The discussion not being had about the 'War on Terror'...
By Brad Friedman on 1/4/2010, 5:05am PT  

The baseball metaphors were theirs. I just thought I'd pick up on them.

Over the holiday weekend, there was a bit of an "academic" tête-à-tête in the upper-blogosphere over President Obama's handling of the arrest, detention and prosecution of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Detroit "Underwear Bomber," as it compared to George W. Bush's almost exactly similar handling of the arrest, detention and prosecution of Richard Reid, the "Shoe Bomber," and other alleged terrorists by the former administration.

While there were swell arguments into which "both" sides could firmly dig their heels, as usual, the conversation that the people of this country really need to be having was shunted far aside in favor of the one Dick Cheney and Karl Rove prefer to be having...

The dust-up came in response to a number of blog items by Josh Marshall (here, here and here) in which he pointed out the obvious similarities between Bush's handling of Reid and several others and Obama's handling of Abdulmutallab, both of them using civilian criminal courts for prosecution. That, amidst a holiday spate of hypocritical Orwellian objections by Cheney, by Rove, and their predictable wingnut acolytes, apologists, and re-writers of history. In this case, Josh originally began by replying most directly to former Bush speech writer March Thiessen who proferred some nonsense at National Review Online's "The Corner" blog, about Reid and others being handled similarly to Abdulmutallab only because Bush had yet to fully establish his policy of "military tribunals" and endless detention for "enemy combatants" so soon after 9/11 Reid was originally arrested.

In Thiessen's follow-up entry at NRO, "Josh Marshall Strikes Out", he took yet another whack at his original thin (putting it kindly) argument after Josh fairly well decimated his initial case, and Rove quickly flagged Thiessen's second swing, via Twitter, as a (piss-poor) proxy for his and Cheney's own barely staggering argument, even as their cases were well-flogged, naturally, on Fox "News" and their kin all weekend long --- as if they were actually substantive.

Josh correctly labeled Thiessen's response to his rejoinder as a "Whiff!" and flagged, in turn, the more intellectually honest NRO response by former Bush prosecutor Andy McCarthy in which, rather than attempting to justify Bush's own use of civilian courts for Reid et al by finding excuses and rationalizations for it, he at least makes the case that Bush screwed up in doing so. "These decisions were what are known in the biz as mistakes," avers McCarthy in tossing in his two cents along with the latter-day "terror war" politicizers.

That argument, at least, is "perfectly consistent," as Josh notes, even as he doesn't agree with it. But, he writes, he finds McCarthy's case "still one that can stand on its own two feet and have its tires kicked without toppling or falling apart," unlike Theissen/Rove's argument claiming, disingenuously, that "that the Reid decision was the right one but that Abdulmutallab has to be treated differently" for some unexplained reason.

McCarthy's honest admission of Bush's "mistakes," observes Josh, "seems to be beyond Thiessen's reach," and Rove's as well, of course.

You can unpack the dreary details of all three arguments (Theissen/Rove's, McCarthy's and Marshall's) on your own, as I'm not flagging any of them here in order to necessarily offer an argument for or against. Rather, I point to that particular discussion as illustrative of how far to the Right margin the entire "mainstream" public discussion has sadly, and dangerously, gone.

While it's necessary to rebut the Cheney-ites purely politicized, and despicably transparent torturing of the historical record, the trap that Josh has been unwittingly lured into is that the entire debate now becomes one of who can best and most "effectively" detain and/or prosecute and/or interrogate and/or torture "terror suspects" --- a rather puerile, and ultimately unhelpful "mine is bigger than yours" argument finally, it seems to me.

Missing entirely from that eminently Cable News-approved "debate" of "Enemy Combatants vs. Criminals," is the far more useful and important point that Glenn Greenwald, among very very too few others, made in his own response to the Underwear Bomb plot last week:

In the wake of the latest failed terrorist attack on Northwest Airlines, one can smell the excitement in the air --- that all-too-familiar, giddy, bipartisan climate that emerges in American media discourse whenever there's a new country we get to learn about so that we can explain why we're morally and strategically justified in bombing it some more. "Yemen" is suddenly on every Serious Person's lips. We spent the last month centrally involved to some secret degree in waging air attacks on that country --- including some that resulted in numerous civilian deaths --- but everyone now knows that this isn't enough and it's time to Get Really Serious and Do More.

For all the endless, exciting talk about the latest Terrorist attack, one issue is, as usual, conspicuously absent: motive. Why would a young Nigerian from a wealthy, well-connected family want to blow himself up on one of our airplanes along with 300 innocent people, and why would Saudi and Yemeni extremists want to enable him to do so? When it comes to Terrorism, discussions of motive have been declared more or less taboo from the start because of the dishonest equation of motive discussions with justification --- as though understanding the reasons why X happens is to posit that X is legitimate and justifiable. Causation simply is; it has nothing to do with issues of morality, blame, or justification. Yet all that is generally permitted to be said in such situations is that Terrorists try to harm us because they're Evil, and we (of course) are not, and that's generally the end of the discussion.

