« Song of the Day #324 | Main | Song of the Day #325 »

"Home" is Now London

Regular readers of Notablog know where I stand on many foreign policy questions, and debating those issues here is not my intention.

Suffice it to say, we have been told by the leaders of the "coalition of the willing" that "we" have to "take the war to the terrorists" and fight "over there" so that "we" don't have to face death and destruction "over here." Or as President Bush put it: "Either we take the war to the terrorists and fight them where they are ... or at some point we will have to fight them here at home."

Well, "home" is now London.

And fighting terrorists "where they are" does nothing to stem the tide of their ever-increasing numbers.

This is not an argument, pro or con, for military action in places like Afghanistan or in Iraq. I favored military action in the former case, but opposed it in the latter instance. I have argued that Afghanistan was a hotbed of Al Qaeda activity, and nothing less than the annihilation of that terror group would do in a post-9/11 era. Long-run, however, I have argued that the US needs to change fundamentally its foreign policy.

Putting all these questions aside, my heart goes out to my friends in the UK during this period. To say I empathize is an understatement. Mourn the dead, but keep your crying eyes open. Better to see what lies ahead.

It is very easy to give into fear. "Fear is the antonym of thought." I tell myself: Don't let the politicians manipulate your fear and take away your life and liberty in an effort to "preserve" them. But don't bury your head in the sand either, thinking that Al Qaeda and its affiliates are going to "give up" anytime soon.

I can tell my readers that since September 2001, I have had at least one fear. That someday, probably in late fall or winter, people, full of rage, will wrap themselves up in explosives, hidden carefully beneath layers of clothing typical for the season. And they will enter the subway system, by boarding subway cars in the outer boroughs of New York City, perhaps in Queens, or the Bronx, or my beloved Brooklyn. And they'll sit quietly in the subway car, among unsuspecting people on their way to work, until the train is pulling into a major Manhattan destination, like Times Square, or Penn Station, or Grand Central, or, perhaps, while going over an East River Bridge or through an East River tunnel crossing. And they'll just detonate themselves.

Thousands, tens of thousands of lives, could be snuffed out in a coordinated attack of this nature on the sprawling NYC subway system. And infrastructure could be devastated for months at considerable cost to the economy. Terrorists don't need nuclear material; they don't need biological or chemical weapons. They don't need planes. They need only the will.

Seeing Londoners brave an attack of this nature feels too much like a premonition of things to come. The expressions on the faces of New Yorkers tell me that the fear is real. And if terror revisits US shores, New Yorkers know that they are wearing a bull's eye on their backs.

Short-run, the protection of citizens' lives and liberties should be the most important priority. And, in fact, the protection of life and liberty is the only legitimate role to be played by any governing body. And this requires skilled intelligence, human intelligence. But no security system is 100% effective. And the creation of a police state through the manipulation of citizens' fears is not a solution either, since that merely replaces one form of terrorism for another.

That's why, in the long-run, a fundamental change in direction, in policy, will be necessary.

For now, my deepest, heartfelt condolences to those who have lost loved ones. My good wishes to those who are dealing with injury to body and spirit.

Comments welcome. Mentioned at L&P here and Technomaget's Journal


Excellent post!

I partially agree with your analysis but think there is a need to highlight some unmentioned facts or lessons learnt which no body is addressing. Security is not a matter of has more power, and is niether fulfilled through wars. Inside or outside, the traditional ways of fighting 'terrorism' -with all the dimensions of the word and the new attempts(!) at redifinning it- proved to be a failure. A humble lesson from a small humble city like Beirut (Lebanon), and again from a small humble person who lived and was raised in this country, in this miidle east, can be stated as follows. Dialogue with all, only through dialogue and the spirit of dialogue can we counter terrorism and attain global security. Even those who do not seem to be ready for dialogue are ussually bying credit or time, a better stand on the round table, the globe!
Beirut, again has passed through various faces of violence and raised from the ashes, seems to be fighting its way out or in again, but what decides that is dialogue, otherwise violence breaks out. There is no military power that can defeat thought, communication and the flow of ideas whether we like them or not and whether they are evil or not, for beyond any power of any kind is a mind and only through dialogue can be transformed. to transform the conflict rather than resolving it actually through power or other means. Isn't that what democracy is all about. Elections instead of chaos, political discusions and transfer of ideas rather than violence and armed groups?
We need to think deeply, G8 need to think deeply, the Arab World need to think deeply and so should all the people arround the Globe, if that happens we'll, globally, be safe, otherwise, however vigilant we may be, nothing will stop the global hit-hit back scenario.
All we can do is try open channels for dialogue and hope individuals, groups and decision makers arround the globe join or learn a lesson.
Thank you for your patience.

Bravo Chris, you about nailed it!

For anyone who cares, my own response to this is here:



Chris, I think your put your finger on the nerve again :)

Why didn't they strike in NY again? They also know that it would have been an easy, but devastating strike. This is something that nags me and I think that maybe, they didn't have a terror cell their anymore, or they are planning something even bigger.
Since we can think that Al-Qaida (being a well-organized group) has an agenda or at least a philosophy (even if it is the absence of it) to act from.
Why did they attack in London, it is the second time in a row that a European country was attacked. This time it has been a close ally to the US (perhaps the closest).
So, who will be next?
They got us confused with the Spain bombing on who will be next... But I think now it is clearer: The Alliance of the willing is attacked, gradually, to disspell it. Or have I interpreted too much?

"Premonition" --

For the life of me, I cannot understand why these animals are not doing this far, far more often than they are. There is something really important at the bottom of this matter, and -- for a long time, now -- I haven't been able to put my finger on it.

"Condolences" --

The Union Jack flew over the State Department yesterday. That's the first time that has ever happened in two hundred sixteen years. The State Department holds absolutely no value to me -- none -- whatever. But I nearly wept when I read that.

Chris, ~please~ move to Los Angeles. We don't have a subway here. :-)

Love ya, man.

Roger Bissell

Thanks for all the comments, folks. A few brief points in reply:

Mazen, I am second to none in my belief in the productivity of dialogue. It's sewn into my long-standing advocacy of dialectic as a methodological orientation. Part of that commitment entails looking at any phenomenon from a variety of perspectives so as to come to a fuller understanding of its preconditions and effects.

The thing is: Parties have to be willing to engage in dialogue. They need to generate alternative institutions of conflict-resolution. And maybe some of them, who are still opposed to working through such institutions, need to pick up the works of Gene Sharp and understand the efficacy of nonviolence as a revolutionary strategy for changing the world. The problem, of course, is that some see violence as part of their creed; no amount of dialogue can convince such people to lay down their arms---except a change in the long-term conditions that have inspired them to take up arms in the first place.

Max, I'm not sure why terrorist strikes in NY have not yet happened again, but I think we need to put something in perspective. Al Qaeda and Al Qaeada-ism, which has spawned many groups with similar purposes and means, is not exactly a huge organized army. And it typically takes a long time to plan, rather methodically, dramatic acts of terror. Given the level of security and police interference in places like NY since 9/11, it is understandable why terrorist cells aren't popping out all over. Being vigilant is one thing, but buying into a state of fear is the surest way to bolster a fearsome State.

To my Brit posters: Thanks for being here to post. Stay safe.

And to Roger: You can take the boy out of Brooklyn... but... well... you get the picture. Love ya too!

It’s worthwhile to get a long-term perspective and history can help us here. Terrorists of the Red Brigade in Italy and Germany continued to function for a good two decades. Early in the twentieth century, anarchist/syndicalist violence took place over a period of several decades. How many people remember the terrorist attack on Wall Street in from of the J.P.Morgan building that killed 30 people instantly with others to die later?

Most of these waves of attacks accompanied an ideological movement and consumed the most fanatical members for at least a generation. The current jihdaists are the students of the Islamic Brotherhood who were invited to setup shop in Saudi Arabia in the 1960s after they were banned elsewhere. With Saudi money they spread their teachings and trained the current generation (mostly in Taliban Afghanistan).

I think there is great danger in believing that we can do anything about this. It will lead to the demands for greater and greater measures at too great a cost in terms of dollars and liberties. We can take appropriate measures but the criteria shouldn’t be complete elimination of terrorist attacks anymore that we’d expect common crime to be completely eliminated. Ideological movements are not in our control at home let alone in foreign lands. Not everything is within our control.

