So How Terrible Is It? Max Rodenbeck asks in the New York Review of Books, November 30, 2006 issue. Louise Richardson, a Harvard professor who has been teaching about terrorism for a decade, counts the ways:
Terrorism is not new.
Terrorism is nowhere near as threatening as, say, drunk drivers (who kill six times more Americans than 9/11 every year).
Terrorism using weapons of mass destruction is extremely difficult and rare.
Terrorists are rational.
Terrorism usually arises out of defensive desperation.
Suicide attacks are rational: cheap, effective against difficult targets and, well, terrorizing.
Terrorism and Islam are not linked. Terror has been perpetrated in the name of most religions, as well as for secular causes.
Democracy does not prevent terrorism.
Democratic civil rights do not impede prosecuting terrorists.
Military action is usually not effective against terrorist groups.
Armies usually cause more terrorism in response.
Addressing causes of terrorism is not surrender or appeasement to the terrorists themselves.
You can almost see Rush, O'Reilly and the other armchair hawks having apoplectic fits over these conclusions.
One particularly important point of Richardson's is that few terrorist groups have ever succeeded in achieving their stated primary aim, whether to foment a revolution or to "liberate" a territory. In fact, most of them do not really expect to do so, and are extremely vague about what they would do if they actually succeeded. Osama bin Laden has said next to nothing about what sort of society he would actually like to create, just as Marx never described in any detail what his communist utopia would look like. This may explain why the terrorist groups that have taken power have sometimes produced such incompetent rule —as was the case with Yasser Arafat.
Because terrorists tend to be aspirational rather than practical, their practices typically amount to what Ms. Richardson calls a search for the three R's of terrorism: revenge, renown, and reaction. As she puts it, "the point of terrorism is not to defeat the enemy but to send a message." This simple insight is important, because it suggests ways of dealing with terrorism: you must blunt the impulse for revenge, try to limit the terrorists' renown, and refrain from reacting in ways that either broaden the terrorists' appeal or encourage further terrorism by showing how effective their tactics are.
Richardson's three R's go a long way toward explaining why American policy has become so disastrously askew. As she notes, an act such as September 11 itself achieves the first of her three R's, revenge. So spectacularly destructive an attack also gains much of the second objective, renown. But the Bush administration's massive and misdirected overreaction has handed al-Qaeda a far greater reward than it ever dreamed of winning.
"The declaration of a global war on terrorism," says Richardson bluntly, "has been a terrible mistake and is doomed to failure." In declaring such a war, she says, the Bush administration chose to mirror its adversary:
Americans opted to accept al-Qaeda's language of cosmic warfare at face value and respond accordingly, rather than respond to al-Qaeda based on an objective assessment of its resources and capabilities.
In essence, America's actions radically upgraded Osama bin Laden's organization from a ragtag network of plotters to a great enemy worthy of a superpower's undivided attention. Even as it successfully shattered the group's core through the invasion of Afghanistan, America empowered al-Qaeda politically by its loud triumphalism, whose very excess encouraged others to try the same terror tactics.
That's right. Bush has decided us into military and political blunders that have resulted in placing al-Qaeda right up to superpower level in foreign affairs -- something akin to making some urban gangbanger into Public Enemy No. 1.
"The notion somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn't do that is just flatly false - and I think the 9/11 commission understood that," Rice said during a wide-ranging meeting with Post editors and reporters.
This coming from the former National Security Advisor who pushed aside Richard Clarke, the in-house expert on al-Qaeda. This coming from the White House staffer who pretty much ignored the presidential briefing memo about Osama bin Laden's plans to strike within the U.S. This coming from a key player in the Bush Administration, which fought against even having a 9/11 Commission look into 9/11. They didn't want anyone looking into it.
"What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years," Rice added.
She also whines about analyses by our own U.S. intelligence agencies that what the Bush Administration is doing is making things worse.
Transitioning to the global war on terror, an animated Rice questioned, "When are we going to stop blaming ourselves for the rise of terrorism?"
