Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

13 June 2016

Getting IS’ Fingers Off our Pulse

The black border, of course, is for the fifty innocent victims who died at the Pulse gay bar in Orlando, at the hands of an IS-inspired domestic terrorist, and for their many injured comrades.

My heart goes out to their loved ones and to our American gay community. It’s beyond depressing to think of people just emerging from under decades of hate at home, and just beginning to enjoy the right to marry whomever they love, only to face the implacable enmity of a pathological terrorist state halfway around the globe.

Every American, indeed every human being, with an ounce of empathy is gay today.

But the black border is not just for Sunday’s victims. It’s for all of us in the civilized world. The atrocity at Pulse is hardly the first terrorist attack at home; it’s only the largest after 9/11. And it’s unlikely to be the last.

So this post is dedicated to all of us. The ripples from this brick thrown in the still water of our national confidence and security may continue spreading for decades. Few will escape their effect. There is even a chance, albeit yet a small one, that this event and its consequences will affect the future of our entire species.

After attacks like this one, I have little desire to know the details of the mayhem and pointless suffering, unless they involve someone I knew personally. For me, it’s enough to know that 50 wholly innocent people died, just living their lives, because an unstable person became “inspired” by terrorist propaganda on the Internet and was able to gain access to assault weapons and consummate his insanity.

But there is one news article that every person who cares about consequences and our collective human future should read. In fact, it’s so important that I’ll cite it in full, as well as link to it: Rukmini Callimachi, “A Tie to ISIS? Uncertainty as a Strategy,” (online title varies) New York Times, Monday June 13, 2016.

The article’s main points are three. First, the Pulse attack is probably (although not yet certainly) part of a new, chilling strategy of IS—explicitly inspiring and encouraging, but not planning or ordering, terrorist attacks by unstable American youth. Second, that strategy lets its dupes plan and carry out attacks, requiring no money, weapons or resources from IS other than the Website or social media page that inspires them. Third, IS’ minimal direct involvement makes these attacks an extraordinary “force multiplier” for the terrorist state. It also makes the individual attacks extraordinarily hard to predict and prevent.

Here are the words of Islamic State’s spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, describing the strategy to would be American terrorists: “The smallest action you do in the heart of their land is dearer to us that the largest action by us, and more effective and more damaging to them.” Al-Adnani goes on to suggest that American terrorists use not only firearms, but rocks, knives and even cars to kill the “infidels,” namely us.

In other words, al-Adnani wants to replicate, in the world’s most powerful democracy, what is happening on the streets of Israel today. The trouble is, we Yanks are not as tough as the Israelis, nor as inured to constant danger in our daily lives. On the contrary, we have a national and cultural tendency toward hysteria. Anyone who lived through the Red Scares of the 1950s or the backyard-bomb-shelter building of the 1960s, or who remembers bent Secdef MacNamara’s “domino theory” of the Vietnam War, knows this. So does anyone who considers Dubya’s invading and occupying two foreign sovereign nations (Afghanistan and Iraq) before President Obama took out bin Laden with two helicopters and Navy Seals.

So as al-Adnani’s strategy sinks in, and as and if it produces more “successes” in our land, we will likely have another epoch of national hysteria. But this one will differ from the Cold War scares. It will be worse because it will involve individual fear. We will not feel threatened together, and therefore we will not feel the security and solidarity of numbers. We will feel fear as individuals, each in his or her own community, and each in his or her own way.

Already the first consequence of this hysteria is evident. Demagogues like the Unqualified One will exploit the fear. They will use it to gain power by subverting our traditional values of tolerance, solidarity, and common sense, and by destroying our ability to distinguish between real and imaginary threats.

The Unqualified One has already begun, Tweeting and railing that his proposed “ban” on Muslims entering America is the right approach. (What would a ban on Muslim entrance have done to a born American who was radicalized over the Internet?) When the implications of al-Adnani’s strategy sink in, let alone with another like terrorist attack, the chances of our having our own little Hitler in America will rise from thirty to thirty-five percent—better than one chance in three.

We weathered the Cold War hysteria because we had great leaders, at least at the outset. We had Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall, for whom the Marshall Plan is named, and George Kennan. The latter developed our “containment policy” for the Soviet Union, which took half a century to work but was ultimately successful, and without a shot fired.

Today, we have only one leader who can credibly claim to rise to that level of calm, steady, thoughtful leadership: President Obama. But he’s leaving office in seven months. Whether Hillary Clinton can rise to that level is unknown. The Unqualified One self-evidently cannot, but our hysteria makes his getting the chance more likely.

No doubt al-Adnani has taken all this into account. He appears to be as smart as he is bent. No doubt he knows, just like our President, that The Unqualified One would not just be an abysmal, scatterbrained strategist, but an effective American recruiter to al-Adnani’s cause. Al-Adnani would love to have such a weak leader in charge of his greatest enemy.

The quickest way to lose a war—or your Republic—is to underestimate your enemy. Al-Adnani’s inhuman strategy is about the best that a leader about to be crushed between two superpowers could devise. It threatens to weaken all his enemies and to undermine his otherwise most dangerous one from within.

There are always countermeasures. We must work to take away the Internet, which we invented, as a propaganda, advertising and marketing tool for Islamic State. We must work more closely with the Russians to crush IS quickly, Assad be damned. We must start making and using drones as we did aircraft during World War II. We must start getting serious about keeping firearms out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. And we must hasten our program to modernize at least a small part of our nuclear arsenal: we may need a small, accurately targetable nuke or two to decapitate IS before al-Adnani’s strategy can exploit our natural tendency toward hysteria, let alone before IS gets nukes itself.

IS and al-Adnani have devised a demonic strategy to win or draw by making our American lives a living hell. The Pulse night club in Orlando has the dubious distinction of having suffered the most convincing, if not the only, demonstration of that strategy’s effectiveness.

Neither hysteria nor clueless demagogues can get al-Adnani’s finger off our Pulse. Only cold, hard, chess-playing leadership can.

The best thing we can do the turn the tide in this asymmetrical war, which at the moment is not going well for us, is to make the right choices in the coming election. If we can do that, despite the distraction of hysteria, then maybe the innocents who died at Pulse will not have died in vain.



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