Saturday, January 09, 2010

Taking Offense Against Terror

If there really is a "war," why are all the images of it defensive and reactive, from the White House's talking heads this week to yesterday's arraignment of a young man in a T-shirt looking in the artists' sketches like a teenager caught swiping fruit?

As two generations of Cheneys fault Barack Obama for not being Jack Bauer of 24, real questions persist about how to fight an aggressive war on terror but avoid one "that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans," as the President put it the other day.

The answers are somewhere beyond the usual liberal/conservative divide, scrambling all the philosophical arguments.

Start with yesterday's courtroom scene. While it may have satisfied an American desire for due process, was that the best choice for dealing with a heinous crime that could have left hundreds of innocent victims and thousands of grieving family members?

Certainly Abdulmutallab is of far less importance than the people who recruited, trained, equipped and sent him on his mission. If what they did was an attack on American society, wouldn't it have been more appropriate to put him in the context of that war and do everything necessary (pace the debate on torture) to identify and take action against the real enemies?

The answer opens the lid on a Pandora's box of issues that go beyond political posturing over questions about our "values" and the terrorists'. If we are fighting an enemy convinced that killing innocent people is God's work and willing to hide behind the sovereignty of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or wherever, our choices are much more complicated than those of Jack Bauer or his civil liberties counterparts.

If we go on offense in the war on terror, some of the necessary tactics may be offensive to our aversion to secrecy and subterfuge, but is the only alternative to let ourselves be slaughtered by inviolable enemies who keep sending waves of Adbdulmutallabs and Shoe Bombers at us?

Dissenters may argue that a vigorous response will only "breed" even more recruits for the terrorists, but there is no shortage now, and that possibility pales against the value of letting those who plot to kill us know that we will be coming after them with more than words.

1 comment:

Fuzzy Slippers said...

Why don't we let the WH answer Helen Thomas' question in full. They admitted this is a religious war, so now all they need to do is answer Thomas' "but whhhhyyyyy?"