Let’s be rational when we talk about the War on Terror

I guess the War on Terror isn’t progressing fast enough for some people.
I guess you can count me among them, but I’m not going to throw a fit about it. When we act impatient and irrational, we’re giving the enemy exactly what they want. Plus, it’s a very short step from talking tough and dumb to disaster.

Steve DeLassus sent me some writings from some other place (he gets around more than I do these days, I guess) that was basically your typical nuke-the-whole-middle-east-’till-it-glows-then-nuke-it-again knee-jerk reaction piece. It reeked of a “the only good Arab is a dead Arab” and “We’ve got to kill ’em all before they kill us” attitudes. Yes, I know, post-Sept. 11, we’re all suspicious. But whenever we say or write something, we really need to stop and consider what we’re saying. Substitute another racial group for the sentence you’re about to utter. Or substitute the word “women.” If it doesn’t sound good then, it shouldn’t be said.

The other problem is, that kind of rhetoric plays directly into their hands. Remember, to Muslim fundamentalists, we are evil incarnate. I don’t care what thoughts come to your mind when someone utters the name “Osama bin Laden.” He thinks the same of you and me. Or worse. When we engage a kill-him-and-everyone-who-looks-at-all-like-him attitude, we only confirm to the Middle East that we’re every bit as evil as the fundies say we are.

And if we put that knee-jerk reaction into practice, then we become every bit as evil as they say we are. Similar words were flying in Europe in the 1930s. I think we’re all familiar with the outcome of that piece of history, and I think the rational majority of U.S. citizens want no part in anything that even vaguely resembles that.

I’m sure this will come as a huge surprise to a great many of you, but I’m not the world’s foremost expert on military intelligence. Nor am I the world’s foremost expert on military tactics. I’m not even the world’s foremost expert on foreign policy. Not only that, I may or may not be the most knowledgable person on any of these subjects in this small apartment building.

It occurred to me today that I’m not very self-reliant. I rely on someone else to do things I’m not good at, such as fixing my kitchen appliances. I rely on someone else to do things I don’t want to do, such as hauling away my garbage. And I’m forced to rely on someone else to protect me and the people I care about from crazed lunatics, be they from Saudi Arabia or North Carolina, because I have neither the required skills nor interest.

It’s not in the best interests of those specialists who protect this citizenry from thugs to reveal everything they know. One, there’s every possibility that I won’t understand some critical piece of data, just as most of those specialists wouldn’t understand a named.conf or DNS zone file. Two, if I’m able to get that information, then the enemy will likely also be able to get it, know what we know, and therefore act accordingly.

Our reaction as a whole to Sept. 11 was appropriate. The NYPD and FDNY rescued as many people as possible. Reinforcements were sent in from all over the country to relieve their exhausted ranks. The workers rose to expectations, and then some. We sent some of our finest into Afghanistan, where we toppled a cruel and repressive government. We captured some of the people responsible for this deed. Others were killed. Plans were captured. Training camps were destroyed. A few key individuals remain elusive.

Was it enough? No. The enemy is not completely disabled. The enemy probably never will be completely disabled. But it is on the run, and that part of the world knows we’re serious. Some of them still aren’t quite taking the hint.

Should we be doing more for Israel? Probably, but I don’t know what we’re doing and what all the implications are for doing more. Besides, if Israel has proven anything over the past 40 years, it’s proven that it’s more than capable of defending itself.

Should we be attacking other countries? I don’t know who poses the greatest threat. Nor do I know what we have in the way of materiel. Remember, the U.S. citizenry voted the first President George Bush out of office before he could re-arm the military after the Gulf War. Clinton waged more war than Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush combined, all the while cutting defense spending. It’s very likely we’re not really in position to expand this war right now. But, not knowing who poses the greatest threat right now and having no estimates what it will take to knock out that threat, I’m not exactly in position to make that decision, and I’m not really serving any purpose by talking about it.

All I do know is that we need to be slashing our consumption of petroleum products, because, let’s face it, that’s the cash crop of the Middle East. That’s our war to fight. Fortunately, there are lots of little things we can do. Here’s a start: Keep our tires inflated to the maximum air pressure the car manufacturer recommends; replace our spark plugs at the recommended intervals and buy high-efficiency plugs rather than the cheap standard plugs; and replace our air filters every couple of oil changes. And, of course, when it’s practical to do so, walk or ride a bike.

But I think I’ll leave the policymaking to those who make and recommend policy every day and have been doing so for a significant amount of time. I’ll just stick to building servers. I’m better at that.

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One thought on “Let’s be rational when we talk about the War on Terror

  • June 4, 2002 at 12:04 am

    It’s pretty easy to be an armchair quarterback, whether it’s football or foreign policy. But in either arena, making an overly strong move will result in you falling on your face. Turning Arab lands into pools of glass certainly wouldn’t make us any friends.

    I realize I’m about to sound like Yet Another Jerry Pournelle Parrot (YAJPP), but I do agree with some of his recent points. The Middle East is full of tyrannical regimes. These are places where people (OK, women) are tortured – or worse – for being less-than-fanatical about clothing. Oil money feeds tyrants who abuse their own societies. What we and other oil consuming nations need is to become independent of Arab oil. Russia, at least at face value, is becoming a stronger partner. And they have lots of black slickery stuff for our cars. Better yet, we should start pumping more of our own oil. Better still, we should be working hard to find efficient, reliable alternatives to fossil fuel altogether.

    While this isn’t as urgent as eliminating those who would kill us, it’s right up there. The tyrants have money – oil money, much of which is used for, at best, questionable causes (see the Saudi “telethon” for the poor Palestinians, or Saddam’s payout to “martyrs'” families). Choking the fanatics’ money supply certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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