Earlier this week, Frontline had another in its continuing series of documentary examinations of the aftermath of 9/11, the messes that are Afghanistan and Iraq, and the decision-making or lack thereof that has taken us to this point. This particular episode was entitled “Endgame,” and it was put together as an examination of what has gone wrong and why in Iraq via interviews with policymakers, former military commanders and some of the journalists who cover them. (If you missed the show, you can view it in its entirety online.)
I missed the television broadcast, but have been going back through the show and some of the ancillary interviews on the website as time permits me this week, and I have to say that some of the statements — especially those from Frederick Kagan — are just stunning in their fundamental lack of understanding of the full range of issues at play in terms of national security and diplomatic considerations for the long term, versus the immediate need to apparently just blow things up out of spite.
Especially in the context of the following:
Under ordinary circumstances, terrorism holds no appeal to the overwhelming majority of any society. People are not by nature extremists. In fact, with rare exceptions, people are indifferent to the angry ranting of a fanatic.The reason is simple: The terrorist’s view of the world is not widely shared. The wrongs that cut him to the quick do not offend his compatriots or stir them to action. His political ends are dismissed as illegitimate, his violent means assailed as crimes. Instead of being welcomed as a hero, he is vilified. The fate of many a violent extremist is to die in prison, disillusioned and alone, the world as unconcerned with his cause as it had ever been.
But occasionally, fortune smiles on the extremist, granting him the credibility he craves. Ironically, the extremist rarely has anything to do with this change. Instead, it happens when the society he attacks pursues policies that vindicate his venom. To his satisfaction, reality comes to resemble what he has long decried. His vision begins to acquire substance where once it was fantasy. Those around him – long unmoved by his platform – awaken to see the world as he has described it. Gradually, the lifeblood of any state – its moral legitimacy – ebbs from the society to the terrorist, whose message no longer seems so extreme.
So it has become with the war on terror. Noble declarations of American rhetoric can’t conceal reality on the ground: seemingly endless detentions of innocent prisoners; “enhanced interrogation techniques” that many believe to be torture; black sites where prisoners “disappear”; renditions to countries that practice what the US cannot.
In the end, the US approach to combating terrorism has given Islamic radicalism the greatest gift of all: evidence to support the argument that America has abandoned the rule of law. And so the call to jihad has achieved a currency that was all but unthinkable before Sept. 11. By most accounts, Al Qaeda numbered only a few hundred people on that fateful day. Now its numbers and the numbers in sympathetic groups can barely be counted, so attractive has its message become.
In a few short years in office, George Bush has managed to undercut the very foundations of lawful societies and of cohesive objection to the lawlessness which underpins the chaos of terror. Through a concerted campaign of fundamental disrespect for the rule of law. Through a lack of understanding and respect for the norms that civilized nations across the globe have put forth for generations as ideals toward which all decent people should strive. Through a foreign policy based on some variation of “my way or else — yee haw.” And the results, as shown by the multiplying numbers among those who would fight against our nation are nothing short of catastrophic.
It is the lack of respect for the rule of law, across the board, which the Bush Administration has pushed in every aspect of its policy decisions. Truly, it has been “l’etat, c’est moi” far too often — and one only need look to the exhortations of conservative legal acolytes of the Addington mold in today’s LATimes urging the President onward in his fight to refuse Congressional oversight into the politicization of the Justice Department to see the short-sightedness of such ideologically based unreality.
Honestly, do these people think that it is in the best interest of the Bushies and of the GOP to drag out the Congressional investigation into this wrongdoing — inch by measly inch, all summer long as they pull out one damaging revelation after another in a drip, drip, drip of investigation? Are they altogether daft? Or has Republican policy become so mired in playing to the Bush and Cheney egos that the good of the party as a whole has been subsumed with “keeping Bush happy, whatever the cost” (and by extension, covering Rove’s behind, which clearly keeps Bush happy)?
By all means, call the Congressional bluff, oh ye of idiotic strategy. Please. Make my day, because I’m certain that Sen. Leahy has more subpoenas if he needs them.
The pattern of “too many fingers in too many pies” for politicization reasons is pervasive among the Bush Administration. From Sen. Whitehouse’s DOJ chart to the fact that the undercover agents at the CIA and elsewhere do not trust their own government to keep their own secrets:
He added that members of the executive branch needed to be more disciplined about protecting classified information.“Far too many people,” Mr. Rizzo said, “know far too much.”
From Laurita Doan at the GSA, to Bradley Schlozman at the DOJ’s civil rights division, all the way to the latest Dick Cheney claim of exemption from the laws which govern everyone else. The Bush Administration, every day, with every disrespectful end run of the rule of law, makes the case for the likes of Osama Bin Laden by becoming that which we are supposed to be fighting.
For shame. For all of us. We must find a way out of this together — because the blighted view of the Bush Administration of who we ought to be, of how we ought to act, and of how tightly they can control all of this cannot be allowed to stand. They are wrong. And it is time that we all — every one of us, liberal and conservative alike — stood up and said so. For our own safety, for our own history, and for all of the generations to come.
PS — This is just the sort of conversation that we will be having with Glenn Greenwald at Sunday’s Book Salon regarding his latest book, Tragic Legacy. I do hope that you all can join us for the chat — there are a lot of important issues that Glenn covers in the book that need much more public discussion. I’m hoping the Book Salon will only be a first step in that — in all of the days ahead.
(Photo of trees beginning to bud via Bekah Stargazing. Beautiful shot — love the perspective. H/T to reader WB for a couple of the links above.)