Obama's Response to Terror Attacks Is Chillingly Way Too Much Like Dubya
President Obama’s oval office talk on terrorism promises more of the same failed strategy based on no serious reconsideration of changed reality. From the top, by focusing on 14 Americans killed in San Bernardino, the President plays into the terrorists’ hands. President Obama, like the rest of the US establishment, appears to have learned nothing since President Bush played the fear card after 9/11, then used it to terrorize the Muslim world with ever more disastrous results (carried on by President Obama).
It’s not as though the madness of the fear-based reaction wasn’t obvious from the get-go. Susan Sontag wrote soberly in The New Yorker in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 about how to respond rationally to the attack. For her trouble, she was pilloried by her peers, at The New Yorker and elsewhere: it was as if the herd had decided that she had no right not to be afraid, which was the same as saying she had no right not to react as the terrorists wanted, which is irrational to the point of self-destructive insanity. But it was what the herd wanted, and did, and still does. Now we’ve had 14 years of spiraling destruction at home and abroad, and the President as our terrorist-in-chief says let’s have more.
The President’s emotional appeal, based on the 14 dead in San Bernardino, is as maudlin and manipulative as it is irrelevant to terrorism. That may sound cold, but it’s true. And it’s not nearly as cold as using victims as cover for continuing a murderous failed policy that is most effective in perpetuating the cycle of violence.
Even if the worst-case scenario is true (and that’s far from clear yet), that Mr. and Mrs. Farook acted on behalf of ISIS or its ilk, what they did was no more a threat to national security than so many other mass shootings like Columbine or Sandy Hook or the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. They are all horrible events. Each of them might have been prevented if the right people had been alert to their surroundings at the right time, but none of them, or even all of them, do not threaten national security in anything like a military invasion and conquest sense. The actually serious threat is emotional and psychological. Fear, doubt, uncertainty, confusion, and secrecy all conspire to defeat confidence, calm, proportionality, and reason. Leadership and populace alike embrace a zeitgeist of agitation and over-simplification, lashing out in one-dimensional military responses to misperceived threats that are not even fundamentally military. Even though most American violence is unrelated to terrorists, the occasional, real terrorist act leverages the larger national distress disproportionately. The relentless, unprincipled, bigoted opposition to the current President has left the country with no coherent center, no rational government, no possibility of acting sensibly in a shared national interest, because there no longer is any shared national interest. This hollowed-out shell of a superpower is an easy target, promising mindless panic in the face of phantom dangers, and internecine, impotent quarreling over our real pathologies.
Better responses to terror include courage, defiance, calm reason…
Among such lethal events, the Charleston church shooting is the most clearly obvious attempt at terrorism, good old American terrorism, deeply rooted in our continuing racist history. The shooter in Charleston intended to ignite a race war, he said, which seemed a credible notion in the context of the endless American socio-economic, often violent guerrilla war against African-Americans or people who sort of look like them. What makes the Charleston church shooting different from other shootings, perhaps uniquely different, is that this church chose not to be afraid, this church chose not to lock its doors, this church chose to reassert its basic values in response to murderous intimidation.
Not so this country, not so the home of the (once) brave, not so the most powerful nation in the world quivering in its collective boots and reacting in a way well-designed to keep the source of that quivering coming.
So when President Obama links San Bernardino, “the broader threat of terrorism,” and “how we can keep our country safe,” he perpetuates a dishonest paradigm that has served the country disastrously through two presidential administrations, without significant dissent, official or popular. It is almost incredible that the country should be in thrall to its illusions for so long, in the face of so much evidence that we’re delusional, but that’s the way it is, and there’s no serious challenge to the terrorist-threat fantasy from any of the candidates seeking to replace Obama.
None of them comes close to the sophisticated analysis of French journalist Nicolas Henin, who was an ISIS hostage for ten months until his government negotiated his freedom. Referring to the initial reaction of Europe to Syrian refugees, Henin observed that that was a huge blow to ISIS, the Islamic State – not only to have hundreds of thousands of Muslims fleeing their embrace, but fleeing to the infidel nations, who welcomed them with open arms (at first):
And that was so much a blow that I believe that one of the reasons behind the Paris attack was to disrupt this and to stop, to make us close our doors to the refugees, because, actually, welcoming refugees is not a terror threat to us, to our countries. It’s like a vaccine to protect us from terrorism, because the more interactions we have between societies, between communities, the less there will be tensions. I mean, the Islamic State believes in a global confrontation. What they want eventually is civil war in our countries, or at least large unrest, and in the Middle East, a large-scale war. This is what they look for. This is what they struggle for. So we have to kill their narrative and actually to welcome refugees, totally destroy their narrative. And if you kill their narrative, it’s even more efficient than if you drop some bombs and kill some of their fighters.
Smart, humane, and effective counter-terrorism, such as welcoming refugees, is no longer an easy political option. Not being easy, political leaders are variously exploiting it with fearmongering or fleeing from it out of sheer terror and cowardice.
The “don’t do stupid things” President does stupid things
President Obama would have us all be afraid of the Islamic state because, he says, it’s “a group that threatens us all.” This is simply not true. ISIS certainly doesn’t threaten him, or those around him, or most of the military or intelligence forces, or much of anyone else. The truth is that, although ISIS could be a threat to any of us, under rare circumstances, it is not yet remotely close to being a threat to us all. The odds are that it will never have that capacity. For the President to say so is fearmongering and part of the con job that supports the imperial state.
