October 18, 2004


A reader writes in:

Why We Deserve to Lose:

"By "we" I mean we of the Right, particularly those of us who call themselves, as I have called myself for twenty years, "neo-conservative". We deserve to lose this one.

We deserve to lose because we did deceive America about the reasons for Iraq. The deceit was not over whether Saddam had WMD, but why it would have mattered if he did. There were good reasons to be afraid of a nuclear armed Saddam. Reasons good, enough, I think, to justify going to war. But those reasons were not the reasons the president gave. The president said that what we had to fear was "the worst weapons in the world" falling into the hands of terrorists. But that was absurd and we knew it. After years of effort and billions spent, there was not the slightest chance that Saddam would have given his nukes to terrorists. Saddam had no interest in jihad. Saddam was interested in Saddam.

Of course, when it turned out that there were no WMDs we said, quite sincerely, that WMDs weren't the only reason for invasion. The other reason-- the real reason-- we now said, was to change the dynamic of middle eastern politics by planting a democracy in the middle of all those Arab tyrannies. And that was certainly was the vision that animated many of us. We were sickened by 9/11, sick of the Arab-Israeli crisis and sick of having to treat these oriental despotisms as modern nation states. Above all we wanted the US to be proactive. And perhaps we were right. Perhaps we will succeed in Iraq, convert it to a democracy and by its example bring democracy to all its neighbors. If that happens it will vindicate the war. But it will not excuse us, because that is not how we sold this war. It would have taken a great communicator to convey that vision to the American people. Our president's specialty is not communication it is fear mongering.

It is the relentless sounding of the tocsins of fear and dread that we should be most ashamed of . The truth is Arab terrorism against homeland targets is not hard to fight. The enemy is ill-organized, inept and incapable of operating effectively in the first world. It took billions of dollars of Saudi agitprop to create this generation of jihadis and Bin Laden spent tens of millions more to create his band of terrorist boy scout troops in the Afghani wilderness. And to what effect? In the harsh economics of real war, the spectacularly lethal stunt that was 9/11 was a poor return for a lavish investment. For comparison, Timothy Macveigh killed more, man for man, paid for it with his credit card and almost got away. The Beltway Sniper closed down much of the eastern seaboard with a deer rifle and a secondhand card. We frighten ourselves with visions of hi-tech terrorists wielding biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. In fact the actual enemy has not perfected the shoe bomb and most have never driven a car. America has not been attacked since 9/11. Bin Laden had no war plan. There were no sleeper cells. Indeed in its protracted history Al Qaeda has been responsible for far more talk than action.

As anyone who bothers to read the 911 commission report must realize, Bin Laden could have been stopped at any time in the nineties. The CIA knew where he was and had a fair estimate of his intentions. Had there been a simple policy of interdiction in place-- had the CIA been warranted to kill at least those who were known to have killed Americans abroad-- Al qaeda's leadership would have been quietly extinguished by the end of the Clinton presidency and 911 would almost certainly not have happened. Presumably that policy is in place now and, if so, we have little to fear.

Of course, no one dares now to say we need not be afraid. Where presidents once tried to calm the national mood, telling us not to fear "fear itself", our current leaders do everything they can to inflame it. Just this last week Secretary of Education Hickock issued a warning to beware of terrorists attacks against schools. What parent can have heard that warning without a moment of panic? And yet, as Hickock conceded, there was not a shred of intelligence that hinted at any real threat. Does the Secretary really think that Chechen rebels are as likely to show up in Oakland as in Ossetia or did he have some other reason in this election season, to try to scare the wits out of American mothers. This is shameful but typical.

Today John Kerry is being derided for expressing the hope that we may sometime in the future regard terrorism as a mere "nuisance". This is being offered as evidence that he doesn't "get it". "It" being that we are now in an eternal state of war and which can never won, lost or ended. No one is safe, nor should they feel safe! You can never be too safe!

This paranoia, there is no other word for it, will cripple American political discourse for decades to come. It will be our most shameful legacy."

Terrance Tomkow PhD
Los Angeles


So...have we become too paranoid post 9/11? Is the specter of nuclear terrorism blown out of proportion? All the talk about miniaturized nukes in a back-pack in a city near you? (Note that both Kerry and Bush stated in a recent debate that loose nukes were their greatest fear. What, specifically, do they fear? Rogue states with them? al-Qaeda and Co. with them? Something else?) What about chemical and biological weaponry?

If air-liners loaded with jetfuel were the last battle--well, what's the next one? Or was 9/11 some horrific one off--al-Qaeda's A-team hitting us with their best shot--the group and its affiliates now (with planes now unavailable, full of sharp-eyed Todd Beamers) not really capable of anything much more than blowing up a few train coaches and hotels?

In a word, a "nuisance." Manageable. Painful if a few hundred get killed every few months, but not a full-blown "existential" (to use a word that's been making the rounds) challenge going forward. Look, I think a massive WMD attack on a major Western city is all but inevitable in the next decade or so (and didn't one almost happen in Amman recently?) But my correspondent would likely consider me a rank fear-mongerer, I suspect.

I'd like to think I'm not peddling snake-oil and being grossly hyperbolic about the terror threat. Am I? What do others think? Comments welcome.

Posted by Gregory at October 18, 2004 11:12 PM

After reading this letter, my first thought was that the reader is hiding his fear, he is afraid that his post 9/11 convictions will be left without vindication in the world following the GWOT. It was not absurd to think that Saddam’s weapons may end up in the hands of terrorist, his money did, and if the terrorist provided a means of delivery he was incapable of, he would have sold them for the right price. We, as a nation, are not afraid of terrorist at this time, and the main reason for that is that we’ve taken the war to them, we’ve disrupted the systems that created them, and little by little we are expanding the reach of liberty into their lives. It is possible that they may strike again, and we are reasonably doing all that we can to prevent it and to be aware of the danger, but we are not afraid or constricted by fear. Our economy, our travel, our entertainment, our nonchalance and play reflect our lack of fear, while our voting for President Bush, continuing the war, and vigilance reflect our determination not to suffer 9/11 again.

