...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004
      ( 2:02 PM )
Against All Enemies

I have just begun reading Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies. (I am really irritated by the long title, and I'll mention why below) I'm only on the second chapter, but it's very good reading. He is a good writer (or he had a very good editor). Whether you agree with Dick Clarke or not, the first chapter of this book is incredible and worth reading. It is a minute-by-minute account of what went on in the Situation Room of the White House on September 11, 2001. It is both inspiring and frighting what our government can and can't do in the face of sudden attacks like that.

One thing I found stunning was that before the towers even fell, they had the airplane manifests and recognized names on them as Al Qaeda operatives! Stuff like this is what really shows what was wrong with our intelligence systems. The fact that information wasn't shared so that known terrorists weren't on FAA watch lists for boarding airplanes is unconscionable. I saw the PBS documentary about John O'Neill the other day and that just furthered my creeping suspicions that indeed, 9/11 could have been prevented.

I don't find the argument that "well, they would have found a way to attack us anyway" to be one that trumps the "we should have done more and thousands might not have died" argument. It was a top-down problem because the lower-level operators knew things that they told their bosses, but their bosses weren't sharing with other bosses, and it's only the bosses that ultimately make things happen and are responsible. That the beaurocracy and years of entrenched habits dating back to the old post WWII and cold war systems were still in operation in the last decade of the century shows that even when the underlings change and see the world with the rationality it takes to analyze and make decisions about current political situations, the system and its enabling bosses only hinder progress.

I have often uttered here that the point of government seems to be maintaining the status quo. Even if it's true (which it seems to be), that is no longer a viable option for this country. We must change or recede in our power, our status, our very viability as a democracy. We must push for institutional change througout our government, for people with vision to begin to have impact. And for those who would stymie us in a pattern of emperialism and greed-driven opportunism for those most advantaged in our society, they should be gotten rid of along with the old ways. We can't move forward in a way that will help the least of us, in a way that will avoid war instead of start it, in a way that will preserve our earth instead of destroy it, in a way that will encourage cooperation instead of halt it, unless we have top-down leadership that has the vision to do this very kind of shake up.

Whether that will ever happen, no matter what party is in power, is debatable.

point on the book title: One area where I feel Clarke's editors did err is the title of the book. The full title is "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror." It annoys the heck out of me when people say "war on terror." It's the English teacher in me or something, but come on, people! The president is the worst example of it. We're not fighting an emotion - that's like saying "The War on Rage" or "The War on Angst" or the "War on Exuberance." It's just bad use of the English language. So is it also wrong to say "War on Terrorism." You can't conduct a war on a method of behavior. Just like you can't really conduct a war on inantimate objects (like drugs). It's very violent language that our government likes to use to imply that it is striking out in offense against things that we can not control or hinder by acts of war at all. It's when we leave war behind us and pursue other options that things like the use of terrorism or the abuse of drugs can be inhibited or even stopped. The more people say "War on Terror" the more I want to start a War on Bad Language Usage. Okay, done with my elitist English language griping.

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