Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters
socratic

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Sensitivity training

It is easy to mock John Kerry for claiming that he would wage the war on terror with greater sensitivity. Sensitivity and war go together about as well as vegemite and, well, anything. That is to say, not very. It was a rhetorical blunder of epic proportions, and it has cost Kerry significantly. He's had to back away not only from the phrasing "more sensitive war" but also from the idea that it embodies, which is a reasonably sound one.

We are not going to win the war on terror. I mean this not only in the sense that terror is a tactic and as such can never be defeated, but also in the very specific sense that we are not going to wipe out the specific enemies we are currently facing. There are too many of them, they are too well dispersed, and as a society we are not willing to make the sacrifices that would be necessary. The people are unwilling to give up our civil liberties and the rights of all people, even those with unpopular opinions, to be treated as innocent until they have been proved guilty. The government and corporate interests are unwilling to give up the profit and power motives that drive our involvement in that part of the world, or pay sufficient monies to provide competent security. We can limit our losses, work hard to undermine the various groups and protect potential targets, and make progress at uprooting them in their homelands, but we can't defeat them, not like this. There will be another attack, and though I doubt it will be as successful as 9/11 was, it will be psychologically devastating.

John Kerry or George W. Bush, it doesn't really matter. A handcuffed bureaucracy can't stop a few dedicated people in a free society. Security can't be absolute. Look at Israel.

We can't win this war but we can lose it. A few suitcase nukes smuggled into New York and DC and I'd say we've lost the war. Some experts have estimated the chances of this happening in the next decade at better than 50%. The war may be unwinable but those individual battles, the battles that determine whether a nuclear weapon ends up sitting behind heavy guard at Fort Bragg or detonates in Times Square are battles that we can win, and battles that we must win. That's where our energy needs to be focused.

That being said, sensitivity is the perfect tactic to use when combating terrorism. Not because it will prevent or reduce it, it won't, but rather because it will reduce the costs of fighting it. Fighting terrorism in foreign lands, and treating visitors to America like they might be terrorists, has a high cost in terms of our international relationships, as well as money. We've already seen much of this since 9/11, with the precipitous drop in world esteem for America, our dealings with the Pakistani dictator that have been less than kosher, and reductions in student visa applications that have hurt our colleges and university both financially and in terms of the calibur of student. These costs are real and significant, and they translate into further costs as Americans have to attempt to accomplish alone what would previously have been done with the help of others.

This is why we must be sensitive. Not towards the terrorists, that's pointless. Despite their claims most terrorists are not striking out against America because of things we have done in the past, or not just because of what we've done. They're striking out because they're frustrated and brainwashed. I know what it's like to be a frustrated young man and I can understand how it might turn to violence in societies where they don't have the option of writing angry screeds to post on the internet or blowing off some steam with expensive delicious food and videogames. Terrorism's causes are about as complicated as any other human motivation, but what is clear is that even if America behaved as an exemplary citizen of the world we would still be attacked. As the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth we are a lightning rod for frustrated people. People give terrorist leaders a lot of credit for being authentic in their desires because of the fanaticism of their followers. I think this is unwarranted. Terrorist leaders are like leaders in most areas, interested primarily or exclusively in themselves. Yasir Arafat has proven this time and time again with his unwillingness to accept peace with Israel and the fact that he lives in a (now dilapitated) mansion while claiming that many of his people are starving. He has the moral authority of shrimp toast. Some have argued that Osama Bin Laden's giving up a life of luxury for living in caves and fighting the infidels proves his dedication to the cause, but I disagree. I think Bin Bastard just cares more for fame and adoration than he does for money. He'd rather live in a cave with sycophants and have his name known around the world than be a somewhat anonymous oil sheikh. Terrorist leaders who claim they would die for their cause if ever called upon are captured alive far more frequently than one would expect from their rhetoric. Most do care about the causes they fight for but they care more about themselves, and if the causes were no longer there they would not dismantle the infrastructure of terror unless in return they were granted some equivalent post of power and respect. This is untenable.

Instead of being sensitive to the terrorists, we must be sensitive to the other countries and entities we deal with in the pursuit of them. We should be sensitive to potential allies and even enemies because we may need their help in the future. Bush's ridiculous statement about an axis of evil is an example of how insensitivity can carry great costs. Not only did he look like a unilateral buffoon to the world but the countries he named could not cooperate with us now if they wanted to. In many parts of the world leaders need to maintain face and the image of power to their people. Cooperating with someone who insulted you to the world sends the opposite message. The Bushies rhetorical attacks on France have cost us with Europe. I'm not saying that we should have listened to France's extremely biased claims about Iraq (French companies were making out like bandits doing business with Saddam.) There's just no point in insulting them and calling them old Europe. It makes sense for Bush domestically but it has costs for the United States. John Kerry's promise to cease all of that and fight the war with sensitivity is one that Americans should embrace. We can be strong and sure while remaining diplomatic and aware of how our actions and words effect other countries and how that will, in turn, effect us.

Sensitivity is not the same as weakness. Machiavelli urges the Prince to be sensitive to the thoughts and desires of those around him and in opposition to him so he can exploit them for his own benefit. Fighting terrorism with an eye to minimizing costs will allow us to be more effective, not less, in the long run and avoid isolation. This will be a long hard slog and we'll need all the help we can get. An insensitive war is a war fought alone. A war fought alone is a war that much easier to lose.
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