The candidates expression of concern is just that, they are seeking to ensure that we do not face another 9/11, and acting in our self-defense ahead of such a terrible day. As to the best shot of al-Qaeda or other terrorist, if we act with the resolve we have thus far, it will in fact be their best shot. If it isn’t, it’ll be because we failed to take the measures necessary, failed to pursue them with appropriate vigor, and failed to reign in ‘rogue’ states. As with Vietnam, it is the politics behind the war that give hope to the enemy, not the battlefields.

Posted by: Marvin Hutchens at October 19, 2004 12:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Who and where and how many places and people must be killed by Jihadoterrorists before irrational Left-wing fantasists accept the truth: we are at war; a war that was declared on us in 1979; and that we have only just begun counter-attacking - only since 9/11/01.

The Jihadoterrorists have killed tens of thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - OR MILLIONS, ALREADY!

In Africa - 1,500,000 southern Sudanese - ALL either Animists or Christians - were killed by northern Sudanese - all of whom are Islamic.

Conservative estimates are that 150,000 Algerians were murdered by Jihadoterrorists in Algeria.

The Jihadoterrorists have killed thousands in the Philippines, and thousands in Indonesia, and East Timor, and Malaysia, and thousands in India and Kashmir, and thousands in Pakistan, and thousands in Afghanistan, and thousands in Iran, and thousands in Iraq.

NONE of these attacks were against Bush or even "USA hegemony." They were attacks against non-Wahhabist Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists.

None of these attacks have ANYTHING to do with Israel or Zionism.

A perfect ICON of the destructiveness of Jihadoterrorism is the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Wanton destruction of a UN World Heritage site. Even the Nazis had more reverence and respect for the "immoral" art of Marxists and Jews.

This is a REAL WAR - one that was OPENLY DECLARED on us, one whose goals have been OPENLY STATED: the restore the Caliphate to its utmost geographical boundaries, and under Wahhabist Sharia.

The Jihadoterrorists have demonstrated by word and deed that they are not limited by ANYTHNG, by any norm or international convention. They will kidnap, decapitate and summarily execute torture; systematically rape and pillage, maim, and use WMD - as they have already tried to do in the UK.

I suspect that those who deny that we are in a war might feel otherwise if they had a relative die on 9/11, or in Beslan, or in Bali, or in Taba, or in Manila, or in Athens, or Rome, or in Munich, or Moscow, or Madrid, or in Amman, or in Tangiers, or in Casablanca, or in Pennsylvania, or in NYC, or in DC - or the many many other cities that have had Jihadoterrorist attacks which have killed dozens or hundreds or thousands.

Maybe if OBL attacked Havana or Pyongyang or Hanoi the Leftists who blame America first would be a little upset with the Jihadoterrorists.

Maybe if Clinton were president they'd admit we are in a war not of our own choosing.


Sure: we chose to counter-attack in Iraq -- just as in 1941 we invaded neutral AFRICA in order to mount a strategic YEARS LONG CAMPAIGN against Germany and Japan.

Now: Iran is surrounded; Libya is disarmed, the AQKhan network is broken; Saudi Arabia and Pakistan help us internationally and wage war domestically against their home grown Jihadoterrorists.

And we are doing battle with the Jihaodterorists in Iraq - which is better than fighting them here. Does your correspondent think Zarqawi would be home playing dominoes if Gore was president?

We ar killing the enemy in Iraq, and elsewhere, and this is good.

EVEN BETTER: we are dealing with the core issues.
By liberating Muslims from tryanny we are giving them the chance for full and prosperous lives - instead of lives of ignorance poverty and slavery.

Democracy is on the march in Afghanistan and Iraq. Becuase of the BOLD OFFENSIVE COUNTER-ATTCKS ORDERED BY BUSH, FIFTY MILLION MORE HUMANS will now have MORE freedom, more rights, and more personal liberty than they have ever had.

This is all good.

And more victories lie ahead if we don't return to the pre-9/11 mind-set - which your correspondent -and Kerry, and Old Media, and the Left, and Old Europe ALL HAVE.

It is part BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome - a syndrome that began for many in Florida in 2000) and part nostalgia for more peaceful times when we could afford to avoid retaliating. And ... it is part plain old DENIAL.

DENIAL: it is easier to blame Bush (and IMAGINE that if we only throw him out of office PEACE will automatically reign), than it is to IMAGINE a long war against Jihadoterrorism.

But a long war is what is real.

So... tell your correspondent to GET REAL.

Posted by: dan at October 19, 2004 12:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The key element of the writer's argument is that fighting terrorists is not difficult. To support this argument, however, he has to confuse one thing, which is relatively containable, with something else which is considerably less so.

What he's talking about overtly are intelligence-based tactical moves to capture, destroy, or otherwise neutralize specific groups of jihadists, such moves as are "normal" in traditional wars, where the threat that the enemy poses is directly proportional to the failure of our defensive moves to physically destroy their capacity to act. And by "destroy" is mean not only killing, but also interdict by way of threats to kill.

What he doesn't talk about about--and consequently treats as if it were just a matter of traditional forms of interdiction--is the nature of the coercion which terrorist strategies exert. Terrorist strategies always work "in the future," because they are acts the purpose of which is not to destroy a specific target, whether human or otherwise, but to deliver a communication.

The content of that communication is always some variant of the form "you do what I want or I will some time in the future deliver an attack that will wreak destruction on your population and infrastructure." It is, in short, strategy of threatening (in the future) instead of simply destroying military capability in the present. The purpose is the same, but it works in a different way, namely, to control future behavior by threatening future punishment.

