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December 04, 2004

The First Data Point on Anti-Terrorism

David Estlund: December 4, 2004

Left and Right can agree that there are competent and devoted people hoping and planning for more large attacks on U.S. soil. There's a lot of common ground to be tilled here. Still, maybe the first data point is not, as Jerry Dworkin suggests, that there have been no more attacks, possibly owing to effective prevention. That's the second data point. The first is that the devastating attack of 9/11 was planned and achieved with hardly a hitch, possible owing to ineffective prevention. I'm all for solidarity against these enemies. But the Bush administration might really be partly to blame for 9/11. Their ability to protect us is hardly an unambiguous selling point (and Jerry wasn't saying that it is).

The election's over (at least outside of the wide world of blogs), so is there anything constructive in reminding ourselves that Bush was our protector when 9/11 happened? I think there is. All evidence suggests that the administration had no ears for career professionals who know what to watch for. The Bush team saw themselves as firebrands who needed to keep the tired old bureaucracy from coopting their idealistic plans. This turns out to be dangerous.

What's puzzling about this, of course, is that the intellegence bureaucracy turns out, indeed, to have been dysfunctional in many ways. So is there really a lesson? I suppose this is merely speculative. The Bush administration was not just prudently skeptical. It was, and is, allergic to a careful, balanced, open-minded, approach, especially when it smacks in the least of academia or scientific research. This is a profoundly reactionary element in this administration, and I fear that it is part of the positive appeal these guys have for many voters.

There is this bigger question about how left and right can correct this tendency in prevailing Republican power-holders. But for the moment, I just note that it might not only bear on the teaching of evolution, or the denials of global warming, but also, maybe, on the failure to return phone calls from the eggheads claiming to have arguments (arguments? pfft) showing that Al Qaeda could accomplish a Pearl Harbor on U.S. soil. Yes, the eggheads also designed the Vietnam War. The idea isn't that the intellectuals should be the rulers. There was plenty of ink spilled in an intellectual style by the developers of the Bush approach. The question isn't quite intellectual vs. anti-intellectual. It is more like a lack of the intellectual virtues, especially an inability to understand one's critics, and to let arguments and evidence lead where they may. And my point is not that the Left is generally more virtuous in these ways (though, I'm not sure it isn't). Rather, the point is about the intellectual vices of those particular people who are in power now, and the implications for, even, homeland security.

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Comments

Posted by: Benj

"Left and Right can agree that there are competent and devoted people hoping and planning for more large attacks on U.S. soil."

What's the evidence for this? 9/11 only happened because of major audacity on their side -- our side did little to prevent it.

Posted by: Benj | Dec 7, 2004 2:05:19 AM


Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw

"but also, maybe, on the failure to return phone calls from the eggheads claiming to have arguments (arguments? pfft) showing that Al Qaeda could accomplish a Pearl Harbor on U.S. soil. Yes, the eggheads also designed the Vietnam War."

It is always easy to sift through the chaff of intelligence reports to find the gold in retrospect. Trying to to identify it in advance is the hard part. Pre 9-11, the intellectual community which specialized in Middle Eastern studies was busy peddling the idea that Muslim communities were not a danger. In fact they were so wedded to the idea that they defended it even after 9-11. The 'intellectual' community as a whole, or even the specialized bits of it that you would go to if you were interested in such things before 9-11, would not have given you the answers that you seem to think they would have given.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Dec 7, 2004 3:21:17 AM


Posted by: Al

"But the Bush administration might really be partly to blame for 9/11."

And so might the Clinton Administration. Hence, the 9/11 data point itself is a wash, when it comes to judging the effectiveness of anti-terror policies of the left and the right. The distinguishing data point is that post-9/11, Bush has protected us.

Posted by: Al | Dec 7, 2004 1:19:29 PM


Posted by: bill

David, read Sebastian and Al over and over and over again. Then say, "I am an egghead," 30 times. I don't know what else can help you.
You really belong on this site of self-admitted nonunderstanders.

Posted by: bill | Dec 7, 2004 2:32:39 PM


Posted by: ZF

Presumably this stuff sounds good inside your own echo chamber. It's not going to persuade anybody outside, or even hold their attention for a minute.

Posted by: ZF | Dec 7, 2004 7:43:50 PM


Posted by: urthshu

Presumably this stuff sounds good inside your own echo chamber. It's not going to persuade anybody outside, or even hold their attention for a minute.

Oh, it's holding mine. Not in the way they intend, however. More akin to rubbernecking at a traffic accident.

Truthfully, I'm caught: As I sift through the site, I'm astounded to find these are intelligent people, yet they begin from such wrong-headed premises. And then I recall the academic angle and it makes sense all over again.

Posted by: urthshu | Dec 7, 2004 9:17:50 PM


Posted by: Texan Jim

Hmmm. It seems the wingers have found this site. Unfortunate.

I, for one, think these other comments have totally missed the point. It's not that the task of predicting future terrorist attacks isn't difficult; it might be next to impossible. It's not that the Democrats would have prevented 9/11; I don't think they would have, either.

Mr. Estlund is directly making two points: (a) that yes, the Bush administration owns some degree of culpability for the attacks (and incidentally, the record to date clearly shows that before 9/11 they were less, not more, concerned with Al-Qaeda than Clinton); and most importantly (b) that this lack of concern is indicative of a quality of broad anti-intellectualism that is both plentifully obvious (based on their other policy stances) and dangerously radical.

Distrusting the expert consensus is healthy to a degree. Denying its assertions without caution or study is reckless. The expert (CIA) consensus on Al-Qaeda was that they wanted to strike the U.S.; at the time, it might have sounded too dark to reasonably anticipate, but that doesn't mean you should ignore the warnings. Some of these same experts warned that invading Iraq with a slim fighting force wouldn't be disasterous. Again these voices were hushed, demoted, etc. Similarly, some scientists fret about global warming, some economists fret about the declining dollar and rising debt, some geologists warn of an impending peak in oil supply. This administration doesn't just disagree with these positions, it dismisses them out of hand. Out of a simple faith that the experts are just eggheads. It's simply not prudent, not wise, not rational.

Posted by: Texan Jim | Dec 7, 2004 10:41:14 PM


Posted by: skep

The Vietnam War was planned tolerably well, inasmuch as in war, as the saying goes, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

If false media reports on the Tet Offensive had not energized antiwar sentiment, General Giap would have surrendered. Instead, he realized that all he needed to do was play defense long enough for the Americans to give up and go home.

The same thing is on the verge of happening in Iraq right now.

Posted by: skep | Dec 8, 2004 5:41:38 AM


Posted by: david gress

"denials of global warming"

Why are these a problem? Why list them as if they are a deficiency, perhaps even an immoral deficiency, on a par with denying the theory of evolution?

Only if you not only believe in global warming, but also that it is man-made. Then, by a train of logic that seems simple but isn't, you arrive at the position that the problem is too many people using too much energy, and the answer is regulation, rationing, and coercion. It is a train of logic inevitably and fatally attractive to bureaucrats, politicians, and other people equipped with an above-average desire to confiscate the results of other people's productive behavior and use them for purposes camouflaged as "altrustic," "in the interests of the planet" etc.

Posted by: david gress | Dec 8, 2004 6:47:29 AM


Posted by: Alan

"The first is that the devastating attack of 9/11 was planned and achieved with hardly a hitch, possible owing to ineffective prevention."

The major hitch the 9-ll fiends ran into was the passengers' willingness to fight and kill the hijackers. It did not buy them survival, but did save the White House or the Capital.

Posted by: Alan | Dec 8, 2004 8:59:54 AM


Posted by: TM Lutas

I think that the Left completely misunderstands how thoroughly they have alienated the Right through their long-time dominance of academia and the media. The right is pissed and it's just starting to get over it.

One thing that's helped the right get over much of its inferiority complex is that they're no longer playing catamite to permanent Democrat majorities in the House of Representatives. I recall a hearing on CSPAN, during the 1992-1994 Congress, where the token conservative on a panel was to shut up, leave, or be held in contempt of Congress by a loathsome chairman who just could not stand that this one man was outshining the rest of the panel and easily making the case for the superiority of the conservative solution. The chairman was a hispanic dem from TX who had arrogance dripping out of his pores, though the name escapes me after a dozen years. I believe he was one of a wave of retirements that happened after the Republicans gained their majority. That sort of thing went on for 40 years and there's generations of Republican angst that's just unwinding.

Just to let you know conservative and libertarian undergraduates are regularly instructed that they must live a lie to have a decent shot at an academic career. Only after tenure can they "come clean" with their real views. Is it any wonder that they avoid academia? Perhaps a reasonable priority for the left might be to provide for a more fair intellectual environment in places of its own dominance as part of a grand bargain of political tolerance in other areas.

A new spirit of tolerance is desperately needed. Conservatives view large parts of the federal bureaucracy as beyond their control, no matter the election results and expect the civil service to sabotage their efforts. That's where the problem of anti-terrorism fits into this inter-political kumbayah (sp?) piece.

If your experience is that academics will work as hard at undercutting you as at answering your questions, if civil servants will go to unprecedented lengths (has any serving CIA officer been encouraged to write a book before "Anonymous" in just that poisoned pen style?) to leak and manipulate the situation so that you come off in a bad light, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the response will be to cut off the academics and go through the civil service like a toilet snake as soon as you can. If you look at every odd Bush position, an ungodly number of them seem to stem from reaction to prior provocation. Certainly, this administration has its own share of home grown catastrophes (they all do). We'd do a lot better in this war if we regained the wartime consensus of WW II where criticism was tuned with an eye towards not hurting the war effort.

Posted by: TM Lutas | Dec 9, 2004 10:01:08 AM


Posted by: Max Lybbert

Well, I'm late to the party, and it looks like my point has been made. So, in case anybody is still listening:

/* The election's over ... so is there anything constructive in reminding ourselves that Bush was our protector when 9/11 happened? I think there is.
*/

And I think there is something constructive in reminding ourselves that Clinton was our protector while Al Quaeda planned and prepared for the attack.

/* All evidence suggests that the administration had no ears for career professionals who know what to watch for.
*/

And Richard Clarke, one of those career professionals, told the 9/11 Commission that if all his suggestions had been followed, the attack would have still occured.

/* It is more like a lack of the intellectual virtues, especially an inability to understand one's critics, and to let arguments and evidence lead where they may.
*/

Hmm, where to begin. LOL. This post is a clear symptom of inability to understand the Right's position (which would be your critics), and a failure to consider if the evidence may actually lead into conservative territory. You'll need to rewrite this paper before the end of the term if you hope to pass this class.

It is dangerous to take yourself so seriously. As a civic duty, I need to find out how those rich Republicans never found the time to go to school.

Posted by: Max Lybbert | Dec 10, 2004 6:19:41 PM


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