SO IT WAS A WARNING

“[T]he closer scientists look at the spores that have traveled through the mail, the more impressed and concerned they have become. Alan Zelicoff, senior scientist at the Center for National Security and Arms Control at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, said investigators need to begin to focus less on the microbiology than the physics, which is impressive. “We didn’t think that anybody could come up with the appropriate coatings for anthrax spores to make them float through the air with the greatest of ease,” Zelicoff said, adding that exposing 28 people with a single opened envelope “is no mean trick.” And C.J. Peters, director of the Center for Biodefense at the University of Texas at Galveston, said that someone who has learned to produce two grams of anthrax spores milled to one to five microns — as was true of the spores mailed to Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) – could just as easily produce two kilograms of the stuff.” – Washington Post. What are the odds that a domestic crack-pot group would have been sufficiently prepared to capitalize on September 11 by having this kind of sophisticated anthrax ready and waiting? It seems clearer to me every day that biological warfare has already been launched on the United States.

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THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

“Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The Statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. Antiquated War Offices, weak, incompetent or arrogant Commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant Fortune, ugly surprises, awful miscalculations all take their seat at the Council Board on the morrow of a declaration of war. Always remember, however sure you are that you can easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance.” – Winston Churchill, “My Early Life,” 1930.

SHOULD IT BE A ‘WAR’?: British historian Michael Howard gave a penetrating speech yesterday warning of the dangers of this war. His critique deserves serious thought. His is a criticism that doesn’t come from defeatism or leftist relativism. He wants us to win, and his critique is designed to facilitate that. Besides, his analysis of the broader context seems to me to be correct, i.e. “the huge crisis that has faced that vast and populous section of the world stretching from the Mahgreb through the Middle East and central Asia into South and South-East Asia and beyond to the Philippines: overpopulated, underdeveloped, being dragged headlong by the West into the post-modern age before they have come to terms with modernity. This is not a problem of poverty as against wealth, and I am afraid that it is symptomatic of our western materialism to suppose that it is. It is the far more profound and intractable confrontation between a theistic, land-based and traditional culture, in places little different from the Europe of the Middle Ages, and the secular material values of the Enlightenment.” Nicely put.

STILL A WAR: At the same time, I think Howard is wrong in asserting that the very denomination of this conflict as a ‘war’ is a mistake. He’s right to point out that al Qaeda and other fanatical sects gain some prestige by being named a formal enemy. But they had already gained that prestige by the stunning success of their brutal assault on America. Besides, they are also a de facto state, since the Taliban regime is essentially a client of the terrorists and indistinguishable from them. So ‘war’ is indeed the correct term for the first part of this campaign, and this war needs to be conducted with as much ferocity as possible against the Taliban regime. That regime must be destroyed; and al Qaeda’s nerve center must be obliterated. Perhaps in the second phase, such terminology can be relinquished – as the campaign goes beyond al Qaeda to terrorism in other states and entities. Howard’s judgment as to the qualities required for such a conflict seem to me to be right on: “secrecy, intelligence, political sagacity, quiet ruthlessness, covert actions that remain covert, above all infinite patience.” He is right too that “all these are forgotten or overridden in a media-stoked frenzy for immediate results, and nagging complaints if they do not get them.” But that is where we are in Afghanistan, and the best response is to wage a full war now, and transform it into a calmer, but just as ruthless campaign thereafter.

A VIRAL ANALOGY: I know it’s subjective, but I can’t help relating this struggle to the battle against HIV. At first we longed for a “cure,” and there was no breakthrough. Many experienced anger as the deaths mounted and the enemy seemed elusive. The first avenues of attack ran aground. But gradually, as our learning curve soared upward, and as anger turned to grief-stricken patience and iron resolution, progress was made. Even now, though, there is no absolute victory. The virus has not been defeated. It still exists in every single living person who was once infected with HIV. Infection cannot be reversed or undone. But success is measured by how powerfully it has been repressed, and by the ability of people with HIV to live as normal lives as possible. This is perhaps a model for countering terrorism in the long run. By eschewing the chimera of a cure, we can advance the possibility of a real treatment. And if the treatment is effective enough, it amounts, in the fallible world we live in, to a cure by any other name.

