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August 1, 2004 - What to Make of the 9/11 Commission's Report













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Arthur Schrader writes in the pages of The Colonial Music Institute something that corrects a mistake –

On a March Allegedly Played by the British at Yorktown, 1781

 

Since 1881, a story has circulated among some Americans that the British played a march called “The World Turned Upside Down” (hereafter WTUD or Yorktown/WTUD) during their surrender at Yorktown in October 1781. Over the years this story has been accepted by more and more Americans (though without corroboration). After 1940 at least 33 American professional historians accepted the story and published it in their textbooks (still without corroboration). This seems to have encouraged several American novelists and one British poet, Robert Graves, to adopt the story and embroider it for their books.

What are the problems? First: The evidence that this happened is poor by any historical standard but historians haven’t bothered to look. Second: Nearly one hundred years of professional cataloging of early Anglo-American music hasn’t turned up a single eighteenth-century British tune or march called WTUD. (Writers who say there were several English WTUD tunes in the eighteenth-century are guessing from bad extrapolations). Third: Three different twentieth-century American groups have made strong claims for three different tunes, they call the Yorktown/WTUD but not one of these claims stands up to investigation.

 

And then Schrader goes on and explains at all in detail – and you can click on the link if you have a need to know more.

Well, no brass bands are current thumping away at “The World Turned Upside Down” - if there is such a tune at all – but they might as well be.

This 9/11 Commission issued a report that is messing with some heads, as they say.

Take the New York Times columnist David Brooks.  He is one of them who is now saying odd things – the author of the best seller Bobos in Paradise and its new follow-up On Paradise Drive.  Brooks has been the younger of the two token conservative columnists at the Times (the other is the senior William Safire) since September 2003 – after being the moderate, reasonable guy at the neoconservative pro-war Weekly Standard.

Note: see Just Above Sunset for June 20, 2004 – David Brooks: "Isn't it pretty to think so?" - a detailed discussion of Brooks’ writing.

Anyway, last weekend in the Times Brooks went off the conservative reservation after he thought about what the commission was actually saying.

War of Ideology
David Brooks, The New York Times, July 24, 2004

Key observations?

 

We're not in the middle of a war on terror, they note. We're not facing an axis of evil. Instead, we are in the midst of an ideological conflict.

We are facing, the report notes, a loose confederation of people who believe in a perverted stream of Islam that stretches from Ibn Taimaya to Sayyid Qutb. Terrorism is just the means they use to win converts to their cause.

It seems like a small distinction - emphasizing ideology instead of terror - but it makes all the difference, because if you don't define your problem correctly, you can't contemplate a strategy for victory.

When you see that our enemies are primarily an intellectual movement, not a terrorist army, you see why they are in no hurry. With their extensive indoctrination infrastructure of madrassas and mosques, they're still building strength, laying the groundwork for decades of struggle. Their time horizon can be totally different from our own.

As an ideological movement rather than a national or military one, they can play by different rules. There is no territory they must protect. They never have to win a battle but can instead profit in the realm of public opinion from the glorious martyrdom entailed in their defeats. We think the struggle is fought on the ground, but they know the struggle is really fought on satellite TV, and they are far more sophisticated than we are in using it.

 

Whoa, Nellie! 

 

This from the man who said the war was wonderful – even if we screwed up everything quite badly since the fall of Baghdad – because it was the right thing to do.

Now he says, pretty clearly, maybe a war, in the conventional sense of a war – kill the bad guys and occupy their land - was a stunningly bad idea.  Say what?

What should we have done?  Well, he is now suggesting what we should do.

 

We … need to mount our own ideological counteroffensive. The commissioners recommend that the U.S. should be much more critical of autocratic regimes, even friendly ones, simply to demonstrate our principles. They suggest we set up a fund to build secondary schools across Muslim states, and admit many more students into our own. If you are a philanthropist, here is how you can contribute: We need to set up the sort of intellectual mobilization we had during the cold war, with modern equivalents of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, to give an international platform to modernist Muslims and to introduce them to Western intellectuals.