This is the perspective problem the entire Bush Administration seems to have: More concern about criticism of them, more concern about the political prospects of the GOP, more concern about spinning themselves into hero status, than any concern in actually doing something effective or at least making sure they're not just making things worse.
When, Condi? When you stop being a major cause of the rise of terrorism.
Asked about recently leaked internal U.S. intelligence estimates that claimed the Iraq war was fueling terrorist recruiting, Rice said: "Now that we're fighting back, of course they are fighting back, too."
"I find it just extraordinary that the argument is, all right, so they're using the fact they're being challenged in the Middle East and challenged in Iraq to recruit, therefore you've made the war on terrorism worse.
"It's as if we were in a good place on Sept. 11. Clearly, we weren't," she added.
Except, Condi, that the terrorists weren't even in Iraq until you and Bush invaded there. The terrorists were in Afghanistan.
Remember Afghanistan? That's the place where Osama has been, by many accounts, all this time. That's where al-Qaeda planned 9/11. That's where the Taliban government sheltered these terrorists.
We do not know what you have done, to prevent another 9/11.
You have failed us — then leveraged that failure, to justify a purposeless war in Iraq which will have, all too soon, claimed more American lives than did 9/11.
You have failed us anew in Afghanistan.
And you have now tried to hide your failures, by blaming your predecessor.
And now you exploit your failure, to rationalize brazen torture — which doesn’t work anyway; which only condemns our soldiers to water-boarding; which only humiliates our country further in the world; and which no true American would ever condone, let alone advocate.And there it is, sir:
Are yours the actions of a true American?
Here are some relevant videos via YouTube:
Clinton refuses to roll over for Chris Wallace on Fox
Olbermann on Clinton, and the Bush Administration's passing the buck
The fantasy comes in many forms. There's the notion that 9/11 was planned by Saddam Hussein, that popular non-fact suggested as true by the Bush Administration and held as gospel by many Americans even today.
There's the fantasy that terrorist without industry, without nations, without centralized control are "fascists" while nations that suspend civil liberties and quash dissent and torture prisoners and kill civilians in bloody occupations somehow could never be "fascist."
There's the fantasy that patriotism can be measured by winning a political argument, like, say, sticking it out in Iraq, rather than winning this war on terror, whose goal is in conflict with the Iraq occupation.
There's the fantasy that the Geneva Conventions are "quaint" and don't apply to America.
There's the fantasy that being "strong" can make up for being stupid.
"This is example No. 1," said Martin Franks, executive vice president of CBS Corp., of the decision by two dozen CBS affiliates to replace or delay "9/11" â€” which has already aired twice without controversy â€” over concerns about some of the language used by the firefighters in it.
"We don't think it's appropriate to sanitize the reality of the hell of Sept. 11th," Franks said. "It shows the incredible stress that these heroes were under. To sanitize it in some way robs it of the horror they faced."
The stations, including Fox Television Stations Inc. and Sinclair, cite the FCC's large and arbitrarily enforced censorship laws. However, the political views of Fox and Sinclair are not exactly secret.
Still it's hard to argue with a bunch of FCC boobs who got all upset over Janet Jackson's boob -- or the boobs in Congress who facilitated such overreaction.
Congress recently boosted the maximum fines the FCC can impose for indecency from $32,500 to $325,000.
So far, about a dozen CBS affiliates have indicated they won't show the documentary, another dozen say they will delay it until later at night and two dozen others are considering what to do.
So on this upcoming 5-year anniversary of 9/11, we can reflect on how tough the US government has gotten on the terror of four-letter words uttered by true American heroes.
For the first time since I became public editor, the executive editor and the publisher have declined to respond to my requests for information about news-related decision-making. My queries concerned the timing of the exclusive Dec. 16 article about President Bush's secret decision in the months after 9/11 to authorize the warrantless eavesdropping on Americans in the United States.