This was meant to help get perspective but I'm not sure if it will be welcomed. I find that facing limits helps me accept what has to be accepted so that I can focus on what can be changed. But it isn’t always the appropriate moment. So I apologize if this isn’t the time or place for this discussion.

Excellent points, Jason. No need to apologize at all. This is crucially important.

Speaking of fear: I fear that people who think they can create or construct a "risk-free" society are not merely operating on a utopian premise, but a totalitarian premise as well.

There is something Barbara Branden said to me a long time ago, which I enshrined in TOTAL FREEDOM (p. 95 n. 20). Here's what I wrote:

'I am persuaded by Barbara Branden, who argues "that the inability to live with uncertainty ... is the root of dogmatism, true belief, fanaticism, etc. My personal definition of maturity is precisely the ability to live with uncertainty ... perhaps even to welcome it as a challenge." In this regard, the notion that the world can be made completely predictable might be viewed as a flight from psychological maturity. One these issues, see also Nathaniel Branden's "Alienation" [an essay in CAPITALISM: THE UNKNOWN IDEAL].'

This is all relevant to our concern here. Since not everything is in our control, as Jason puts it, the prospect of trying to control for everything is not just one of the roots of dogmatism; it's one of the roots of totalitarianism. It's actually one of the ~epistemic~ roots of what Hayek once called "constructivist rationalism," and it fuels the kind of political movement that assumes perfect human efficacy: that people can always act to achieve a desired effect without generating unpredictable, unintended social consequences.

No such perfect human efficacy exists. But the demand for that kind of efficacy generates awful consequences.

For example, politicians have acted to cash-in on legitimate fears (of crime, both domestic and foreign) in order to aggrandize their power. That's why "war is the health of the state," as Randolph Bourne once said. Because the manipulation of fear becomes the pretext for expanding government power in all spheres. This has happened in ~every~ instance of war in the history of this country, so-called "good" wars and "bad." Often, the structures and institutions introduced during war time become a permanent part of the structural conditions in peacetime.

But if there are things over which we have no control, there are other things that we might be able to change ~over time~. (The Serenity Prayer has social and political implications, clearly.)

Current US foreign policy is dictated by many inherent structural conditions; those conditions can (and must) be changed through a fundamental change in US politics. Revolutions aren't easy, but they are sometimes necessary for the sake of human survival.

Ironically, from an ideological perspective, George W. Bush himself projected some understanding of the fact that, for decades, the foreign policy of the US government was "excusing and accommodating tyranny, in the pursuit of stability" in the Middle East, as he put it. In the end, it achieved neither stability nor freedom. But even Bush knows implicitly that this policy stoked the flames of hatred that led fanatics to target this country.

The problem is that Bush hasn't learned the other side of this coin: that constructivism of ~any~ sort is liable to generate negative unintended consequences. If the US cannot change the internal dynamics of jihadist Islam, it cannot create liberal "democracy" in countries that lack any understanding of the concept or cultural appreciation of the preconditions and effects of freedom.

I don't think there is any foresight in current US policy of the kinds of consequences that might result of planting this country, its military and resources, smack in the middle of these complex conflicts and problems in the Middle East. Defending US citizens against attacks is one thing; trying to create the world anew is quite another.

And here I was worried that my post was too terse to be understood! But if it inspired the above extended exposition, I was amply rewarded.

I think it's important to keep in mind that attacks by Islamist terrorists on the American mainland tend to be spaced out over long periods of time(notice the length of time between the first bombing of the world trade center and 9-11 for example) and Bin Laden has shown that his organization is still active so we shouldn't interpet his lack of attacks here as a sign that he isn't planning any and it may be part of his strategic plan to bide his time before another attack on American soil(or increased security is causing him to have to take more time in planning a strike)

I offer my condelences to the victims of the recent tragedy in London though and HOPE there isn't a repeat here but I am afraid that I can't dismiss concerns over the possiblity of another attack since it strikes me as having some legitmancy/basis


Thanks for your comments, Nick. You're right about the length between Al Qaeda attacks, of course.

As I've said on other occasions, however, one of the chief problems at this stage is not "Al Qaeda" per se, but "Al Qaeda-ism" and the need to understand the conditions that promote it.