Within that perspective it is obvious that Jihadist terrorism is already exerting major control over the U.S. even as I write this. I refer to the billions of dollars and of human work-hours already spent and in the pipeline to be spent in this country stretching into an indefinite future in order to protect the country from future attack.

What can the writer possibly mean by saying that the "threat" of jihadist attack is easily resisted, when the country is already on a war footing doing precisely that, and therefore is already under the control to a limited but real extent of jihadist use of the strategy of threat? There is no choice to be made here--or rather, the country has already made that choice, and the writer's discussing this matter as if such choices waited to be made in the future shows that he's missed the whole point of the jihadist exercise and the U. S. response to it.

Posted by: Michael McCanles at October 19, 2004 01:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think the author is right that the administration could have shown more faith in the ability of the American people to understand the reasoning behind Iraq, and it certainly could communicate its motives much better. The first debate was somewhat symbolic for the administration's propaganda efforts over the past few years.

Nevertheless, it isn't just a cliche to say hindsight is 20-20. WMD was a "slam-dunk," and I'm sure they had plenty of other ideas in mind, such as whether the Muslim world react favorably to American "coming to help them with reform." WMD was also an easy to understand casus beli with regards to Hussein's breaches of UN resolutions, which unfortunately is one of the few channels through which we can get international support.

I also think the school warning was linked with a report that approximately 20 Chechens had supposedly crossed the border.

Posted by: Cutler at October 19, 2004 01:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To further comment.

No, I don't think you fears about WMD are at all irrational. I think the reasons for the lack of a catastrophic Al Qaeda response are two fold:

1. Traditional planning cycles.
2. Our attack on Afghanistan shook them up and fragmented them much more than the talking heads would let on. They made the mistake of molding 4th generation warfare with an easy to strike base, complacency hurt them big time for the timebeing.

Nevertheless, Al Qaeda is just one symptom of the ultimate problem. The fusing of technology with apocalytpic militant Islam.

Unless we take a pro-active course of action, as we are doing, successfully or not, in Iraq, I agree with you...it is only a matter of time before we do get nuked.

And I fear that the bloodshed in Iraq is only a preliminary to the bloodshed that would take place after such an attack.

Posted by: Cutlerj at October 19, 2004 01:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The actual enemy has not perfected the shoe bomb and most have never driven a car. ...Bin Laden had no war plan. There were no sleeper cells."

This is unfortunately wildly off the mark. Bin Laden or men like him have, thanks in large part to adminstration policy, more jihadists than ever at their bidding. And as Graham Allison shows, bin Laden has expressed great interest in acquiring nuclear weapons, and amazingly the administration has assigned a relatively low priority to tightening the loose nukes he craves.
The greatest--perhaps not the most probable, but given its gravity and its feasibility, the greatest--danger we confront is a suitcase bomb planted in a truck in midtown Manhattan or the Loop or any other population concentration. A simple timing device would even mean that the instigators wouldn't have to recruit a perpetrator willing to commit suicide. Tens of thousands of fatalities could be inflicted, and the target area rendered uninhabitable for years to come.
The critical item is enriched uranium or plutonium. If the terrorists obtain that, the rest is easier.
The stakes could hardly be higher, and if I thought for a moment Bush's policies had thus far served to reduce rather than to heighten the danger, I would embrace him on the strength of that acomplishment alone.

Posted by: FraidyCat at October 19, 2004 03:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think a simple recitation of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-affiliated attacks around the globe since 9/11 would by itself refute every word of this letter. I've got one word for your correspondent: Madrid.

Posted by: Sage at October 19, 2004 04:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

History: Gore as president on 9/11 was sucessful in Afghanistan and Osama is dead. Sadamm is not faced with a clear and present danger of ground military force. Would he have the means and the opening to invade the Arabian peninsula? What would Gore plus UN do to contain Sadamm from control of oil? Would that economic threat warrant a non ground force response from the US or Israel.
How would Sadamm calculate his risk and reward?In the past year, I have not seen anywhere this new history examined as a justification for war as the preferable option to having Sadamm force our hand with the other option.

Posted by: Jim Summer at October 19, 2004 04:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Terrence doesn't get it. We never were safe. The tribe rampaging from the next valley, Viking sails on the horizon, Soviet ICBMs slumbering in their silos or sociopaths proselytizing under the banner of God.

Having seen the effect of the Viking raid, one could hope it was a singularity or build a redoubt, post a sentry, hang a bell and hope everyone gets safely inside before the next attack. What cost to build the redoubt and post the ever-sentry? What opportunities are lost if everyone must never wander far from the bell? Consider the cost of sleepless nights with one ear pricked for the bell. Or would it be better to find the source of dragonships and burn them in their berth? What words to employ to make the faint of heart set aside their fears to seek the source of the attack and endure the cost in blood and treasure?

Terrence was never safe, nor were his ancestors.

The source of the dragonships was not sought out and destroyed. The Viking raids increased until they established camps and took the land by cruel warfare, establishing their rule of the land. They oppressed the People of the Isles and fought amongst themselves when not raiding other lands. One thousand years later they starved the people off the land and forced them to the West.

We have seen the effect of ignoring a threat. Defense never prevails, it only delays the inevitable. Those charged with the survival of the people must use whatever means available to rally those whose view is narrow to the cause.

Greg clearly sees the threat, so does Bush. Safety is always fleeting and conditional. It is up to us to take action to make ourselves relatively safe for awhile. And our immediate safety lies in killing the sociopaths over there while trying to reform the Dark Age tribal society that breeds the threat. To the boats men of Eire!

"There's folke out there who would do you harm, so I'll sing you no lullaby" - Ian Anderson

Posted by: lugh lampfhota at October 19, 2004 04:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What I don't like about the letter is its casual dismissal of millions of people. Outsiders, beyond the Pale, not our sort dear, Them. Bear with me as I try to make this coherent, please.

