After my disastrous entry into the kosphere in which I was attacked as a “Republican in disguise” a freeper and a troll back in 2004, my posts in the past year have been very well received. Markos Moulisantos, the founder of the Daily Kos, has linked to this site approvingly twice in his entries. One of my diary entries at the Daily Kos adapted from a blog post was linked to by a main poster there as an unheralded but interesting story generating a lot of traffic. My piece on “How the War on Drugs War Making America Less Safe from Terrorism” was well-accepted as well, even if it received little attention. Various other pieces have been positively received.
Which only made me more frustrated at the response my latest piece received: “Why Liberals Must Embrace the Wars Against Terrorism,” only loosely adapted from a blog post of the same name from yesterday. It was evident that many of the commentors did not find the time to actually read the article before commenting. The title itself was enough to set them off. Quite a number of the commentors went on to “criticize” my piece by reciting some of the very points I emphasized – for example how the Bush administration had done a poor job in it’s ‘War on Terror’. Others made great presumptions about what I meant – for example, presuming I was attacking Obama’s recent actions which I actually think are essential and which a close or even sympathetic reading of the piece would reveal. Then there were the more substantial disagreements: Some commentors condemned war entirely. Some belittled the threat from terrorism. Some made the case that terrorism was blowback for America’s sins. A number of responses centered around calling the struggle against terrorism a war – asking when this war would be over; who would sign the peace treaty to end the war; how one can have war against a method.
Some of these responses raise points I intended to discuss in the piece, but instead shorthanded due to it’s length – specifically, the facts dealing with the seriousness of the threat of terrorism and the questions about the nature of this war, should it be called a war. This lead one commentor to say that the piece wasn’t thought out – when in fact they meant that it did not fully convey an entire worldview in a manner that could not be misconstrued. To that I plead guilty.
To give an idea though of what I think a liberal approach to the Wars Against Terrorism would be, where my thinking leads me to end up, here’s a partial list of some things Obama should do:
- Close Guantanamo. Which Obama has already started on.
- Stop torturing prisoners. Which Obama has already ordered.
- Reach out to our allies. Which Obama seems to be doing.
- Reach out to the publics of the Middle East. In which this is a good first step.
- Kill or capture bin Laden. This is one of those, “Of course” things. But imagine the symbolism of Barack Hussein Obama finally bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.
- Flip Iran. After September 11 and the invasion of Iraq, Iran sent America a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences. In an act of stupendous stupidity, the Bush administration ignored it. Since then despite growing rancor between American and Iran, Iran exercised it’s influence in Iraq to assist the Surge by tamping down Shia violence. Iran’s and America’s interests in the region can complement one another once an overall agreement has been reached. Obama has indicated he is willing to meet with the Iranian leadership within his first year in office – but elections are coming up in June of this year. Whether Obama should send an emissary to influence who the Guardian Council allows to run in the elections or whether he makes some sort of appeal to the Iranian people, he should work to flip Iran. It would be the biggest foreign policy coup since Nixon went to China.
- Keep up the pressure on “the nexus” – or the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and Pakistan more generally. Pakistan now seems to be home to the resurgent Al Qaeda. Pakistan was also at the center of the international market in nuclear technology that A. Q. Khan ran until after September 11. Greater minds than mine will need to figure out exactly what needs to be done here – but it must be the focus of our international efforts to combat terrorism.
- Engage in public and transparent debate about strategy in the struggle against terrorism – while maintaining secrecy about tactics when necessary.
- Establish a new legal framework that acknowledges the unique threat posed by strategic terrorism, the vulnerability of our society, and weapons of mass destruction. Some things to take into account: The consequences of letting an ordinary criminal go are far less serious than letting a terrorist go; punitive measures that are supposed to deter crime (The death penalty, for example, doesn’t deter someone who wants to be a martyr like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad.); law enforcement focuses on prosecution and punishment rather than prevention, when counterterrorism measures must do the reverse.)
- And finally, there must be a reckoning for the illegal activities and the attacks on the rule of law of the Bush administration. An independent prosecutor would be fine. (I like the suggestion of Patrick Fitzgerald.) A truth commission would be better than nothing. But in some way, these people must be brough to account – not out of a desire for revenge, but as the only way to preserve our way of life come another emergency situation like September 11.
This isn’t a complete strategy. This only a list of steps – and some of them are still vague. The overarching idea though must be to take seriously what I believe is the existential threat of terrorism to our way of life – to a system of open borders, open markets, free exchange of technology and information, civil liberties, and unprecedented opportunity. This war must be a war to protect a free state and a free system – which means that counterrorism measures can be as contrary to the war aim as much as terrorism itself.