead U.S. troops in those two wars, along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans. The cost for both wars is also now well over $1 trillion.

We have also fundamentally altered who we are. A partial, off-the-top-of-my-head list of how we’ve changed since September 11 . . .
  • We’ve sent terrorist suspects to “black sites” to be detained without trial and tortured.
  • We’ve turned terrorist suspects over to other regimes, knowing that they’d be tortured.
  • In those cases when our government later learned it got the wrong guy, federal officials not only refused to apologize or compensate him, they went to court to argue he should be barred from using our courts to seek justice, and that the details of his abduction, torture, and detainment should be kept secret.
  • We’ve abducted and imprisoned dozens, perhaps hundreds of men in Guantanamo who turned out to have been innocent. Again, the government felt no obligation to do right by them.
  • The government launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign implying that people who smoke marijuana are complicit in the murder of nearly 3,000 of their fellow citizens.
  • The government illegally spied and eavesdropped on thousands of American citizens.
  • Presidents from both of the two major political parties have claimed the power to detain suspected terrorists and hold them indefinitely without trial, based solely on the president’s designation of them as an “enemy combatant,” essentially making the president prosecutor, judge, and jury. (I’d also argue that the treatment of someone like Bradley Manning wouldn’t have been tolerated before September 11.)
  • The current president has also claimed the power to execute U.S. citizens, off the battlefield, without a trial, and to prevent anyone from knowing about it after the fact.
  • The Congress approved, the president signed, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a broadly written law making it a crime to advocate for any organization the government deems sympathetic to terrorism. This includes challenging the “terrorist” designation in the first place.
  • Flying in America now means enduring a humiliating and hassling ritual that does little if anything to actually make flying any safer. Every time the government fails to catch an attempt at terrorism, it punishes the public for its failure by adding to the ritual.
  • American Muslims, a heartening story of success and assimilation, are now harassed and denigrated for merely trying to build houses of worship.
  • Without a warrant, the government can search and seize indefinitely the laptops and other personal electronic devices of anyone entering the country.
  • The Department of Homeland Security now gives terrorism-fighting grants for local police departments across the country to purchase military equipment, such as armored personnel carriers, which is then used against U.S. citizens, mostly to serve drug warrants.
Hit the link at the top to read the rest of the piece.  It's excellent. 

5 comments:

CenTexTim said...

Didn't we do many of the same things during WWII (without, of course the TSA nonsense)?

Not disagreeing with the list, not supporting everything the government has none in the 'global war against terrorism,' just wondering if the same piece could have been written 65 years ago titled "Why Hitler Won"?

Nick said...

I missed the part where these things "changed." I think it's always been this way...

Except for the airplanes. We obviously didn't search people boarding airplanes before Orville and Wilbur. They didn't search people on blimps, and look what happened to the Hindenburg - Oh, the humanity!

I don't think ANYONE in GITMO was innocent. With limited space there, there was no reason to keep innocent people. At some point we decided that they were no longer a danger to us. Many people released from GITMO later committed terrorist attacks. I don't buy for one minute that it was their confinement at GITMO that motivated their actions.

The Uighurs were terrorists - they were just terrorists against China, so they were good terrorists.

Nick said...

FDR and Truman won WWII by:

- Losing 400,000 American soldiers, with millions wounded

- Interning hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans

- Segregating black and white troops

- Putting black workers in dangerous civilian jobs in support of the military

- Trying, convicting, and executing spies, saboteurs, and war criminals

- Spying on both our enemies and our allies

- Censoring the mail of US soldiers

- Censoring the media

- Rationing essential raw materials and goods

- Establishing price controls

- Restricting freedom of movement

- Running huge deficits

- Firebombing German and Japanese cities filled with civilians

- Dropping two atomic bombs on Japanese cities

- Permitting "black ops" to kill and torture enemy soldiers in violation of the Geneva Convention

- Taking control of entire sectors of American industrial production

- Awarding monopoly franchises to favored producers of war materiel

- Deliberately exposing American soldiers to radiation, chemicals, and experimental drugs.

- Running propaganda films alongside Hollywood productions

I had a longer list, but I misplaced it.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Gents,
1) Just because FDR did it doesn't make it right.
2) The question (see Balko's post) is this: Did Osama accomplish his goals?

CenTexTim said...

If the question is "did osama accomplish his goals" of drawing "the U.S. and the West into a prolonged war—an actual war in Afghanistan, and a broader global war with Islam" then at first glance the answer is yes. But I would suggest we should examine the question - and the goals - a little deeper.

One could argue that the West has been in a global war with Islam for centuries - or perhaps more precisely, Islam has been at war with the West for centuries, whether the West realized it or not. The flame may have burned hotter or colder at different times over the years, but IMO there is a fundamental conflict between Islam and the West. The respective cultures and underlying values are, again IMO, incompatible.

As for becoming engaged in a land war in Afghanistan, well, there's certainly no doubt he attained that goal. But reading into Balko's comments, the underlying assumption is that things in Afghanistan (and/or or Iraq) will turn out badly for the West. That is quite likely. But it's not a given. It's also possible that the result could be the establishment of Western-style democracies, or some reasonable semblance thereof, in one or both countries. Granted, it's a long shot, but think how the region would be affected. We've already seen protests against repressive regimes in other countries in that area (I know that the protesters are peaceful democracy-loving people, because the New York Times tells me so...).

Seriously, though, it was a high-risk high-reward gamble to send troops over there. I'm not willing to concede that it's a lost cause yet.

As for the rest of the goals, I agree with Nick that we haven't fundamentally altered who we are, we've just let certain dark characteristics of our national identity have more rein than we usually give them. Once (if?) the danger is past, we'll rein them in again (I hope).

Bottom line - yes, I think we've moved somewhat on the continuum from liberty to security. Is this a new shift? I don't think so. Is it irreversible? I don't pretend to know, but I sincerely hope not. What I do stay awake at night worrying about is the other steps obama's administration is taking to fundamentally alter this country, as exemplified by your more recent post concerning the NLRB moving to block Boeing from opening a new plant in South Caroline. Now that's scary.