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September 15, 2006

Terrorism and Democrats

Terrorism should be a Democratic issue.

Just a few short years ago, Republicans were fond of distinguishing their approach to terrorism from that taken by Democrats (i.e., Clinton) by chanting it’s “total war,” not police work. The argument ran that Democrats were too timid to go beyond traditional methods of criminal investigation and instead saw terrorism as a problem for the justice system. What was needed, they said, was decisive lethal force.

Well, that’s a contrast they don’t seem to draw much anymore.

Maybe it’s because total war doesn’t look quite so effective these days. Or maybe it’s that the terrorism strategy de jour is, of course, police work—albeit a brutal and stupid version of it, torture. Bring back the rubber hoses—traditional indeed.

But if Republicans are sheepish about making the comparison, Democrats shouldn’t be. Whatever successes there have been in fighting terrorism, have all come as the result of smart, energetic and methodical investigative work. Bombs and bellicosity have only exacerbated the crisis.

Now, the need for intelligence is even clearer. Graham Allison, writing in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, makes the case that nuclear terrorism is all but inevitable.

In sum, my best judgment is that based on current trends, a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States is more likely than not in the decade ahead. Developments in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea leave Americans more vulnerable to a nuclear 9/11 today than we were five years ago. Former Defense Secretary William Perry has said that he thinks that I underestimate the risk. In the judgment of most people in the national security community, including former Sen. Sam Nunn, the risk of a terrorist detonating a nuclear bomb on U.S. soil is higher today than was the risk of nuclear war at the most dangerous moments in the Cold War. Reviewing the evidence, Warren Buffett, the world's most successful investor and a legendary oddsmaker in pricing insurance policies for unlikely but catastrophic events like earthquakes, has concluded: "It's inevitable. I don't see any way that it won't happen." [18]

But can it be prevented? Yes. But only with heightened resolve, imaginative diplomacy, and some very smart investigative work.

Posted by stevemack at 03:07 PM | Comments (6142) | TrackBack

September 11, 2006

9/11 Remembered

For those of us who did not lose a friend or relative five years ago today, our most vivid memories are likely to be ones we share with the rest of the nation. They are probably media memories—the surreal image of a jet colliding into the WTC, collapsing towers, billowing smoke and debris, the ash-covered faces of fleeing New Yorkers, the blank, dumbfounded stare from Bush as he sat in front of blissfully unaware school children. More private memories are not etched in endlessly rebroadcasted video tape, and thus come back cloaked in the same fuzzy eeriness that muffled the entire day. For me, that morning was spent in a conference room watching a grainy TV (rickety rabbit ears plugged into a set intended only for video presentations) and chattering stupidly with colleagues as we tried to comprehend what we were seeing.

A more personal memory comes from later that night. As my wife and I lay in bed we listened to the spooky silence of the normally busy Southern California skies. After a moment or two the artificial calm was pierced by the sound of a lone jet streaking by overhead. Since all air traffic had been grounded it was a sound that demanded our attention, our interpretation. My wife voiced the instant, unavoidable fear that a second attack was underway. This time, we were the target—Los Angeles. No, I said, it’s a fighter out of Edwards Air Force base. They’re patrolling. I was trying to be reassuring, but at the same time I remember thinking of Churchill deploying antiaircraft guns around London—not in the far-fetched hope that they could really shoot down Nazi bombs, but to give Londoners a little bit of phony comfort. I wondered then, as I wonder now, what kind of power, what kind of guns, do you need to destroy the madness of false ideas.

Posted by stevemack at 06:07 PM | Comments (3048) | TrackBack

May 04, 2006

Moussaoui Verdict: Justice v. Meaning

It’s probably inevitable that in high-profile criminal trials, questions of meaning overshadow questions of justice. Thus the debate over the Moussaoui verdict has focused on ‘what message it sends—to the victims, to the American people, to other terrorists, to the Islamic world, to the rest of the globe.’ Of lesser concern is the question of whether the scales of justice were balanced, whether the punishment of this pathetic, delusional and vile wannabe matched his crime. (No punishment imaginable, of course, could equal such a crime—but then it’s not at all clear to me that it is truly “his” crime, that he is anything more than a twisted buffoon attempting to steal a place in history.)

But the meaning debate rages on, and everybody has the definitive interpretation: Moussaoui says it means America lost, the Judge (and other sensible types) says, no, we won. The angry and the bellicose say it means what the terrorists say it means—which, they’re sure, is “America is too soft.” The temperate takers-of-the-long-view say otherwise—it really means the rule of law has prevailed; America is not governed by passion or prejudice.

I’m not big on definitive meanings. Most important theatrical productions are rich in multiple meanings and, truthfully, all of the above work for me. What interests me in this case, though, is justice—something my spelling checker helped define for me in the second sentence of this post. When I typed in the defendant’s name, it was immediately flagged as unfamiliar. For a moment I paused, deciding whether to add it to the dictionary. ‘Why bother?’ I thought, ‘it’s a name I’ll never have occasion to type again.’

Posted by stevemack at 03:00 PM | Comments (3071) | TrackBack

"A Whitman for our Time."
- Jerome Loving,
"Stephen John Mack's The Pragmatic Whitman: Reimagining American Democracy, [is] The most thoroughly informed philosophical reading of Whitman to appear in decades. Mack develops the premise . . . That Whitman shares with John Dewey a vision of democracy as a 'civic religion' in America, a profoundly secularist and progressive perspective.

- M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Texas A & M University
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