Conservatives and neo-conservatives like to scoff at the left-liberal wail of "why do they hate us," and with good reason, because it's mostly useless self-hate that accomplishes nothing. But down deep in the concept is something real. What we have here is the emblematic People of the Gap, who are not connected in any real, systematic way to the life we lead; poor, ignorant, and deprived. But they aren't that way because the West stole anything from them. They are that way because the culture they live in doesn't work as well as ours does.

Given a chance they'll adopt our culture, albeit a little at a time, but for the most part they don't get that chance. A few of them get to move here, but when they move in large numbers their nervousness about a new life -- perfectly understandable -- leads them to congregate with others from their original culture, and that congregation ends up replicating the old ways instead of reinforcing the new. It doesn't help that relativism is so strong here; we don't feel right about compelling immigrants to adopt our culture because we see it as imposition.

The ones who stay are in even worse shape. They have leaders, religious and secular, who have status and wealth in local terms, and who see Western culture as bound to destroy that. They react unhappily. "...all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed" says the Declaration, and that's right. So the people follow their leaders, as they always have, and the result is vileness.

Because we are connected. Step into an international airport with a valid credit card and you're part of the world, one of the millions of to-and-fro-ers, as close to Hong Kong or Sydney or New York or Rio or Paris or... as you are to anywhere else. That connectedness is a big part of what makes us healthy and prosperous. But it's fragile. We could go on and on about why it's so fragile -- I don't think it needs to be -- but the fact remains that a few hundred grams of certain chemicals can break millions of dollars, millions of man-hours, worth of connectedness, and require immense labor to repair.

So the "nuisance" suggesters are, in my opinion, not quite sane. Regardless of what we do, despite all cultural relativism and sensitivity, so long as our culture remains recognizable there will be Coca-Cola and Barbie dolls and automobiles and scantily-clad women selling toothpaste and lingerie, not to mention European bathroom fixture ads incorporating demonstrations. Those things will continue to filter into the parts of the world our culture doesn't cover, and there they will cause vast frustration and resentment and discontent and pressure on the leaders. The leaders will respond in the time-honored way, by painting the source of that frustration as vile, evil, to be destroyed -- and they will get a response. It's inevitable. They're people, dammit. If a Chirac can get resentful and combative because France is not as strong as the United States, and do spiteful and destructive things because of that resentment, what will Shaykh Abdul al-Adnayah do when his people start sloping off from their mud huts and piety to sell Bud Lite in American convenience stores?

Walls won't work. It's fairly obvious that we can't put up twenty feet of concrete around the Middle East, but barriers made of INS agents and crime investigators are just as futile. The only possible solution to the problem is for us all to have more or less the same level of culture and wealth, and I for one would prefer not to live in a mud hut and drink camel milk. Yes, that's an exaggeration, but the raison is true. I don't want to be an ignorant tribal villager; I don't want to live in a society of ignorant tribal villagers; that option is not acceptable. The only other way is to lift them up; and even that's the wrong concept. More correctly, the way is to make Them Us.

Millions of convenience store clerks demonstrate that the option works; a proof of concept, if you will. An Afghan villager or an Iraqi slum-dweller is just as capable of The Western Way as anyone in Peoria, or Islington, or Ile de la Cite. The barrier is those leaders, and the tendency Jefferson pointed out. They will cling to the old ways as long as possible -- leaders protecting their status, the people simply uncomfortable with change.

But either they have to change or we do, and I'm enough of a chauvinist to prefer that they do the heavy lifting. It isn't, and won't be, easy. If the change is to be made in reasonable time, it will have to be done by force -- especially in the case of leaders protecting their status, but unfortunately including many followers who aren't innocent but are misled. The pressure on them won't go away so long as Western culture remains intact, and so long as the pressure exists the pressure-relieving acts will continue.

A bomb in a Western city? Possible, even if not probable in the near future. It's what I most fear, not that I might be killed, or that my friends might, although those are in my mind, but the reaction to it. What happens when, e.g., Michael Moore becomes convinced that it's Us vs. Them? Mr. Moore has famously said that the 9/11 attackers killed the wrong people. What if he becomes convinced that he, himself, is emblematic of all that they most hate? It's true, you know.

There were many Americans, me among them, fully prepared to go Option Zero after 9/11. George Bush blunted that impulse and redirected it. Read the milblogs. Those guys are convinced that what they are doing is enabling the Iraqis and Afghanis to live the same sorts of lives they do, because that's what George Bush sent them over there to do, and I admire him for it. He doesn't want to kill Them (although he will where necessary.) He wants Them to be Us, because They bomb schools and We don't as a rule.

If They are Us, we can talk about nuisances, the irreducible irredentists. But if we write off a quarter of the world as Them and put up barriers, we will only make the problem worse.

Sorry. It didn't come out very coherent, did it? I need to think about it more... but for now, I think I'll let the mishmash stand. And stand by it.

Ric Locke

Posted by: Ric Locke at October 19, 2004 05:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"... enabling the Iraqis and Afghanis to live the same sorts of lives WE do..."

Dammit. And I did preview.

Ric Locke

Posted by: Ric Locke at October 19, 2004 05:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The writer leaves out a few tidbits:

1. Clinton in 1996 was offered OBL by the Sudan, which wanted rapprochement with the US. Clinton declined for political reasons.

2. Clinton and Tony Lake vetoed strikes on OBL in 1998 and 2000 due to fear of civilian casualties and inflaming the Muslim street.

3. Reputedly, the Taliban offered to "sell" OBL to the US for $20 million. Clinton declined in 1998 out of fear (post-Monica) of offending Hilary and Madeline Albright (who detested the Taliban).

4. Measures that could have stopped the 9/11 hijackers such as profiling, intelligence sharing, etc were not taken out of political sensitivity to civil liberties and various interest group lobbies, decisions made in the Clinton administration and carried over in the Bush administration.

Short response: Clinton lacked the political will to tackle terrorism. Before 9/11 so did Bush. At least Bush now understands that the NEXT attack will not be planes flying into buildings with thousands dead but a nuking of an American city with millions dead.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at October 19, 2004 05:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I like how the straw-man has been set up that the "reasons for Iraq" were, solely, WMD; and then now the Right is criticized for "deceiving" America about the reasons for Iraq being WMD. There was a "deceit" all right but it did not come primarily from the Right.

Now the UN is a different story. Indeed our argument *to the UN* focused on WMD. But please do not make the tiresome mistake of confusing (a) our reasons for the war with (b) our argument before the UN Security Council for why they should pass a resolution endorsing said war.

For the Nth time (a) and (b) are not the same thing, and there is no reason why they should necessarily have been.

Posted by: Blixa at October 19, 2004 06:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Maybe it's because the election is almost upon us, but I feel that this infernal weighing of what if's has devolved into ntrospection overload.

We didn't attack Finland, for heaven's sakes, we attacked a ME madman with too much money for his own good and who was spreading it around to our enemies while violating cease-fire terms from a previous lawful war that he lost.

It's Europe in the '30s; we can either have a little war now while the enemy is relatively unorganized or a big war later when the jihadis congeal with another failed "state".

I'll take the former option, vote for Bush and tell him to let the military loose, like he appears to be doing now in Iraq. End of story.

Posted by: PJ at October 19, 2004 06:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Blixa's got it! The letter writer lost all credibility in my eyes the moment he tried to make WMD our sole expressed reason for Iraq; it quite plainly wasn't.

Whether the writer is ignorant, or intentionally ignoring the part of the historical record that's inconvenient to his case, may be an interesting question, but either way he's lost me.

Posted by: Kirk Parker at October 19, 2004 08:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

FWIW, I googled "Terrance Tomkow" and can see no evidence that he's a neoconservative of 20 years' standing or otherwise. He appears to be a former philosophy professor from Dalhousie University in Canada.

Can he show any neocon bona fides--a published article, letter to the editor, or interview, perhaps?

Leaving that aside and getting to the merits of his letter, I think the examples he cites--Tim McVeigh and the DC snipers--show just the opposite of what he maintains.

They show how sensible it is to be afraid, and how easy it is to carry out asymmetric attacks with slender resources.

The snipers tied the entire DC-to-Richmond area (not the whole Eastern Seabord, as Tomkow says) in knots with nothing but one ancient car, a rifle, and a handful of cash. And they basically turned themselves in--the police were fixated on PC nonsense (an imaginary angry white man in an angry white van) and kept applying the same clumsy, bureaucratized, too-late-to-do-any-good fixes like massive roadblocks (which we now know the snipers laughed at) that were about as good in stopping the sniper attacks as the North American Air Defense Command was at stopping 9/11.

Just imagine if a cool customer like Muhammad Atta--and not a greedy loon like John "Muhammad"--had been running the sniper op, with a small team of drivers and shooters and a safe house or two. They'd probably still be out there shooting at us.

Tomkow might retort that al-Qaeda has launched no attacks on the US homeland since 9/11, to which I would reply that we have stopped several (Padilla, the Kashmiri trucker who was tasked to case means of destroying the Brooklyn Bridge).

I also don't think we should take that lack of attacks so far as reason to feel secure. Al-Qaeda's pattern is to go for a big score; they won't want to expend whatever resources they can bring to bear against the US homeland (including precious sleeper cells) in pinprick attacks. Since any attack will expose at least part of their "order of battle" to being found and rolled up (e.g., the 9/11 cells were destroyed that day and can never be used again), al-Qaeda prefers to bide its time, await opportunities, and stage something really big.

That, and not the alleged ease of fighting asymmetric terrorism that Terrance falsely posits, is to my mind the better explanation of our freedom from renewed attacks so far.

The Islamofascists waited more than 8 years to strike the Twin Towers a second time, and the second assault was meant to be sure of success in a way the first never quite had been.

Both were meant to be mass-casulty attacks--let's remember that the 93 attack was not a garden-variety truck bomb, but was meant to knock one tower into the other and release a cloud of poison gas that the killers hoped would murder 100K people in lower Manhattan.

We are up against people who are utterly ruthless and very, very patient. They think long-term. Fear can be rational. It is way too early for us to stoping being afraid, and our rational fear--or more precisely, the intensive efforts it has spurred us to--has served us well so far.

Posted by: Phil in VA at October 19, 2004 12:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

PJ has the right idea:
"It's Europe in the '30s; we can either have a little war now while the enemy is relatively unorganized or a big war later when the jihadis congeal with another failed 'state.'"

Fretting over the prospect of another exotic attack, or talking about inspecting 50% of shipping containers instead of 5%, is time and effort better spent on averting the graver threat before it takes form. The worst-case scenario is not another terror attack on a US city, with or without WMD's - it's WWIII.

There's a taboo in some quarters against saying it, but terrorism truly is something we could live with and dismiss as a nuisance if we chose to - a few years without a major attack, a few overseas arrests, and some future president could declare victory.
But meanwhile, the enemy will have managed to esconce himself in a real nation - with a population, an army, oil reserves, maybe a nuke or two - and it's no longer a war against terrorists. We would then have to decide whether or not to engage in a conventional war that would almost certainly include all of the unconventional terrorism we face now. We'd look back with nostalgia at the color-coded alert system and the airport screening of the '00s.

Posted by: Matt at October 19, 2004 01:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't think I'm completely paranoid -- I might reserve that label for Anne Jacobsen, who is still spooked by al Qaeda terror cells disguised as Syrian musicians -- but the world is still threatened by evil radical Islamist terrorists.

I'm sorry for the following overgeneralization, but Americans of various political persuasions tend to be USAcentric (to coin a word). Events in the rest of the world are regarded as far less important than events in the U.S. Over the past 7 years, radical Islamist terrorists have killed innocent civilians in many other countries besides the U.S., including but not limited to Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Spain, Israel, and Russia.

The writer claims that there were no al Qaeda sleeper cells in the U.S. I have no idea whether or not this is true, but doesn't the evidence suggest that this is false?

I am worried about terrorism. I'm wondering why the news media never asks whether A. Q. Khan had contacts with al Qaeda (although I'm sure the U.S. government has already excluded this possibility).

If the U.S. has an annual GDP of 11 trillion dollars, why can't the federal government afford to spend more than just $35 billion a year on homeland security? Wouldn't it be worthwhile to spend at least 6% of GDP on total security spending, including military spending and homeland security spending?

B.D. readers have asked me how on earth I could vote for Mr. Kerry if I'm so worried about terrorism. Part of the answer is that I simply don't believe the President's accusation that Mr. Kerry will take his "eye off the ball".

I don't think Mr. Kerry's interview with Matt Bai is above criticism, but the "nuisance" statement has been grossly distorted by the Bush-Cheney campaign. Mr. Kerry did not say that he thought terrorism was a nuisance. Rather, he said that he wanted to reduce terrorism to a "nuisance" level. As Max Boot (a neo-conservative who has reluctantly decided to vote for President Bush) pointed out, this is similar to the President's equally unobjectionable (and equally distorted) statement in a Matt Lauer interview, "I don't think you can win it[.]"

Posted by: Arjun at October 19, 2004 02:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Having threat assessment for the Intel Community from 1985 to 2002, all I can say is the comment about fearing that "the worst weapons in the world" would fall into the hands of terrorists was absurd is well... absurd. I could tell you things that would curl almost anyone's hair; they damn near did mine. The comments about terrorists being "ill-organized, inept and incapable" are dangerous, insulting, and just plain idiotic. What can this person be reading or hearing? Does he think this is all some kid's game?

This kind of post reflects the near-worst -- the recent BBC program flatly denying terrorism as a threat is the worst -- kind of head-in-the-sand, blinkered, 9/10 thinking. I don't know much about Terrance Tomkow PhD, but if this post truly represents his thinking, he is woefully ignorant, horribly misinformed, or distressingly dense.

Posted by: C. Owen Johnson at October 19, 2004 02:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Professor Tomkow fails to see the global picture. The problem of AQ isn't what might happen inside our borders, it's how AQ can operate at the vulnerable fringes of the world order. For one example, one estimate suggests that the price of oil includes a "terrorist security" premium of roughly eight dollars per barrel. Imagine the damage AQ could inflict on the global economy if it were able to operate without the policing presence of the U. S. military in vulnerable regions.

The U. S., by default, is the only world power capable of taking on the Islamist reaction. The Bush administration gets this. To punish Bush for the WMD miscalculation would be self-destructive.

Posted by: Mike Everett at October 19, 2004 02:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Just a few brief comments here, for a critique of the writer's points would take much space.

First of all, I think the writer's angst is the almost direct result of the Administration's failure to articulate its anti-terror policy (vocally and in print) clearly, concisely, continuously, and with impact. Oddly enough, it did so in the 1992 National Security Strategy document, which can be found on the WH web site. The NSS states that: (1) the threat is transnational terrorism fomented by shadow groups across the globe, not nation-states. (2) These groups depend upon the existence of failed states where they can hide, breed, and grow. (3) they also depend upon states that overtly or covertly sponsor or support their aims. (4) This is a new kind of war, not fought on this scale before; demanding new approaches. and (5) The threat must be opposed on a number of "fronts;" actions to change failed states and stop their support of jihadis, pressure (including force) on states that sponsor or foster terrorism, constant work - covert and overt - killing, detaining, and disrupting terrorists wherever they may be, encouraging at risk nations to develop political systems resistant to jihadi formation and growth, and building coalitions which share intelligence and information to find and deter jihadis.

Looking at what has been done since 9-11, it appears to me that we are doing just that. Some efforts are working, others have had mistakes or problems, but mid course corrections have and are being made. What this Administration has not done has been to continually articulate the threat and the plan clearly and consistently. Bush 41 did so in 1990-91. I've no idea why 43 hasn't. Perhaps it's an error or fear in either his Political or PA shops. It needs correction.

The main issue at hand is that Kerry is an endless ditherer; like a squirrel with a nut, he analyzes, talks, and ponders an issue to death. This leads to paralysis by analysis. Bush is an MBA, he sees a challenge and develops a plan to deal with the problem as any good CEO would.

Kerry is politically in much the same position as Carter in 1976; if elected it will be for no positive reason, only that he was "not Bush." Like Carter, he will have no mandate save that, and his support will wither away to zero once he begins to act. My fear is that, if Kerry wins, he will not be up to the task of seeing Iraq (or any other hard task) through, and when we inevitably withdraw, we will reap the whirlwind, which his successor will have to correct in 2009; at a much greater cost in blood and treasure. There are simply too many loose or easy to obtain nukes, too much drug and other jihadi money to buy them and the techies to make them work, and too great a probability that one of our cities will go up in the next 10 years for us to take a chance on a man who is scarcely more than opportunistic ambition swathed in a $200 haircut.

Posted by: Frank Stevenson at October 19, 2004 03:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The actual enemy has not perfected the shoe bomb and most have never driven a car."

At one time they could'nt fly a plane either. The more we treat them as a nusiance and let them alone, the better they will get, at whatever it is that they need. For a well written explanation check out

Posted by: plainslow at October 19, 2004 03:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Although I voted for Mr. Kerry, in the absence of more concrete evidence of resultant abuse of civil liberties, I don't favor any reform of the PATRIOT Act. I'm not a member or a supporter of the ACLU, and Bob Barr has never been a hero of mine.

Look, I'm exactly the same ethnicity as Mr. Ferris, the trucker who planned to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge: I'm Kashmiri. And while I am not Muslim, I've repeatedly declared on this website that I am (to tautologize) a pro-Muslim Islamophile. (I'm also a pro-Arab Arabophile.)

So does John Ashcroft have a file on me? I doubt it, folks, but even if he does, so what? Bring it on! Review my library records! Tap my phone! Do whatever you need to do to defend the best country in the world, the United States of America.

By the way, the mistreatment of detainees at home and abroad under the Bush Administration's supervision (or lack of supervision) is a horrible injustice, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with the PATRIOT act.

Posted by: Arjun at October 19, 2004 04:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The most interesting thing about this election is that it seems we're not so much picking a winner as punishing the loser. The letter-writer above says in effect "we neocons deserve to be punished."

This is the same theme I've heard many others sound, and there seem to be exactly three variations: Bush should be punished, Kerry should be punished, or terrorists should be punished.

Pick your loser and vote accordingly, I guess.

Posted by: Hovig at October 19, 2004 04:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I can't help but put this discussion in the context of the 1930s, and substitute "Hitler" for "Saddam" or even "al-Qaeda."

Should those few who affirmed Churchill's repeated warnings about the warmongering plans of the Nazis be considered an earlier-day equivalent of "the relentless sounding of the tocsins of fear and dread that we should be most ashamed of"?

What Churchill should have taught us, and what George Bush has attempted to remind us of in his less-than-inspirational way, is that nations must face their challenges soberly, honestly, and unflinchingly--and then take the appropriate actions to defend themselves.

What the neocons might really want to wail and gnash their teeth over was the incompetence of the Johnson administration (and their allies in the GOP) in waging the war in Vietnam, whose unfortunate legacy is the real context for this presidential campaign. Vietnam created the excuse for those who do not want to defend the country to use the kind of weasel reasoning that Kerry, Edwards, and their crowd of latter-day Vallandinghams are currently employing in their ambiguous opposition to the Iraq situation. These same folks are the ones who, during the Cold War and Vietnam era, always believed in their heart of hearts that it is indeed better to be Red than dead--the spiritual heirs of Neville Chamberlain and Leon Blum who would rather have been Nazified than resist.

They still don't read history: appeasers get both submission and death.

Even now the neocons and we their allies (with the robust exception of Zell Miller) are squeamish about pointing out this obvious fact. Appeasement always arises from the lack of faith in oneself and one's right to exist uncoerced by anyone else. It is the act not of the fearful, for all humans are afflicted by fears, but of the cowardly.

Bush might still win this election if he would, like Lincoln did in the Civil War, appeal to the better angels of our nature, arouse our courage, and shame those unwilling to "bear any burden and pay any price" to defend liberty, as one pre-neocon president once put it.

Posted by: Marty Keller at October 19, 2004 06:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Actually Clinton was not offered Bin Laden when he was in Sudan. The 9/11 commision also discredits this.

You are right that he avoided killing him due to collateral damage.

Just a clarification.

Posted by: Joe B at October 19, 2004 08:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm surprised you give a 10-year window for a major NBC-type attack in the West. I give it only a 5-year window. And 100% likelihood. Not sure where it will be, though.

Posted by: John Burgess at October 19, 2004 09:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

That was an interesting letter you posted as I've also felt that Bush & Co. deserved to lose to repudiate the blanket incompetence and arrogance in such strong supply in the Administration. As a conservative and staunch supporter of the Iraq war, I was - and remain - deeply troubled by the way the war was "sold." I believed at the time that the emphasis on WMD was wrong, that the war had to be tied to the larger - and more important - task of reorienting the politics of the Middle East.

While I do not believe Bush & Co. lied outright as the Dean-wing would have it, they were deeply disingenuous about the most serious of subjects. This is simply not acceptable from the Executive in a time of crises, particularly when we need the Executive branch to move with far greater latitude than in previous wars.

I also believe we have to rethink the notion that we are at "war." I think mass-casualty terrorism will survive as a threat even if the Islamic motivations underpinning its current manifestation is delegitimated and shrivels away. This is the forest we're missing through the Islamic trees. A Tim McVeigh or any unhinged individual will - with time and discipline - kill many thousands using increasingly advanced weaponry and know-how. It's simply the natural trajectory of technology. So, even if we crush the Islamist movement, we would still be vulnerable to crippling attacks.

It seems to me that while we wage a war against militant Islam (and war is the proper metaphor for this discrete aspect) we have to fundamentally reorient the strategic pose of the government. Threats will come not just from industrial states or discrete terrorists movements, but from the very fabric of a society swimming in advanced technology and information networks capable of passing know-how in amazing detail to anyone with an Internet connection.

Using the word "war" implies a limited duration conflict. I'd argue this is a permanent, fundamental shift in the way our government views securing its people from physical harm that will persist even when we wipe out the jihadists.

Posted by: Gregory Scoblete at October 19, 2004 09:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gregory Scoblete:

"I believed at the time that the emphasis on WMD was wrong"

The emphasis on WMD was not how the war was "sold" but how we argued (unsuccessfully) to the UN that they should endorse the war which we had already decided upon. Now, there was little else we could have emphasized to the UN because the UN as a body is disinclined to care about, even inimical to, things like "reorienting the politics of the Middle East". But rest assured, that motive indeed was an overt part of our decision to go to war (look at the War Powers resolution, in particular "Whereas the Iraq Liberation Act (Public Law 105-338) expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime").

