Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ignoring advice when it could have made a difference

Describing someone as having a "pre-9/11 mentality" is meant as a denigration. It suggests that such a person supposedly still harbors the same naïve attitude toward the threat from terrorism as they did before 9/11, with an implication that they are either benighted or, perhaps, even un-American. But was everyone naïve prior to 9/11?

Writer Paul Mulshine admits to possessing the pre-9/11 mentality, since his understanding of the terrorism threat is unchanged today from prior to the 9/11 devastations. Back in 1996, Mulshine warned about the gutting of the CIA then underway by the Clinton Administration. In "Why I'm proud of my pre-9/11 mentality" (9/11/08), Mulshine argues that even after the USS Cole was attacked, along with several US embassies in Africa, Clinton did not turn his attention to reforming or beefing up intelligence-gathering operations. And, he writes, "George W. Bush took over and paid even less attention to the al Qaeda threat than his predecessor did."

Along with others, Mulshine is in company with Pat Buchanan, who, for years, warned in his columns and books, that sooner or later a day of reckoning was on the horizon for a country as unnecessarily involved abroad as the United States.

Mulshine tells of a report issued in 2000, by the National Commission on Terrorism, warning of defects in intelligence-gathering, which was ignored first by Clinton, and then by Bush. He writes,

The term "pre-9/11 mentality" is used as an insult, of course. But if you think about it for even a second, you have to ask yourself why any intelligent person would have had a different attitude toward terrorism on Sept. 11, 2001, than he had on Sept. 10, 2001. The threat was exactly the same. So was the means of countering it.

But instead of following the eminently sensible recommendations in that report, the Bush administration went from ignoring the threat of terrorism to endorsing the idea of ending all terrorism on the planet. This is impossible. Terrorism is a tactic, one better described by the term "asymmetrical warfare." The idea of asymmetrical warfare is that a lightly armed force can employ rudimentary resources – box cutters being the most extreme example – to create havoc against a conventional military power.

If such a war were symmetrical, with one conventional army against another, the United States could win easily. But since it is asymmetrical, we were forced to employ vastly more resources than the enemy, which is exactly what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those who deride the "pre-9/11 mentality" deride the very position that they ignored back when it might have made a difference, the idea of fighting terrorism through police and intelligence actions.

No comments: