ThreatsWatch.Org: Commentary

Six Years Later

What progress has a year brought us?

By Michael Tanji

Last year at about this time I wrote in the Daily Standard:

FIVE YEARS AFTER the attacks of September 11, 2001, we face many threats at home and abroad, yet our response has been mostly superficial and expedient. One is left to wonder: Are we serious about winning this fight?

For those unwilling or unable to go back and read the entire piece, I'll summarize the key points for you here:

  • Radical Islamists have been at war with us for years but we didn't get serious until the WTC towers fell and the Pentagon became a square.
  • Attempts to fight a politically correct war is only going to result in more dead Americans. Not every Arab or Muslim is a terrorist, but add up all the accused, convicted, and dead terrorists in recent history and the tally is skewed in one direction. Pretending this isn't a reality is asking for trouble.
  • Alternative views about our enemies, their capabilities and their intentions should not be discarded lightly. All the voices in the wilderness that laid out the case against AQ prior to 9/11 could have formed a choir.
  • Wanting to win the war and supporting those who fight it is not evil or hegemonistic; it's called being a patriot. If you don't agree that's fine, but don't blame us for trying to finish what someone else started.

I would like to say that some progress has been made on all of these fronts, but while there are bright spots, the horizon is still fairly cloudy.

We have started to make headway in Iraq thanks to the new counterinsurgency strategy, but we're not nearly as far along as most – even supporters of the war – would like. Thankfully the game is draw, not stud poker; we get a chance to get new cards and we're taking advantage of that fact. It's not a guarantee of success, but it improves our odds of winning. Winning, by the way, is what you cannot do if you are not playing.

Politically speaking we're still a mess. We've recently improved our ability to monitor terrorists thanks to new online surveillance law, but the rending of hair and gnashing of teeth over the effort was staggering in its display. No legislator that actually understands the problem or read the legislation had reason to doubt the need for such capability, but that didn't stop any of them from using the issue as a political football.

We've also not stopped the use of defense or security legislation as a gravy train for pork. The flimsiest of connections to national security serve as justification for under-funding essential projects, and in the bizarro-world of Capitol Hill it is the Pentagon and intelligence community – not bacon-carving legislators - that are lambasted when they present their proposed budgets.

Speaking of intelligence, we've seen progress in the establishment of an intelligence community wiki and the use of internal blogs to promote information sharing and more diverse ideas, but their use is still not prevailing, standard practice. We're in the second decade of the information age, and what is ostensibly the information-centric enterprise is still very much in an industrial-age mode.

The superficial arguments that make up the prevailing discourse about the war is getting us nowhere. If our national leadership – administrative and legislative – consider themselves statesmen vice simply politicians, then the ridiculous rhetoric has to stop. Getting people to take your new initiatives seriously means having to admit that mistakes were made in the past. Crow is not the tastiest dish in the world, but once it is off the table, it can't be used against you. By that same token when progress is made it should not be viewed under the shadow of a reality that does not exist. Abu Ghraib is over and done with, and attempts to revive the story line tend to fall flat for a reason (they're abominable aberrations, when they're not outright lies). It is ridiculously easy to score political points against the opposition without lobbing long-dead horses at them. Getting the majority of the country behind a strategy for fighting those that would end us is more important than getting half of the country behind a particular strategy.

We have witnessed wholesale progress in this past year, but as with any complex endeavor leaps forward in one area are accompanied by set-backs in another. Still, forward progress period beats going retrograde. The ability of our national leadership to discuss honestly and plainly the key issues of the day is still lacking, leaving explanations up to the chattering class and their respective agendas. That's only a good thing if you think all those talking heads are a suitable substitute for connected, representative leadership.

While most in this country are blessed enough to only have to chat about the war, there are other who are actually fighting it. We would all do well to take a lesson from this cadre of professionals; the overwhelming majority of which willingly return again and again to the fight and who re-enlist en masse even in a war zone. They are not advancing an agenda; they are accomplishing a mission on behalf of all of us. As we start the second half of the decade in which everything supposedly changed, that sort of clarity and commitment is something both sides of the issue and the aisle would do well to consider.