Again, people really need to learn the distinction between (a) why we decided upon war (not only WMD!) and (b) the reasons (indeed, WMD-centric) we used to (unsuccessfully!) argue that the UN should endorse the war. Not. the. same. thing.

Posted by: Blixa at October 19, 2004 09:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Your correspondent has confused the press' reporting on the reasons for the reasons themselves. Attacking Saddam was justified by a long list of reasons from the get go. The press, the punditocracy, and the administration all amplified certain reasons at different times, yet the totality of the justification has changed remarkably little since its inception.

Posted by: LAE at October 19, 2004 10:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I hate to lower the intellectual bar to this level, but there's something I've noticed about Survivor contestants who are as confident of their inability to get axed by their tribe this episode as the correspondent is of our ability to avoid a major terrorist attack: they are usually voted off next.

The jury is so completely out on the WMD thing that it astounds me how willing people are to write the issue off. Just because we've caught or killed the less competent terrorists does not by any means signify the absence of competent ones. And to borrow a phrase, absence of evidence is NOT evidence of absence. I sure hope the correspondent doesn't get a rude awakening, but I'm not willing to just hope that's true and let down my guard. Is that fear-mongering? Not to me it isn't.

Posted by: Uncle Mikey at October 19, 2004 10:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm still not convinced that there were no WMD in Iraq. US forces estimate that there are one million metric tons of ordinance in Iraq. How many undiscovered spider holes would it take to hide the feed stock for a bio weapons program?

The there was the curious matter of Iraqi convoys crossing the Syrian border and flights from Damascus to Belarus before the US invasion. What were the Russians, Syrians and Iraqis transporting out of Iraq?

Even if there were no WMD left in Iraq, Dulfuer made it clear that Saddam maintained the ability to revive WMD programs and intended to do so if sanctions were lifted. Saddam had and used WMD in the past. Why would he deserve our trust that he wouldn't develop and use them in the future?

For me, the issue was never WMD but the constant and ongoing refusal to comply with the terms of the 91 ceasefire. Saddam undermined the international order by refusing to comply with lawful agreements. This defiance emboldened other rogue states and groups to defy civilized standards.

President Bush played the hand he was dealt with both the American people and the international community after 911. The only person in the world claiming that Saddam didn't have WMD was Saddam. To claim in hindsight that the President was wrong is ridiculous....unless you trusted Saddam. And if you trusted Saddam all along...then I have some prime beachfront property for sale....and we need to talk.

Posted by: lugh lampfhota at October 20, 2004 01:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The format prevents me from usefully replying to many thoughtful comments though I may respond to some of you directly.

For my response to Gregory's reply and anticipations of many of your comments I invite you to visit my Blog at www.tomkow.com.

Posted by: Terrance Tomkow at October 20, 2004 02:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush did the only thing a responsible person could have done - our intel said the weapons were there, so he acted accordingly. To have done anything else would have been irresponsible.

Regarding the absence of another attack on the homeland, I consider that a reason to praise the administration. Any group that can kill 3000 people and only lose 19 in the process is not incompetent. They may be slow, but they're effective.

Whatever Al Quaeda's original goals were, we can rest assured the liberation of 50 million Muslims was not one of them. They want an apologetic Spain, not a trigger-happy US. They are not winning this war. That doesn't mean they aren't still trying.

Posted by: Johnny Walker Red at October 20, 2004 04:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I too am proud to be a neoconservative McCain Republican. Like your correspondent I have been exasperated with GWB. If a plausible Democrat were running against him (Edwards, Biden, Graham, Gephart) I would hold my nose and pull the Democratic lever, knowing full well what that would mean for the Supreme Court, domestic policy, etc. I consider myself a patriot first.

That said, I cannot accept the writer's accusation in the first paragraph of this entry; Bush has tremendous flaws, but Machiavellian dissembling is not one of them. I ask every reader to put themselves in Bush's shoes in the immediate aftermath of 9/11: remember the anthrax catastrophe? The fact that many more mysterious Arab flight training students had disappeared - many learning how to fly crop dusters? Remember Dr. Germ toiling away at her labs in Baghdad? Remember the Ricin in London, originating from Zarquawi's labs in Kurdistan? Remember Saddam's violation of UN sanctions, experimenting with drone aircraft, a fact emphasized by Colin Powell at his Security Counsel briefing?

I agree it was probably foolish to conflate Saddam's nuclear ambitions with the palpable threat of biological or chemical WMD's, but those fears were genuine and completely sincere. If Bush had not eliminated that threat every day walking through the Atlanta Airport would be like walking on eggshells. Is today the day the unhinged psychopath avenges the first Gulf War? What if he hands off some Congo/Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever spores to a jihadi outraged that we still had 20,000 troops in Saudi Arabia. Leaving Saddam in power would have been like playing Russian Roulette with five bullets in the chamber. No fair minded, realistic President could leave America in that situation indefinitely, no matter what the pecksniffs at the UN might desire.

Posted by: wayneseib at October 20, 2004 04:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As I recall, the president said that we are at war with terrorists and the nations that support them. That definition covers most counties in the Mid East to one extent or another. The whole WMD thing was tacked on aferwards to try to win UN approval, and was definitely a mistake. I cannot agree with the writers contention that "we" deceived anyone. I recall quite well the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, and the biggest complaint of the opposition was that too many reasons were being presented in its' favor; they wanted just one.

Also, if there was deception going on, it appears that the entire Democratic party was in on it, as well as the intelligence agencies of the rest of the world.

Your correspondent sounds like a mole to me; a Kerry partisan posing as a neocon to heap criticism on them.

Agreed that a major terror attack, with a death toll in the tens or hundreds of thousands, is only a matter of time.

Posted by: patrick at October 21, 2004 03:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What utter tripe! If this guy is a conservative I'll eat my hat. To begin with the term neo conservative is only a year or so old. Secondly conservatives are not t.hat shallow

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