My last post was a straight-up rant, and one that those who know me have learned to dread. By late August they are avoiding meeting with me, or attending any sort of event where politics or recent history may be discussed, but as early as the First of September they are even dodging my phone calls and deleting my text messages before reading them, knowing that my vitriolic bile will be reaching explosively toxic levels.
The actual detonation is usually reserved for the collision of some innoffensively idiotic television 9/11 retrospective and my forebrain which leaves me flecking the innocent phosphor screen with spittle shouting about 1948, Lebanon, Charlie Wilson's War, Rumsfeld/McFarlane, the cake and the Bible, and the House of Saud.
After that things return rather quickly to normal, and by 13 SEPT I can even hold normal conversations with friends without more than an occasional mutter about "the fucking moron-grade American public..."
All very entertaining, but...now that the ranting is done, what now?
Over at MilPub one of the commentors brought up a post on the blog "Zenpundit" that he considered the best observation of 9/11 he had read that day. I went over and read it and found a generic "The Day History Changed" (because, of course, the Soviet Union never fell in 1989...) sort of thing, with the usual mild "perhaps we should re-examine some of the choices we made that day" caveat at the end.
And that got me thinking. Okay, so, first; what things DID change that day?
Well, remember on 11 SEPT 2001 the U.S. was snakebit by one of the snakes we'd been handling since 1948, and not in a good way (our snake made the other snakes play mean, and we had done some snake-slapping ourselves) so while it shouldn't have been a surprise the sheer effectiveness of it was a nasty shock. We'd gotten used to the idea that those Allah-pesterers were pretty much hopeless fuckups, so the notion that they could kill large groups of Americans (that is, large groups of Americans not dispatched on pointless show-the-flag-missions in the Levant by Saint Ronald of Hollywood) using boxcutters and lead pipes was a novel one.
So overseas we did what we do; we went and fucked us up some wogs. First in Afghanistan (where, in justice, the tricksy bastards who smote us were lurking and, besides, it was a wretched hive of scum and villainy, anyway) but then in Iraq (which had nothing the fuck to do with 9/11 but, hell, Saddam was a right git and his sons had stupid names (Uday? Who the fuck is named "Uday"?) and we'd been itching to pimpslap him since back in '92) and then pretty much all over the Arab world, with drone aircraft, anyway. Busy, busy little Yankees!
But at home we were even busier! We did some things we hadn't done - much - before; we set up secret ways to spy on people (who were supposed to be Evul Terrists but, hey - it was SECRET. So who the fuck knows?), we started files on everyone who was different and scary; Muslim clerics, peace activists, chicks with hairy pits, Mormons (oh, wait, no...Mormons were only scary to teabaggers. Oh, wait - most of the people we spied on were scary to teabaggers. Carry on).
We passed something called the "USA PATRIOT Act" which let cops and spies do all sorts of cool stuff they'd been forbidden to do for years because, well, the last time they did it they railroaded a bunch of people for stuff they didn't do and spied on domestic political "enemies"...and that was just the part we KNOW about - supposedly there's this "Secret" PATRIOT Act that lets the door-kickers and snoopers do a lot MORE stuff, except, y'know, it's fucking SECRET, so we have no fucking idea what it involves.
We jammed a bunch of different agencies - the Coast Guard, the DEA, the guys who inspect poultry - into this monster superagency, called in the "Department of Homeland Security", tossed an assload of money at it and told it to go and...do stuff to scary brown people. Or something. We opened secret prisons and put secret prisoners in them because...well, it's SECRET, dummy, so we didn't know exactly why they were there except our Leaders told us they were bad, scary people, the "worst of the worst".
Except the ones we let go because, well, they turned out to be goatherders, or innocent Canadians, or carpet beaters ratted out by the guy who was sleeping with their wives.
But, anyway, I think we've pretty much pegged the stuff that Zenpundit's guy said we should "re-examine"; a bunch of wars abroad and a bunch of domestic snooping and spying at home.
So let's "re-examine" them. Let's. Let's put on our Yankee Thinking Caps and try to figure out whether there was anything different we could have done about all that crap.
Wars and Rumors of Wars
Believe it or not, I don't actually think that the original, 2002, 114th Afghan War (surely they must be up in at least the low three figures by now, right?) was all that bad a move. Probably could have been done a little slicker with some cunning diplomacy, an assassination and a bribe or three, but, really - they're Afghans; feud, revenge, making an affray, putting in fear...that's cake and ice cream to them. Even the Taliban probably expected the hiding they got. It's the Afghan Way, the central Asian version of a chicken in every pot; a cluster bomb in every Islamic Center.
Now, having done the traditional punitive expedition, the notion of hanging around trying to kill enough Pashtuns to turn the place into Waterbury with more goats was simply stupid. But that was eclipsed by the Really Big Stupid; Iraq.
And, frankly, there is only one way to "re-examine" Iraq. Aggressive war is a crime under the Nuremburg verdicts.
We hung people like Jodl and Ribbentrop and Tojo for it.
Until Dubya and Dick and Wolfie and the rest are hanging alongside them we will never be able to "re-examine" Iraq in any sane fashion. Admitting that we - that members of our elected government, with our tacit approval - committed a war crime (that lead to the useless, meaningless deaths of thousands) and many subsequent crimes is the only possible first step to "re-examining" that lunacy and preventing its repetition.
And that, we will never do.