Despite that taboo, evidence always ends up emerging on this question.· As numerous reports have indicated, the Al Qaeda group in the·Arabian Peninsula has said that this attempted attack is in "retaliation" for the multiple, recent missile attacks on Yemen in which numerous innocent Muslim civilians were killed, as well as for the·U.S.'s multi-faceted support for the not-exactly-democratic Yemeni government.· That is similar to reports that Nidal Hasan was motivated to attack Fort Hood because "he was upset at the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan."· And one finds this quote from an anonymous Yemeni official tacked on to the end of this week's NYT article announcing the "widening terror war" in Yemen --- as though it's just an afterthought:

"The problem is that the involvement of the United States creates sympathy for Al Qaeda. The cooperation is necessary --- but there is no doubt that it has an effect for the common man. He sympathizes with Al Qaeda."

...
Whether justified or not, we are constantly delivering death to the Muslim world. We do not see it very much, but they certainly do. Again, independent of justification, what do we think is going to happen if we continuously invade, occupy and bomb Muslim countries and arm and enable others to do so? Isn't it obvious that our five-front actions are going to cause at least some Muslims --- subjected to constant images of American troops in their world and dead Muslim civilians at our hands, even if unintended --- to want to return the violence? Just look at the bloodthirsty sentiments unleashed among Americans even from a failed Terrorist attempt. What sentiments do we think we're unleashing from a decade-long (and continuing and increasing) multi-front "war" in the Muslim war?

There very well may be some small number of individuals who are so blinded by religious extremism that they will be devoted to random violence against civilians no matter what we do, but we are constantly maximizing the pool of recruits and sympathy among the population on which they depend. In other words, what we do constantly bolsters their efforts, and when we do, we always seem to move more in the direction of helping them even further. Ultimately, we should ask ourselves: if we drop more bombs on more Muslim countries, will there be fewer or more Muslims who want to blow up our airplanes and are willing to end their lives to do so? That question really answers itself.

That is the discussion we ought to be having --- should have been having from September 12, 2001 on up through today. But it's the discussion that is not allowed to be had in "proper" circles which we've now largely conceded to the Cheney and Rove gangsters --- as Josh Marshall unwittingly does, even in his smart rejoinders.

While guest hosting the Mike Malloy Show last week (most directly on Wednesday's show, Hour 1), I raised some of these points after a week of not even wanting to talk about any of it, since it seems to me that making the Underwear Bomber famous makes as much sense as putting the guys who wanted to be famous for the Columbine Massacre on the cover of TIME magazine.

But by the time of Cheney's appalling statement on Wednesday, it became clear that this nation and its media and its sore loser politicians wouldn't be doing the right thing for the country as might have been hoped in such a situation.

So in discussing it all, I also took the opportunity to present a challenge to the Tea Baggers who have convinced themselves they've finally seen the light, and so have thrown in with the "revolution" of the Ron Paul-ites, and to the Ron Paul-ites who've foolishly allowed those same Tea Baggers to co-opt their own long-waged revolutionary movement. The challenge came on the heels of Paul's video statement to supporters on the government's too-predictable response to the Underwear Bomber.

While noting there is much I disagree with in Rep. Paul's statement, it seems difficult to dispute the following key point he offered which echoes Greenwald's. And where the Tea Baggers now believe and/or pretend to believe they're fellow "revolutionaries" with the Paul-ites (and vice versa), I'd love to see the corporate stooges of Dick Armey and FreedomWorks wrap their "revolution" around support of this theme, about which Paul and his supporters, at least, have been consistent from day one:

There's so much excitement about this, and now talk about attacking Yemen because there's al-Qaeda there. There is now some serious talk about what we should be doing over there, and dealing with the al-Qaeda, never addressing this real important subject of 'why is their al-Qaeda?' and 'why do these radicals get motivated in order to commit suicide and do these various things?' and they get motivated because we're there in their country, and then they organize, and the longer we're there, the more who are radicalized against us. So what do we do? We send more troops over there.

On that point, Paul --- like Greenwald who asked "if we drop more bombs on more Muslim countries, will there be fewer or more Muslims who want to blow up our airplanes and are willing to end their lives to do so?" --- is absolutely correct, even though both are saying, out loud, what those in the polite circles of Cable News aren't usually allowed to discuss, it seems.

And, of course, the more we join "their" argument (the Cheney-ites and Rovians) --- as Josh ably did over the weekend --- the more "they" ultimately win the "war," even if the good guys might otherwise win battle after battle after rhetorical battle.

In the meantime, my challenge for the Paulians is to hold Tea Bagger feet to the fire, and find out if they're with 'em or agin' 'em on Paul's consistent message: Get the hell out of the fruitless foreign incursions that ultimately make things worse, not better (or, at the very least, stop expanding them!). My guess: the bulk of the Tea Baggers want nothing to do with that argument and, thus, the Paulies should have nothing to do with the Tea Baggers other than calling them out, loudly, on their barely-veiled partisan hypocrisy.

But the most important take-away here is that unless we, as a nation, have now officially resigned ourselves to becoming "Israel" from here on out, forever in a state of perpetual war against ever-increasing enmity, the points discussed by Greenwald and Paul are the discussions that we should be having. It's a discussion we must and will have eventually --- and sooner rather than later if we're serious about ever returning to a state of normalcy, otherwise known by the cynics and hoodwinked and profiteers as "winning the War on Terror."