 

Yeah, well.  We could have done that in the first place.

And Brooks says this now-

 

… we need to see that the landscape of reality is altered. In the past, we've fought ideological movements that took control of states. Our foreign policy apparatus is geared toward relations with states: negotiating with states, confronting states. Now we are faced with a belief system that is inimical to the state system, and aims at theological rule and the restoration of the caliphate. We'll need a new set of institutions to grapple with this reality, and a new training method to understand people who are uninterested in national self-interest, traditionally defined.

Last week I met with a leading military officer stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, whose observations dovetailed remarkably with the 9/11 commissioners. He said the experience of the last few years is misleading; only 10 percent of our efforts from now on will be military. The rest will be ideological.

 

What?  Our experience over the last several years has been misleading?  We've got a long struggle ahead, but at least we're beginning to understand it?

Hey, who misled us – and said it was simple?  They were bad.  We were good.  They hate us.  Conquer and occupy Iraq and things will be better.  All else is nuance, of the French sort. 

 

Who misled us?  You might point the finger at Bush-Cheney-Wolfowitz.  Or at David Brooks.

It would have been nice if we decided all this a bit earlier.  But we had the war.  Done.

And NOW we’re supposed to consider what they think and how we can counter that by non-military means?  Okay.

Better late than never.  Don’t expect the Bush-Cheney-Wolfowitz troika to buy these ideas, David.

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Caleb Carr - a professor of military history at Bard College and the author of "The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians" – takes up the topic four days after Brooks, with a different twist.

Wrong Definition For a War
Caleb Carr, The Washington Post, Wednesday, July 28, 2004; Page A19
Carr too does a riff on “The World Turned Upside Down” -

 

Toward the end of its widely praised report, the Sept. 11 commission offers a prescriptive chapter titled "What to Do?" There, it makes an assertion that is genuinely shocking. It says that in our current conflict, "the enemy is not just 'terrorism,' some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism [the report's emphasis] -- especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology."

… It seems almost incredible that we could have been at war this long without defining precisely who or what we are at war with. But such is the case, and it has never seemed an urgent matter to lawmakers. When I appeared before a congressional subcommittee studying strategies for the war on terrorism in 2002 and suggested that the first step should be the promulgation of just such a uniform definition, the members were momentarily dumbstruck. To their credit, they soon recovered and we began to discuss the issue, but a comprehensive definition of terrorism for the use of the American government and the education of the American people never emerged. Now, however, the president and his supporters are apparently ready to instantly approve the radical definition set forward by the commission.

 

Carr is doing a different riff on the theme of the apocryphal march.  Carr doesn’t say the war was the wrong way to meet the threat.  He’s saying we never really defined the threat at all - and the commission is finally doing that – even if they are doing it quite badly.

Well, it would be nice to define terrorism, precisely.  Then we could work out, say, a plan to deal with it.

So, what do we do?

… first we must agree on an internationally acceptable definition. Certainly terrorism must include the deliberate victimization of civilians for political purposes as a principal feature -- anything else would be a logical absurdity. And yet there are powerful voices, in this country and elsewhere, that argue against such a definition. They don't want to lose the weapon of terror -- and they don't want to admit to having used it in the past. Should the United States assent to such a specific definition of terrorism, for example, it would have to admit that its fire-bombings of German and Japanese cities during World War II represented effective terrorism. On the other hand, few Muslim nations want to go up against the power of organized terrorist groups by declaring them de jure as well as de facto outlaws.

You see the problem.

Note: see Just Above Sunset - August 10, 2003 Mail: War Crimes - Or Just Standing Up for Yourself? - From Dresden to Tokyo to Inglewood to Baghdad - a discussion of such matters with comments from readers.

