Friday, July 08, 2005

Terrorists are not equivocal creatures. So what's our problem?

What a couple of bad days.

A recent post from Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish -- he’s gay, iconoclastic and a little conservative; just the sort of thing we’re supposed to get over -- includes a link to a first hand account of the London bombings.

I have also posted P.M. Blair’s comments from yesterday followed by an extraordinarily unfortunate opinion piece published in Iowa’s Burlington Hawk Eye (circulation 18,718 daily and 20,373 Sunday)

Text of British Prime Minister Blair's remarks

Associated Press

Text of Prime Minister Tony Blair's statement delivered Thursday afternoon at his Downing Street office:

This has been a most terrible and tragic atrocity that has cost many innocent lives. I have just attended a meeting of the government's Emergency Committee, received a full report from the ministers and the officials responsible. There will be announcements made in respect of the various services, in particular we hope the Underground, insofar as is possible, and rail and bus services are up and running as swiftly as possible.

I would like again to express my profound condolences to the families of the victims, and to those who are casualties of this terrorist act. I would also like to thank the emergency services that have been magnificent today in every respect. There will of course now be the most intense police and security service action to make sure that we bring those responsible to justice. I would also pay tribute to the stoicism and resilience of the people of London, who have responded in a way typical of them.

In addition I welcome the statement that has been put out by the Muslim Council of Great Britain. We know that these people act in the name of Islam, but we also know that the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims, here and abroad, are decent and law-abiding people who abhor this act of terrorism every bit as much as we do.

It is through terrorism that the people that have committed this terrible act express their values, and it is right at this moment that we demonstrate ours. I think we all know what they are trying to do -- they are trying to use the slaughter of innocent people to cower us, to frighten us out of doing the things that we want to do, of trying to stop us going about our business as normal, as we are entitled to do, and they should not, and they must not, succeed.

When they try to intimidate us, we will not be intimidated. When they seek to change our country or our way of life by these methods, we will not be changed. When they try to divide our people or weaken our resolve, we will not be divided and our resolve will hold firm. We will show, by our spirit and dignity, and by our quiet but true strength that there is in the British people, that our values will long outlast theirs. The purpose of terrorism is just that, it is to terrorize people, and we will not be terrorized.

I would like once again to express my sympathy and my sorrow to those families who will be grieving, so unexpectedly and tragically, tonight. This is a very sad day for the British people, but we will hold true to the British way of life.

Thank you.


Text of Blair's statement Thursday morning in Gleneagles, Scotland:

We condemn utterly these barbaric attacks. We send our profound condolences to the victims and their families.

All of our countries have suffered from the impact of terrorism. Those responsible have no respect for human life. We are united in our resolve to confront and defeat this terrorism that is not an attack on one nation but on all nations and on civilized people everywhere.

We will not allow violence to change our societies or our values, nor will we allow it to stop the work of this summit. We will continue our deliberations in the interests of a better world.

Here at this summit, the world's leaders are striving to combat world poverty and save and improve human life. The perpetrators of today's attacks are intent on destroying human life.

The terrorists will not succeed. Today's bombings will not weaken in any way our resolve to uphold the most deeply held principles of our societies and to defeat those who would impose their fanaticism and extremism on all of us.

We shall prevail and they shall not.


This piece ran June 30, 2005 in the Burlington Hawk Eye.

Time to 'get over it'

So the war will go on indefinitely because it must.

That was the simplistic logic of President Bush in the speech he gave this week to make Americans feel good about his war in Iraq.

And it is his war. He conceived it. He lied to make it happen. He implied that God directed him to wage it. And when the lies that were told to justify the war were exposed, he simply changed his rationale.

Most Americans bought willingly into Bush's war, phony reasons and all. But with the body count rising amid obvious chaos, those who did are having doubts about the conduct and the purpose of a war now in its third year.

With his polls sinking, the president who regularly insists that he ignores polls decided he needed to give the nation and the soldiers bleeding in Iraq a pep talk.

It was the same Churchillian knockoff speech he has given before. Chin up. Stay the course. Onward Christian soldiers. Up with democracy. When the rebels see our determination to win, they will also see the light and quit.

Nobody believes it but the president keeps saying it because his alternative is to admit a mistake and accept defeat, and he won't have that. He may let a new president take the loss four years from now but he won't.

As always, he chose a friendly captive audience – this time it was soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C. – to make him seem likable, appropriately concerned, and even sympathetic, though he has no children at risk in this war .

In its cynical fashion, the venue gave the White House control over appearances. The troops could be counted on to obey the order to remain silent and not applaud during the speech. Except when the president praised them and spoke of the victory he desperately wants them to deliver to him. Someday. Somehow.

The president deliberately punctuated his sentences with the nominative plural pronoun, the all–inclusive "we."

"We fight today because Iraq now carries the hope of freedom in a vital region of the world....

"And we fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens....

"So we'll fight them there, we'll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won."


It is in the interests of a leader to make his subjects believe they are in a war together, the idea of one for all and all for one. Plays, books and movies are so good at projecting that absolute loyalty in a way that can make the hair on the bluest neck stand up in momentary pride.

But this is not that kind of war.

Even the soldiers and Marines, volunteers all, who are fighting this urban guerilla war are wondering if it is worth so many lives and limbs and damaged psyches.

When the war gave Saddam loyalists and Islamic terrorists the opportunity to kill Americans and bleed the treasury in Iraq, Bush simply changed his rationale to meet the new reality his mistake had handed the terrorists.

Though it has grown old and does not engender hope, Bush repeats the mantra that Iraq is where Americans must keep fighting to keep the terrorists from reaching U.S. shores again.

At critical moments of public doubt in their presidencies, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon said the very same thing about their war in Vietnam, substituting communists for terrorists, of course.

When Johnson gave his first pep talk, 400 GIs had been killed. When Nixon gave his, 31,000 had been killed. The final death count topped 58,000 Americans. And 2 million Vietnamese.

Dead Americans in Iraq are nearing 1,800. And if Donald Rumsfeld is right that the war could go on for 12 years, thousands more Americans are doomed — with no more assurance of victory than there was in Vietnam.

TV's talking heads will debate whether the speech bought Bush time, for what is not at all clear. Or if it turned the people who have lost faith in the war back to liking it.

Hoping to invigorate the lie that Iraq was involved in 9/11, Bush made five references to the catastrophe, implying again that 9/11 justifies the war and vindicates the president's judgment. It does neither.

This president has hidden behind 9/11 long enough. Iraq is not about 9/11 and never was. It is about a foolish leader who ignored good advice and went to war because he thought he was smarter that the bad guys and invincible to boot. There's a scene in this week's episode of the great new FX network series "Rescue Me," in which the 9/11–traumatized New York firefighter Tommy Gavin asks a cop to fix yet another parking ticket.

When he cites 9/11 as the perpetual excuse for justifying his irresponsible behavior, the cop's pity is, in a metaphor for the nation, exhausted.

I’m almost sorry to have taken you on that wild ride, from a sensible Blair to a radical lefty, but the juxtaposition of the two brings home an important point that our opinion writer did hint at in the last line. We are all exhausted. Although, I suggest sources contributing to our national exhaustion are multiple and not exclusively the province of terrorists.

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