WHERE’S OSAMA?

Interesting piece from Arab News, speculating on where bin Laden could be hiding. The author makes a plausible case that it wouldn’t be that hard to narrow it down, however difficult it might be to finish the job. I think we have to be wary of over-complicating our task in Afghanistan. It’s doable, if tricky.

WHERE’S AL?: The Onion has tracked the Democratic nominee down.

SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE: “America must have its vengeance. We’re not the kind of people to sit around and mourn a few thousand dead office workers when there’s some serious ass to kick. So we’ll bomb or invade or something. It won’t work, but that doesn’t matter. It’s what we do.” – columnist and cartoonist Ted Rall on why we should surrender to terrorism.

THE SUPERIORITY OF THE WEST?

Here’s an essay you would never read in a major American newspaper (except perhaps the Wall Street Journal). It’s published in the left-wing magazine, New Statesman, which makes it all the more remarkable. It’s by Peter Watson, who recently wrote a book, “The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century.” For the book, he interviewed intellectuals and scholars across the world for an overview of the leading innovations and new ideas of the twentieth century. There was surprising consensus about the various breakthroughs in science, and the arts. Then he writes: “What shocked me were my interviews with scholars of non-western cultures. Here, I am referring not only to western specialists in the great non-western traditions, but scholars who were themselves born into those traditions – Arab archaeologists or writers, economists and historians from India and China, poets and dramatists from Japan and Africa. All of them – there were no exceptions – said the same thing. In the 20th century, in the modern world, there were no non-western ideas of note.” No non-western ideas of note. The man will be accused of ethnocentrism, of course – but then why do all the non-western scholars agree with him? It seems to me they’re onto something, and this knowledge, which is largely verboten in civilized society, is a critical part of our current situation. One way of dealing with the vast disparity between western and non-western achievement is simply to negate the rationality of any such judgment – hence postmodernism. Another is to blame everything on Western colonialism – hence post-colonialism. Another, among the less deluded, is simply rage. If you grew up in a place that was, to all intents and purposes, culturally and intellectually moribund, how would you feel about the cultural and military hegemon? I think it would take enormous open-mindedness not to feel some resentment and envy. A more likely response among the not-so-virtuous is simply hatred for the symbols of such glaring cultural and material success. I do believe a certain kind of politico-religious fanaticism is a part of the Islamo-fascist equation. But I also think that Nietzsche was right in diagnosing that one of the most powerful and destructive forces of our time is simply resentment of others’ achievements. This crisis has highlighted the most extreme form of that resentment in the Islamic world – and all the pettier forms that are busy rallying, half-embarrassed, half-terrified, to its defense.

WORTHY OF CLINTON: “‘We want to brand Tom Ridge,’ a White House official said. “When people see him, we want them to think, ‘My babies are safe.”” – from Tuesday’s Washington Post.

REPUBLICANS AND GAYS: Two recent stories show how deep the shift is among Bush Republicans toward greater acceptance and equality for gay citizens and their families. An Associated Press story highlights the appointment of openly gay Scott Evertz to oversee policy towards HIV and AIDS and of Michael Guest and his husband to the American embassy in Romania. In these two appointments, Bush outdid Clinton, although the number of openly gay appointees in this administration is still woefully tiny. The story also points out the Bush administration’s maintenance of anti-discrimination policies in the federal government. It might have added the defense of pharmaceutical profits and therefore HIV research. We’re not close to equality yet, but these steps show a real and sensible thaw, and give the lie to those who argued last fall that the Bush administration would have meant a huge step backward for gay equality. Frankly, I’d rather have these gay appointments made entirely on the basis of merit without a song and dance about it than the gay quota-mongering and financial shake-down operation of the Clinton years. Then yesterday, yet another leading Republican came out in favor of equal treatment of gay and straight couples: former president Gerald Ford. In an interview with the dependably fair Detroit News columnist, Deb Price, Ford was asked about gay couples. Ford said: “I think they ought to be treated equally. Period.” He went on: ‘I have always believed in an inclusive party, in welcoming gays and others into the party.” So we now have Republican titans Ford and the late Barry Goldwater on the side of gay inclusion, leading lights like Alan Simpson and Mary Matalin on board, and a current president edging clearly toward acceptance. They make some of the anti-gay hysteria on the radical right seem even more irrelevant than it was even before September 11.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