Well, Carr’s issue is that the Commission’s quick judgment that terrorism is too vague a term and Islamic extremists will do for now as a definition of “the problem we face” – well, that’s just going to make things worse,

 

What the commission fails to see is that the word "extremist" (or "Islamist") is not what will be heard on the "Arab street," or indeed much of anywhere else in the world, when the new enemy is proclaimed. George Bush initially reacted to the Sept. 11 attacks by calling for a "crusade" against terrorism, but many Muslims heard only one word, "crusade," and they heard it in its historical rather than its rhetorical sense. The West, that word implied, is coming again to take control of Muslim nations and holy places, just as it did after the turn of the last millennium. The president later apologized for his thoughtlessness, but the damage had been done.

And now, when the Sept. 11 commission says that terrorism is no longer the enemy, that Islamist extremism has assumed that role, most Muslims are going to hear the same sort of threatening, generalized message, one constantly repeated by Osama bin Laden: The Americans are not really concerned with terrorism -- in fact, they've practiced it throughout their history; what they are embarked on is a war against Islam itself.

 

So what do we do?

We could convene an international conference to actually define what it is we are fighting.  You know, get everyone on the same page.  Make the whole thing a cooperative effort where everyone, at least all interested nations, gets a say in working out what we’re trying to do, and to whom.  Of course Dick Cheney might attend and tell each and every foreign leader, in his blunt, explicit way, to go… .  Perhaps he should stay home, at his undisclosed location, being grumpy.

An international conference is unlikely.  But the international conference idea has been floating around the Kerry camp – something they’d do first thing.

Of course, he will not be elected in November.

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And what about Cheney?  He’s not budging.  Leadership is standing firm on your positions.  No matter how events, and facts, evolve.  No flip-flops.

As the Democratic National Convention got underway in Boston, Cheney came out of hiding and spoke out here, down the coast at Camp Pendleton, the big marine complex out here.  The Reuters report on that, via MSNBC, is here.  Yes, it was counter-programming, so to speak.

His theme?

“Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness.”

We keep fighting, militarily. All else is just stupid.

Juan Cole, the professor of history at the University of Michigan, the middle-east expert on Iraq who travels down to Washington to testify before congress now and then, and pops up on the PBS “News Hour” every month or two, disagrees.

See Arguing with Cheney

Here’s his history counterargument -

 

This statement is half right and half wrong. Some terrorist attacks are caused by the use of strength. For instance, the Shiites of southern Lebanon had positive feelings toward Israel before 1982. They were not very politically mobilized. Then the Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982 and occupied the South. They killed some 18,000 persons, 9,000 of them estimated to be innocent civilians. The Shiites of the South gradually turned against them and started hitting them to get them back out of their country. They formed Hizbullah and ultimately shelled Israel itself and engaged in terrorism in Europe and Argentina. So, Hizbullah terrorist attacks were certainly caused by Sharon's use of "strength."

On the other hand, it is the case that a perception of weakness can invite terrorist attacks by ambitious and aggressive enemies. Usamah Bin Laden recites a litany of instances in which the United States abruptly withdrew when attacked, and takes comfort in the idea of the US as a paper tiger. He instances Reagan's 1983 withdrawal from Beirut after the Marine barracks was bombed and Clinton's departure from Somalia after the Blackhawk Down incident.

The lesson I take away from all this is that the US should not get involved in places that it may get thrown out of, because that projects an image of weakness and vulnerability to the country's enemies. There was no way the United States could possibly have maintained a presence in Lebanon in the early 1980s, and Reagan was foolish to put those Marines in there, and even more foolish to put them in without pilons around them to stop truck bombs. The country was embroiled in a civil war, and it would have taken a massive commitment of troops to make a difference. In the wake of the Vietnam failure, the American public would not have countenanced such a huge troop build-up. Likewise, Bush senior was foolish to send those troops to Somalia in the way he did (which became a poison pill for his successor, Bill Clinton).

The question is whether the quagmire in Iraq makes the US look weak. The answer is yes. Therefore, by Cheney's own reasoning, it is a mistake that opens us to further attacks.

