Saturday, August 12, 2006

Let's Move On to Phase 2

A calm and collected post on dKos refers to an insightful article by James Fallows from the current Atlantic Monthly, which summarizes interviews with numerous security experts who conclude that as we'e actually succeeded in destroying the centralized Al Qaeda--although not totally eradicated it because we abandoned Afghanistan in our quest to invade Iraq--it's time to think rationally about how to proceed from here. Is the "War on Terror," especially regarding Iraq, *really* making us safer, or is that creating more hatred of America than anything else?

The article makes some timely and important points. Yesterday, it was argued in the Times that those responsible for defending our countrylack the imagination necessary to prevent unknown threats--it's as if they can only imagine attackers repeating previously used strategies. Similarly, Fallows suggests in a follow-up blog post--contrary to popular logic--that it's precisely because we believe that the types of terrorist attacks illustrated by the London air plot will continue to occur that we should put an end to the "war" part of the fight against terror.

In a related blog post, Fallows summarizes his three main points from the Atlantic article:
First: “Al-Qaeda Central,” the organization that planned and carried out the devastation on 9/11, has been severely disrupted by U.S. and allied activities....Western agencies had never successfully penetrated al-Qaeda before 9/11. Now, it appears, they have. The British apparently had the current plotters under surveillance for a sustained period....

Second: the many “copycat” and “self-starter” groups that have been “inspired” by al-Qaeda and that have sprung up in England, Spain, Indonesia, and elsewhere will continue to pose the threat of attacks. The threat is likely to be more acute in Europe than in the United States....

Third: the greatest threat posed by these groups is not the damage they can do directly, but rather the self-defeating, irrational, or excessive responses they can goad a target country into making. Osama bin Laden has boasted that the attack of 9/11 cost at most $500,000 to launch and provoked more than $500 billion in military and security spending by the United States; a million-to-one “payoff.”....

The news of the last few days confirms rather than undercuts this argument.....Remember: it was police work, surveillance, and patient cultivation of sources that broke the airline bombing ring – not speeches about a state of war.

The scope of the issue is considered more broadly as well. Fallows observes in an interview also on Atlantic that the "open-ended emergency approach to spending, civil liberties, and executive power" that have characterised the post-9/11 years. Ironically, a front-page article in today'sWashington Post points out that this President is far more able and willing to travel cross-country without press than any predecessor in the last 50 years--which provides the opportunity for more off-the-record speeches to supporters (his "base") at high-priced events. Food for thought, certainly.

The original article is subscriber-restricted, but the blog post and interview are available in full for non-subscribers.

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