In the shock of 9/11, 2001, the United States saddled up and, as the old expression goes, rode off in all directions at once, invading Afghanistan, invading Iraq, making millions take off their shoes before getting on an airplane. The invasions, of course, turned into quagmires into which sank tons of our treasure and thousands of our sons' and daughters' lives. In other words, as an exercise in terrorism, the attacks of 9/11 succeeded.
The militarists argue that their global war of response has succeeded, because there has not been a similar attack on American soil since 9/11. This is a little like selling elephant repellent in Iowa and claiming it works because there are no elephants in Iowa. Who is our enemy in the war on terror? And who is actually making contact with the enemy? I have a list:
- A 27-year-old pharmacist who lives with his parents in Boston has been charged with conspiring to attack a shopping mall and two federal government officials. During seven years of the alleged conspiracy (a word that seems to mean "talking about"), this mastermind failed to acquire any weapons and was spurned by every legitimate terrorist group he tried to join.
- A 24-year-old Afghani immigrant living in Denver has been charged with conspiracy, and his case is regarded as the most serious in years because in addition to "talking about" blowing something up he downloaded plans to his laptop and bought three of the required chemicals including -- drum roll, please -- hydrogen peroxide.
- Seven guys in North Carolina stand charged with conspiracy -- i.e. "talking about" -- participating in "jihadist movements" overseas. Prosecutors said in court (with straight faces, but to the considerable amusement of the judge) that when the suspects were overheard talking about "going to the beach" they really meant attacking stuff somewhere overseas.
- A 29-year-old guy in Illinois is charged with a lot more than conspiracy -- attempted murder of federal employees. He tried to detonate what he thought was a car bomb: it was a car given to him by the FBI containing an inert device supplied by the FBI, which the FBI told him was a bomb. Perhaps a more appropriate charge wold be terminal stupidity.
- A 19-year-old idiot in Texas spent months dithering with a bunch of FBI agents pretending to be a Qaeda sleeper cell, then took the car they gave him and the bomb-like thing they gave him and pushed the button they gave him and is charged, in the breathless words of federal prosecutors, with trying to bring down a "60-story office tower in Dallas." Wow.
The list goes on and on, but two things become obvious. First and most important, I sleep easier at night knowing that, as Scott Peck famously observed, "It is well that evil is so stupid." (One of the most telling of the stories about the 9/11 hijackers is that while living in Florida, learning how to point an airplane, four of them trekked to a neighbor's apartment to seek help in changing a light bulb.)
Secondly, the people who are foiling these criminal masterminds are cops. While it is true, as the FBI has admitted, that many of the cases are "aspirational rather than operational" -- i.e. they involve "talking about" doing stuff -- still, it is the FBI that is engaged, which it unfortunately was not in the days leading up to 9/11.
So, here's the big question. What are our armed forces doing in Iraq and Afghanistan?