I e-mailed a list of 28 questions to Bill Keller, the executive editor, on Dec. 19, three days after the article appeared. He promptly declined to respond to them. I then sent the same questions to Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, who also declined to respond. They held out no hope for a fuller explanation in the future....which, of course, makes everybody only less curious, right?
At the outset, it's essential to acknowledge the far-reaching importance of the eavesdropping article's content to Times readers and to the rest of the nation. Whatever its path to publication, Mr. Sulzberger and Mr. Keller deserve credit for its eventual appearance in the face of strong White House pressure to kill it. And the basic accuracy of the account of the eavesdropping stands unchallenged - a testament to the talent in the trenches.
But the explanation of the timing and editing of the front-page article by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau caused major concern for scores of Times readers. The terse one-paragraph explanation noted that the White House had asked for the article to be killed. "After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting," it said. "Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted."
If Times editors hoped the brief mention of the one-year delay and the omitted sensitive information would assure readers that great caution had been exercised in publishing the article, I think they miscalculated. The mention of a one-year delay, almost in passing, cried out for a fuller explanation. And the gaps left by the explanation hardly matched the paper's recent bold commitments to readers to explain how news decisions are made.And then there's the question of the timing. Just when did the Times have the story?
The most obvious and troublesome omission in the explanation was the failure to address whether The Times knew about the eavesdropping operation before the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election. That point was hard to ignore when the explanation in the article referred rather vaguely to having "delayed publication for a year." To me, this language means the article was fully confirmed and ready to publish a year ago - after perhaps weeks of reporting on the initial tip - and then was delayed.
Mr. Keller dealt directly with the timing of the initial tip in his later statements. The eavesdropping information "first became known to Times reporters" a year ago, he said. These two different descriptions of the article's status in the general vicinity of Election Day last year leave me puzzled.
For me, however, the most obvious question is still this: If no one at The Times was aware of the eavesdropping prior to the election, why wouldn't the paper have been eager to make that clear to readers in the original explanation and avoid that politically charged issue? The paper's silence leaves me with uncomfortable doubts.These are disturbing questions that the Times publisher and editor are refusing to answer. Why?
And if James Risen's book on the subject, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," weren't about to be published this month, would the Times have bothered to run the story at all?
Several senior government officials have said that when the special operation first began, there were few controls on it. Some agency officials wanted nothing to do with it, apparently fearful of participating in an illegal operation, officials have said.One of those officials was John Ashcroft's top deputy.
The concerns prompted two of President Bush's most senior aides - Andrew H. Card Jr., his chief of staff, and Alberto R. Gonzales, then White House counsel and now attorney general - to make an emergency visit to a Washington hospital in March 2004 to discuss the program's future and try to win the needed approval from Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized for gallbladder surgery, the officials said.
The unusual meeting was prompted because Mr. Ashcroft's top deputy, James B. Comey, who was acting as attorney general in his absence, had indicated he was unwilling to give his approval to certifying central aspects of the program, as required under the White House procedures set up to oversee it.
With Mr. Comey unwilling to sign off on the program, the White House went to Mr. Ashcroft - who had been in the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital with pancreatitis and was housed under unusually tight security - because "they needed him for certification," according to an official briefed on the episode. The official, like others who discussed the issue, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the program.
Mr. Comey declined to comment, and Mr. Gonzales could not be reached.The hubris. Here's another wrinkle: It seems Bush's domestic spying agenda didn't pass the smell test with John Ashcroft, either.
[S]ome officials said that Mr. Ashcroft, like his deputy, appeared reluctant to give Mr. Card and Mr. Gonzales his authorization to continue with aspects of the program in light of concerns among some senior government officials about whether the proper oversight was in place at the security agency and whether the president had the legal and constitutional authority to conduct such an operation.
It is unclear whether the White House ultimately persuaded Mr. Ashcroft to give his approval to the program after the meeting or moved ahead without it.
The White House and Mr. Ashcroft, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment Saturday on the hospital meeting.Do we now know the real reason John Ashcroft retired from his Attorney General position?