 

Ah, history can be so very irritating.  And ambiguous.

Reuters - "Cheney said Americans were safer and he stood by prewar characterizations of Iraq as a threat despite the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and new warnings by Cheney and other administration officials that another major terrorist attack may be coming."

Juan Cole: -

 

Iraq was not a threat to the United States. Period. Let me repeat the statistics as of the late 1990s:

US population: 295 million
Iraq population: 24 million

US per capita annual income: $37,600
Iraq per capita annual income: $700

US nuclear warheads: 10,455
Iraq nuclear warheads: 0

US tons of lethal chemical weapons (1997): 31,496
Iraq tons of lethal chemical weapons (1997): 0

While a small terrorist organization could hit the US because it has no return address, a major state could not hope to avoid retribution and therefore would be deterred. Cheney knows that Baathist Iraq posed no threat to the US. He is simply lying. I was always careful not to accuse him of lying before the war because who knows what is in someone else's mind? Maybe he believed his own bullshit. But there is no longer any doubt that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, no active nuclear weapons program, no ability to deliver anything lethal to the US homeland, and no operational cooperation with al-Qaeda. These things are not matters of opinion. They are indisputable. Ipso facto, if an intelligent person continues to allege them, he is prevaricating.

“President Bush is determined to remove threats before they arrive instead of simply awaiting for another attack on our country. So America acted to end the regime of Saddam Hussein . . . Sixteen months ago, Iraq was a gathering threat to the United States and the civilized world. Now it is a rising democracy, an ally in the war on terror and the American people are safer for it.”

I have never understood the phrase "civilized world." To what exactly does it refer? How do you get into it? Can you drop out of it? Is Germany in it? How about 1933-1945? Is Egypt in it? (Surely it helped invent "civilization"?)

But the more important point is that a) there was no threat to the United States from the regime of Saddam Hussein, and there certainly was no gathering threat. The Iraqi military was more dilapidated by the hour; and b) It is obvious any situation that kills and maims thousands of US servicemen and women every year is not "making us safer" (the troops are part of "us", Mr. Cheney).

 

I think Cole is upset.

Perhaps, should Kerry win the election in November, Cheney can lead the band playing a rousing chorus or two of “The World Turned Upside Down” at the inauguration in January.

 

 

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From Joseph, who left life out here in Hollywood to live in France –

 

I agree with Carr and Cole.  I suppose I have to say that Brooks now agrees with me!

 

As you know, I never opposed the war on pacifist grounds; I opposed it because of its likely counter-productivity.  This speculation would have been a toss-up, had they done a proper job by sending a serious force with a plan for what would happen after the "war" part was over.  But it was so clearly destined to be a cock-up.  Why?  Because not only was it clear that they didn't understand what is clear to Brooks only now, it was clear that they didn't want to understand.

 

Now why would that be?

 

Why would they not want to understand that this was a war of competing world-views – not of armies and nations – where you win by convincing everyone you are the better folks – not the stronger, more powerful, angrier and more righteously vengeful?  You’re better than that.

 

You convince everyone you are good – and you don’t kill anyone you say is bad, along with twenty or thirty thousand caught in the crossfire by mistake.  You are better – not deadlier and more dangerous.  You show.  You don’t tell. 

 

Their fear of your technological wizardry of death – your smart bombs and armed silent drone aircraft and all the rest – is your defeat.  Your power to make their lives miserable unless they comply with all your demands is your defeat.  Displays of raw power assure some momentary safety and grudging compliance.  That does work.

 

“Look how tough I am.  Don’t mess with me.”  That works, if you can keep it up.

 

We have been told for so long that this was the only thing that works.  That’s it.  Only that.  Punish evil and it goes away.

 

We have taken the position that saying be good or you’ll get hurt is the answer.  None of this let’s make things better crap.

 

Well, as the saying goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.

 

But we are better.  The current war administration just doesn’t seem to really believe that at all.

 































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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