Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (11/16/06)


Vox populi. The people have spoken. After last Tuesday's emphatic rejection of the unwinnable Iraq War, there should be no shilly-shallying about leaving the Iraqi people to their own devices. Our bungled attempt at democratization of that troubled country has been shown to be a purgative rather than a remedy.

After 9/11 it was widely argued that the landscape had changed drastically, and the world had entered a new and frightening "age of terror." Terror was no longer something that happened in some remote part of the world. For the first time a state with enormous power had been successfully attacked at home. President Bush immediately announced that America was engaged in a War on Terror and proclaimed himself "a wartime president." He declared ominously, "There's no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland."

But the "war on terror" did not suddenly come into existence with that 9/11 event. And the four-pronged terrorist attacks on domestic targets were hardly unexpected. A month earlier, the CIA's Presidential Briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, had specifically warned that Bin Laden intended to attack in the United States. The FBI had taken note of individuals from the Middle East who had applied for flying lessons but expressed no interest in learning how to take off or land. Plane hijackings by individuals and groups of terrorists had been singularly successful for several years.

Millions who had lived through World War II could recall that during the Battle for Okinawa in 1945 Japanese suicidal kamikaze pilots had decimated the U.S. Seventh Fleet by flying through a curtain of antiaircraft fire and crashing their explosive-laden planes into naval vessels Any reader of newspaper headlines or listener to TV or radio broadcasts--the "celebrated man in the street"--was well aware that attacks like the 9/11 hijackings might occur.. An eight-year-old with a Crayola could have connected the dots.

A now almost-forgotten event that telegraphed to the nation that the World Trade Center was a target did occur on Feb. 26, 1993, when groups related to those who succeeded on 9/11 drove a rental van containing 1,500 pounds of explosive into the North Tower's parking garage. The resulting explosion came very close to toppling the North Tower, sending it crashing into the South Tower, toppling both landmarks and killing or maiming thousands of people. It was even widely known that these groups had even more ambitious plans that were nipped in the bud. As early as 1981 U.S. and British intelligence agencies were well aware of the existence of a network of radical Islamist groups. In that year, element of al-Qaida assassinated President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. A year later groups related to Hezbollah drove a truck bomb into the U.S. Marine barracks at the Beirut Airport in Lebanon, an act that forced President Ronald Reagan to withdraw U.S. troops from Lebanon.

What went wrong in Iraq? It had been widely predicted by analysts that an invasion of Iraq would inspire terrorism. What was not anticipated was the rapid increase of radical fundamentalism all over the world. Not only did our invasion cause a rise in recruitment by radical groups, the war created a new terrorist haven--Iraq itself. Even the destruction of al-Qaida will do little to improve the prospects for the future if the underlying conditions that caused the group's popularity--political oppression and lack of economic opportunity--persist in the Middle East and elsewhere. Equally troubling is Washington's backing of grilled heavily repressive and corrupt governments, which bolsters al-Qaida’s claim that the U. S. supports the oppression of Muslims.

It would be too easy to call what has taken place in Iraq a comedy of errors, but this glib phrase overlooks the more than 2,800 American lives already sacrificed there. Ironically, that number approximates the number of lives lost in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A grim trade-off, indeed.

You can't make this stuff up. In a recent interview, Martha Stewart is quoted as saying, "I honestly don't remember exactly what I was prosecuted for." This from someone who spent five months of her life in the federal low-security slammer at Alderson, West Virginia--and she can't remember why? Give me a break.

Your tax dollars at work. For almost six years, the U.S. Army has tried to lure recruits with the advertising slogan "An Army of One." Adopted in January 2001 to replace the "Be All You Can Be" campaign, which had lasted nearly 20 years, "An Army of One" was introduced to overcome what consultants felt was a view among young people that the Army was dehumanizing. It received heavy criticism because it de-emphasized the basic need for teamwork in any military organization. "If you want to be an `Army of One' you probably want to join the Hell's Angels, not the U.S. Army," observed Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute research group.

After struggling through a disappointing recruiting year, the Army hired the communications firm McCann Worldgroup last December to develop the new slogan. The overall five-year contract is valued at $1 billion, with the first two years guaranteed at $200 million each year. The new slogan was featured in a multimedia ad campaign launched Nov. 9, timed to coincide with Veterans Day weekend, Saturday, Nov. 11.

Sloganeering by the military services isn't something new. The other services also rely on catchy slogans to spearhead their advertising. Just last month the Air Force switched its slogan from "Cross into the Blue" to "Do Something Amazing." The Navy has used "Accelerate Your Life" since January 2001, and the Marine Corps has long relied on "The Few. The Proud." And what might this new Army slogan be? Are you sitting down? Developed in numerous tests with focus groups and interviews with soldiers, the $200 million slogan consists of two words: "Army Strong." It is meant--get this--"to convey the idea that if you join the Army you will gain physical and emotional strength, as well as strength of character and purpose."

Militaria. It made eminent good sense for the founding fathers to ordain that the person elected president would also be commander in chief of the nation's armed forces. After all, who could better fill that role than George Washington, the military leader who had made the nation's independence possible? Sadly, they did not foresee the pitfalls inherent in that arrangement. Today we have a stubborn president with little military experience who refuses to face the reality of the situation in Iraq. How many more Gold Star mothers will be created before General Dubyah acknowledges that his strategy has resulted in defeat? In the cemetery at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point is an imposing white pylon marking the grave of another stubborn general: George Armstrong Custer, who graduated last in the West Point class of 1861, enshrined himself in history by electing to do battle against a superior of Indians at the Little Big Horn River in Montana in 1876.

Future imperfect. In his 1950 book Unpopular Essays, philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell expressed skepticism about chances for world peace: "After ages during which the earth produced harmless trilobites and butterflies, evolution progressed to the point at which it has generated Nero’s, Genghis Khans and Hitler’s. This, however, I believe is a passing nightmare; in time the earth will again be incapable of supporting life, and peace will return."


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