Here’s exactly how the President three-card-monte’d the terror con:
So far, we have no evidence that the killers were directed by a terrorist organization overseas, or that they were part of a broader conspiracy here at home. But it is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West. They had stockpiled assault weapons, ammunition, and pipe bombs. So this was an act of terrorism, designed to kill innocent people.
“So far, we have no evidence …” is a lovely way of suggesting that evidence doesn’t really matter and you just need to believe whatever the President says because he says it. And what he’s saying, nonsensically, is that even if these people were not terrorists, they nevertheless committed an act of terrorism. But terrorism is, by definition, a political act. Sometimes mass murder is terrorism, too, but other times it’s just mass murder. They need to be distinguished, and analyzed accordingly – and acted on honestly and rationally.
Terrorism works when the target reacts out of terror
For the terrorist, terrorism is a tactic of weakness. Unable to defeat an enemy with superior force, the terrorist attacks in ways that are meant to bait the enemy into reacting both self-destructively and to the benefit of the terrorists. The US has been reacting self-destructively since 2001, destroying its own political freedoms out of exaggerated fear (call it terror). And the US, by fighting terrorists with terrorist tactics (death squads, drone assassinations, bombing civilians, etc.), has contributed to expanding the ranks of the terrorists responding to our terrorism. It doesn’t get more mindless than that, if you want to preserve the “exceptional” America we are all taught to idealize. And why are our own terrorist tactics less effective in inciting terror than terrorist attacks against us?
What if 14 years of madness is not so mad after all? What if the aims of the terrorists and the covert aims of Western governments are more synchronous than not? What if the emerging police state here and in France and elsewhere is just what our rulers want? Promoting popular fear of terrorism just makes the police state easier to justify, and some of its deluded victims are even grateful for it.
With that possibility in mind, President Obama’s lengthy repetition of the Bushian view that “our nation has been at war” (never mind legalities or constitutionalities here) and needs to continue to be at war, endlessly – even though we’re not actually at war, we’re just killing people where and when we feel like it – all makes a detached observer wonder what we think we’re actually accomplishing. We get no rationale. All we get, as our President put it December 6, is a grim re-statement of 2001 tunnel vision followed by a chilling pause:
“… our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary.”
So much for international law. So much for probable cause. You don’t have to be a terrorist, just a “plotter.” And who decides what’s “necessary?” For starters, you know who doesn’t get to decide. You also know who doesn’t explain any of those decisions. And “ANY country?” Russia? China? Iran? Saudi Arabia? Canada? Probably not, but watch out Venezuela, you may be next on the hit list once there’s nothing left of Yemen. But why? Why does the US need or even want endless war? And why wage this endless war against proxy enemies who pose no serious threat anywhere beyond random acts of terror killing?
Anti-terrorism, as practiced by the US, is an oxymoron
Trying to persuade his listeners of the reality of a “new phase” of the “terrorist threat,” the President cobbles together events many years and thousands of miles apart (Fort Hood, Chattanooga, San Bernardino, Boston Marathon) to try to create the impression of some sort of pattern where there is none – not geographically, not ideologically, not even ethnically.
According to the President, with no evidence, “Many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure.” Cancer is the image you choose when you want to scare people. There’s no evidence that ISIS is a cancer in the US, or anywhere else outside the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. For Americans, ISIS – like al Qaeda – is more like acne: unpleasant, curable, usually temporarily inconvenient, and sometimes but rarely lethal.
That reality helps explain why the President proposes to go on treating the condition much the same way the US has been treating it for years. He lists the methods, apparently in prioritized order, with no intended irony: bombs, troops, working with allies, and talks. “This is our strategy to destroy ISIL [ISIS],” the President told us, “designed and supported by our military commanders and counterterrorism experts,” as if their past successes could go without mentioning.
Then the President shifted to a grab-bag of unrelated proposals, including profiling, as well as a Congressional vote to authorize the war the President is already fighting. He currently wages war in unnumbered nations based on the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) passed in the wake of 9/11. President Bush was the first to abuse that authorization, which was of dubious constitutionality from the beginning. There has been nothing to prevent President Obama from proposing a new authorization at any time since 2009, and he’s not proposing one now, he’s playing deflective politics by asking Congress to act when he knows it won’t as long as Republicans are in control.
President Obama’s speech was not without other ugly little jokes besides his call for the authority to wage the war he’s waging:
- “We’re working with Turkey,” he said, without explaining why Turkey maintained supply lines for ISIS, or why it bombs the Kurds that the US is helping to fight ISIS, or why Turkey shot down a Russian plane, or why Turkey is tilting toward becoming an Islamic state itself. That’s funny!
- “The vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim,” he observed accurately, without taking the US share of responsibility for killing Muslim civilians with our own terrorist actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, as well as the near-genocide we support in Yemen. That’s clever.
- “It is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas,” he said, without implying that we’ll bomb them till they do, or suggesting that they follow the rather effective US suppression of “misguided ideas.” Isn’t it ironic?
- “We are on the right side of history,” he said, probably not punning (although the pun may turn out to be correct), but exercising the clichÃ© rooted in the absurdity that history has a “right” side except when it’s just propaganda. Are you laughing yet?
This President may not be as obviously fatuous as his predecessor (the strutting “I’m a war president!” popinjay), but he’s no less feckless and irrelevant to anything like the common good at home and abroad. No wonder both presidents typically close their acts with the same dark comic line, “May God bless the United States of America.” Who else would?