“Any prince who has come to depend entirely on promises and has taken no other precautions ensures his own ruin. Friendship that is bought with money and not with greatness and nobility of mind is paid for, but does not last and it yields nothing. Men worry less about doing an injury to one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared. The bond of love is one which men, wretched creatures that they are, break when it is to their advantage to do so; but fear strengthened by a dread of punishment is always effective.” – Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter XVII.

AMERICAN ANTHRAX: In all the welter of conflicting data about the form of anthrax being wielded against Americans, I found the following article from New Scientist helpful. It leads to the notion that the fine anthrax used, in combination with certain chemical treatment, may well a residue of American experiments ceased and apparently destroyed in the 1960s. This doesn’t mean, of course, that domestic terrorists are the culprits. But it does mean that whoever is doing this is smart and capable of far worse.

STOP KVETCHING ABOUT THE NORTHERN ALLIANCE

It seems clear enough to me that one of the reasons for the lack of sudden progress in the war has been our reluctance to endorse and give full backing to the Northern Alliance. Anne Applebaum has a good, counter-intuitive piece in Slate, pointing out the need to junk this strategy. Whether we like it or not, these guys are the only force capable of ousting the Taliban, short of a massive commitment of ground troops in a terrain treacherous to foreigners and difficult to master. I think we should stop worrying about how popular these people are, and aim directly for our objective, which is the end of the Taliban and the death or capture of every single al Qaeda soldier we can get our hands on. That means backing the Northern Alliance with meaningful force. Similarly, I hope we are preparing to pounce on the alleged thousands of Islamo-fascists gathering on the Afghan border to join the fight. The minute they enter Afghanistan, we should do all we can to bomb these forces with the intent of killing as many as possible. Their gathering in one place is a mighty convenient way to counter-attack. Salon editor David Talbot recently urged, with typical inanity, that we should wage war and peace at the same time. I say this is loopy. We are at war. The only objective in war is victory. Magnanimity and peace-mongering can come afterwards. Meanwhile, intensify, intensify …

GOOD NEWS WATCH

While the media keeps pouring cold water on the war, I received a forwarded email from a young ensign aboard USS Winston Churchill (DDG-81) to her parents. It’s verified on the ship’s website. It happened a while back, but it’s the first i’ve heard of it. If you need cheering up, read on:
“Dear Dad,
We are still at sea. The remainder of our port visits have all been canceled. We have spent every day since the attacks going back and forth within imaginary boxes drawn in the ocean, standing high-security watches, and trying to make the best of it. We have seen the articles and the photographs, and they are sickening. Being isolated, I don’t think we appreciate the full scope of what is happening back home, but we are definitely feeling the effects. About two hours ago, we were hailed by the German Navy destroyer, Lutjens, requesting permission to pass close by our port side. Strange, since we’re in the middle of an empty ocean, but the captain acquiesced and we prepared to render them honors from our bridge wing. As they were making their approach, our conning officer used binoculars and announced that Lutjens was flying not the German, but the American flag. As she came alongside us, we saw the American flag flying half-mast and her entire crew topside standing at silent, rigid attention in their dress uniforms. They had made a sign that was displayed on her side that read “We Stand By You.” There was not a dry eye on the bridge as they stayed alongside us for a few minutes and saluted. It was the most powerful thing I have seen in my life. The German Navy did an incredible thing for this crew, and it has truly been the highest point in the days since the attacks. It’s amazing to think that only half-century ago things were quite different. After Lutjens pulled away, the Officer of the Deck, who had been planning to get out of the Navy later this year, turned to me and said, ‘I’m staying Navy.’
I’ll write you when I know more about when I’ll be home, but this is it for now. Love you guys.”