Worldview: For the love of god and country

I once opined that no one can face a fiercer opponent than someone fighting for what they hold most dear.

We Americans, and really most Westerners, have a very romantic view of that idea. When we hear it, we see Spartans fighting at Thermopylae or Colonists fighting the Redcoats or Churchill exhorting the English to fight the Germans on the beaches.

Sure, there is that, but nobody said that what someone holds most dear has to be lovely or honorable in order for someone to be willing to die for it.

In fact, it is that very romantic fallacy that is causing us to lose the so-called War on Terror. What we’re failing to realize is that the fighters who have flocked to the likes of al Qaeda and al Shabbab and ISIS and their many brethren around the world fiercely love the variety of Islam they have embraced. They love it so much, they are willing to kill themselves trying to spread it and defend it.

Until we realize these people have embraced in harsh reality an ideal we have turned into fuzzy romance, we cannot beat them. It will never be enough to drop some bombs on the places they are currently hiding or to occupy the countries they happen to be operating from today. No, we have to attack the very foundations of what drives that ideology in the first place.

I understand that last notion is ugly and fraught with the potential for being cruel. As it turns out, so is our enemy.

DLH

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Worldview: 9-10

Sometimes, it seems like it was just yesterday. I remember sitting at my desk at work when the news the first plane hit broke. We were all clustered around the television when the second one did. A dozen military men, we all knew, even at that moment: we were at war.

In the next few days, the speculation in the circles I traveled in at the time was rampant, but many of us had a feeling: al Qaeda. The memory of the attack on the USS Cole was fresh enough that they were the first and most likely suspect. Who else would hijack planes as weapons? Yet we knew, whoever it was that did this to us, we were at war.

In the next weeks and months, our government confirmed that the attack was, indeed, carried out by al Qaeda, and our commander-in-chief dedicated us to rooting them out of Afghanistan and delivered a stern warning to the world: stand with us or stand against us. There was no middle ground. We were at war.

Except we weren’t.

A lot of people said in the days after 9-11 that everything changed, and in a way they were right. In the days since that horrible event, and unbelievable number of Americans have convinced themselves that everything but the truth is true.

Ivory tower academics and self-deluded pundits declare that America was to blame for what happened on 9-11. The news and the internet are full of journalists and talking heads insisting that our response to those events were overwrought, unjustified, even criminal. An entire segment of American society chose to respond to the recent death of Osama bin Laden by chiding Americans for celebrating the death of a bloodthirsty enemy.

In the ten years since 9-11, something has changed, something deep, sinister, and self-destructive. We now live in an era when a rapper can declare “Fuck the army troops” and claim gangsters are harder than combat veterans and people just shrug. We live in a society when reporters can write and say that the war in Afghanistan was an unjustified exercise in nation building, and most people believe that is true.

Instead of being at war with our enemy, we are at war with ourselves, and we seem very close to victory.

The sad fact of 9-11 ten years on is that, I believe, we have doomed ourselves to repeat history like we have so many times before. We have not learned anything. Instead, we have deceived ourselves into believing in a reality that never has been true, and it is almost inevitable that we will pay the price for that deception again.

For me, what remains ten years since 9-11 is the lingering thought that those of us who understood what changed that day must prepare ourselves and anyone who might listen for the eventuality of what may come next. We have to face the fact that things have changed and that someone has to be ready, even if everyone else believes it can’t possibly happen.

For those of us who get it, who understand what changed ten years ago, we cannot forget, we cannot tire, we cannot fail. Let’s roll.

DLH

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Worldview: It’s monumental news, but we need to keep it in perspective

The news that Osama bin Laden has been killed is certainly monumental, incredible news, especially since he managed to evade capture for such a long time. Yet, as important as his death may be, it marks but a single event in a much larger, longer conflict.

To a great degree, bin Laden was a figurehead, a rallying figure for the millions upon millions of people around the world who use their interpretation of Islam to justify violence, oppression, hatred, and fear. While his death removes that figurehead, it does not remove the justification.

This conflict is not and never was going to be won by simply killing bin Laden any more than Iraq was secured by simply capturing Saddam Hussein and killing his sons. This conflict is not even going to be won by the application of military force alone. Instead, this is a conflict over the hearts and minds of people held in tyranny for generations, and it is going to take conviction and diplomacy as well as force to win.

Because of this fact, we must resist the powerful urge to conclude that we have won and that it is now time to wind things down. There may yet be a time when that reaction is appropriate, but it must be a time when the future of Afghanistan is as secured as it ever will be. Yes, it has been a long war, and many of us who have been paying attention to these things all along have said it was going to be, but we cannot quit before the job is done, because the consequences of quitting will be worse than those of outright failure.

So, we should celebrate the victory bin Laden’s death represents, but we should do so with the caution born of the knowledge that a rough road still lies ahead. And, we should resolve ourselves to walk that road until its end.

DLH

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Worldview: Julian Assange: The new kingmaker?

The rise of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks represents the rise of the non-state actor as a significant force on the world state. While historically such actors were terrorist groups, Assange and his website represent a new entry: that of the information broker.

It seems to me that, given his albeit rather tepid success so far, it is almost inevitable that he will eventually stumble upon the kind of information he is looking for: information capable of toppling powerful people or governments.

The question that remains is “then what?”

I know there are people who think that what Assange and WikiLeaks is doing is good because it somehow holds governments accountable for their actions. I find that most people who think that way rarely consider the consequences of their actions.

The consequences of Assange’s actions have the potential to be world changing, but not in a good way. What will the consequences of power vacuums be? What will the consequences of more strained international relations be? What will the consequences of reducing the most powerful nation on the planet’s ability to act be?

More than likely, Assange and his supporters will be responsible for more hardship, violence, war, and death than the people, nations, and governments they seek to discredit. They will achieve this dubious distinction by creating an international climate of distrust, suspicion, and aggression through the selective release of information designed to have those effects. And, when they succeed, far too few people will make the connection.

We have entered a dangerous time, and non-state actors represent part of that danger. The question remains as to whether the United States and the world are capable of meeting the threat and dealing with it.

DLH

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