And the other thing we will never do is "re-examine" the two main pillars of our treatment of the Middle East; the Israel First, and the Your Gas Is Really Our Gas policies.
We made a conscious decision to put Israel's welfare before our own selfish interests back in 1948. All the old State Department hands - the guys who had made their bones in the Middle East, the guys who (mostly) were defenestrated by the Red witch-hunters after State "lost China" in the late Forties and early Fifties - warned Truman about that. But we made our bed, and we choose to continue to lie in it.
You know how I feel about Israel our "ally". But I am a very small minority, and I accept that so long as we have Israel's back - with all that entails, such as supporting pro-Israeli/anti-Islamist dictators like the Mubaraks and the Sauds - we put ourselves at odds with the bulk of the Middle Eastern Arab and Muslim populations.
So, too, our incessant need for petroleum, which means our need for pliant bobos or buyable clowns on the gaddis of the petroleum states. So we prop up the Shah in Iran, or the Gaddafi's in Libya, or the Malikis in Iraq, regardless of the enmity...and until the wrath...of their own peoples becomes too great.
But in the process we ensure ourselves of a constant, running, low-grade warfare with certain elements in the Islamic world. There is no element of the foolish "Islamofascism" or "hating our freedoms" so beloved of the GOP's wingnut brigade. Rather, they hate our Israel, or they hate our porn, or our bare-legged women, or our greed for their petroleum, or their disregard for their lives.
This makes them no better (and no worse) that we. They are acting selfishly, their selfish interests will always collide with ours if we persist in the policies we have pursued - and we show little or no interest in or willingness to change them - and so we are fated to encounter these Islamic characters until either we change or they do. There is no real other option.
We simply cannot have Israel, cheap Arab petroleum, and peace with the hard-core Islamists and Arab nationalists.
So that "re-examination" leads to the grim conclusions that we are in for a long, long century.
The Laughing Policeman
On the Home Front, however, what holds us back is not inevitable collision but moral and political cowardice.
We have erected, brick by brick, a monstrous edifice of surveillance and secret machination. Little in U.S. history since the Alien and Sedition Acts, or perhaps some of the most extreme lawlessness enacted in actual wars (such as Lincoln's violation of habeas corpus or Roosevelt's Japanese internment) can equal the sheer grandiosity of this vast and secretive erection. We have granted, out of our fear and anger, immense powers to our most uncontrolled servants and trusted them to remain servile.
Why, I do not know.
And, by and large, these powers have gone unneeded and unused for the demolition of actual "terrorist" plots and plans. Most of the domestic acts of "terror" have been foiled by simple citizens, or random customs agents, or street cops snitched on to someone. Several of the most "nefarious" plots appear to have been largely the work of government agents, who have tracked down various disgruntled and unhinged individuals, coaxed them, coached them, made their weapons for them, even driven them to the "terror" site before arresting them.
And many of these powers are even less comprehensible than that, like the 21st Century equivalent of the lettre de cachet, the "national security letter", that cannot even be mentioned under pain of imprisonment. We cannot know if the lettre de...excuse me, the "national security letter" has been misused...because those against whom it has been used cannot speak of their misuse, and if they attempt to do so they will find themselves in another modernization of Bourbon justice, the Chateau d'If of the "secret prison".
Can you imagine a United States with "secret prisons"? With nameless prisoners, latter-day Monte Cristos but in their orange jumpsuits and hoods? With secret letters demanding secret interrogations, carried on in secret and then buried below further layers of secrecy, lowered into a well a midnight, never to be known?
Is this the United States we pledged to as children? And if not, why not?
Because of some raggedy Islamic fantasists plotting in some dumpy motel in Lahore?
In a sane world we would shake our heads like a dog shaking off water, and immediately eighty-six about 99 percent of the ridiculous security rigamarole we've invented since 9/11, starting with the "PATRIOT" Act, the AUMF, and continuing from there. We'd relegate "terrorism" to the nuisance status it deserves and making in the province of our State Department and our spy agencies, who could make the appropriate recommendations to Congress and the President when they spotted another bin Laden lurking behind the arras.
Because, as I said, he will come. When you fight an old enemy long enough he will throw out the occasional Mosby, or bin Ladin, or Francis Marion.
But sending out troops to beat the hustings where he may be born...or sending in police to snoop and sneak on Americans guilty of nothing more than disliking WalMart or protesting foreign policy...is worse than a crime. It is a mistake, and one that we have been paying for this long decade.
Again, to undo all of this harm would be to admit that we were sniveling, mewling cowards to begin with. To admit that we fucked up dozens of people's lives for no better reason than our own bed-wetting fears. And to accept the calumny due us for being frightened little weasels too small to deserve the freedoms we so boldly lay claim to, and yet so quickly piss away rather than face any potential for harm.
And we would rather give up ALL those freedoms than accept that.
So, in brief; abroad we cannot have peace with a segment of Islam - unless we radically change our goals and interests in the Middle East, which we have and continue to show no interest in doing - while at home we will not have liberty - unless we radically accept responsibility for our own panicked fuckups as well as the risk inherent in living in an open society.
So in that sense the dead of 9/11 really DID die in vain, or worse - their deaths have made their nation a smaller, meaner, more secretive, less dynamic place.
We were given a chance of greatness and instead we went shopping - on credit - whilst fools and knaves led us into dark places.
"It is by our own feathers, and not by others' shafts, are we now stricken"