The Pink Elephant in the Political Room                                                           


It will slowly climb from the uncomfortable regions of our subconscious to the surface, from the unspoken to the spoken, when we will be able to make informed decisions about it, or at least open the subject to public debate.  But right now, it is clear that no one wants to discuss the matter in a way that addresses good old Average Joe’s stake at the political table where foreign policy is concerned this year.  There’s an elephant in the room, and no one wants to admit it.  During the campaign in 2004 George Bush said we’re “winning? the war on terrorism; John Kerry said we’re not doing enough, and are doing it wrong.  I think it was probably hard to say for sure, but support is crashing because even the congenitally disenfranchised American public is starting to figure out that there is no pretty way out of Iraq.  We’re trapped, and now we enter the next phase of the public debate.  How, and when.  And it’s going to get hot, because there are simply too many opinion leaders out there who kind of saw all this coming ahead of time.  The urge to say “I told you so? is bursting the public-debate seams. 

Even Donald Rumsfeld doesn’t know if we are creating more terrorists than we are removing, and I give him a lot of credit for raising the question.

As the Spanish train bombings and routine explosions in Iraq have once again demonstrated (as if Israel wasn’t a good enough example), there is really no way to stop people determined to kill, especially those who will do it without regard for their own life, which wasn’t even the case in Spain.  It can’t even be done in a police state.  Try as they always have and always will, government cannot control the actions of the individual quite so microscopically.  This is the elephant.

Average Joe has been placed against his will in a reverse-lottery, where the odds of losing are very long, but the cost is very high.  If Joe wins the reverse lottery, he’s dead.  (If Joe almost “wins? the reverse lottery, he just gets wounded!)  I believe enough Average Jose’s realized this just before they voted to swing their election against the incumbent and that all other analysis of the results (Spain chickened out, et al) is of the over-variety.

On some level, American Average Joe knows this, too, but hope indeed does spring eternal, and our politician’s (with the media’s help) are using the issue to both create fear and pretend they, the politicians, are the answer to this fear, when they in fact gave birth to it through foreign and domestic policy, right or wrong.  Their misrepresentation of the threat would be laughable (much like them telling us they could help us win a real lottery with some new laws—imagine the uproar!) if it were not so dangerous and condescending. 

There are three ways to combat terrorism.  And these three are pretty much it.

One, you kill and capture as many of these people as you can possibly identify.  This can be done quietly just as effectively as making a show every time you have success, and in direct contradiction of a given nation’s public policy, in my opinion.  (Though you would have to be positive, all-four-branches-of-government POSITIVE, if this is your policy.)  I would argue that terrorists just “disappearing? is a better approach than, say, Israel’s, who have proven pretty conclusively that trying to publicly kill your way out of a terrorism problem is not in and of itself a solution, or at minimum, if it is, it takes one heck of a long time to finish the job.  And then consider how much easier is to defend Israel than it is to defend the U.S.

In general, it seems to me that to do this effectively requires a high degree of international cooperation, but I’m no terrorism expert.  Not great that most of the world’s non-Man’s actively think we’re nuts, even if their Men are still hanging in there with us publicly.  This is how Empire’s die. 

Two, the Powers of the world will use technology to monitor us in ways heretofore unimaginable.  You want total safety?  Have a camera and microphone everywhere, including your house and car.  Hey, if you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have to worry about it, right?

Finally, you stop creating new terrorists.  It takes some rather rare socioeconomic, political and religious circumstances to get someone to willingly and proudly blow themselves and anyone around them up.  (And after Spain they know including their own selves isn’t really necessary.)  The reasons we haven’t been attacked since 9-11 are certainly many, but arguably one of them is simple math; there aren’t enough people willing to die for their cause relative to those who are not.  Yet.

Here’s a way to look at it even the President might understand.  Let’s say you’re 99% successful in stopping people who want to blow up other people.  (That’s pretty good, right?  99%?)  So, if you have 100 people who want to blow stuff up, 1 gets through.  We could handle that, I think, since we already have, and since most of the rest of the world long ago demonstrated some resilience against terror.  (Joe’s now look at it much like they look at their lottery tickets.)  But say there are 1000 people who want to blow things up, and are willing to do the work to do it.  Now you have 10 getting through.  Hmm.  Not quite as tolerable.

If there are a million people who are willing to die to indiscriminately kill others, and you’re 99% successful in stopping them, ten thousand make it.  If you’re 99.9% successful against this many, you’re back down to a mere thousand “successful? demolitions.  Get it?

All in all, I think the President is doing a fine job on Number 1.  My guess is that some evil-doers have been “disappearing? quietly, and it is somewhat inevitable that the big fish are going to make news.

On Number 2, well, that process is well underway already, and that issue encompasses far more than just terrorism, thus it is irrelevant to the subject at hand.

So, to this Average Joe, Number 3 becomes the central issue of foreign policy.  Are our current policies increasing or decreasing the number of people who want to blow us up?  Are they making me more or less likely to “win? that reverse lottery?  As my best friend likes to say, “The terrorists always win.?  He means politically.  Why?  Because you have to be super-motivated with rage/religious fervor/hopelessness to be one.  To use a sports metaphor that every male reading this will understand immediately, people who are willing to die for a cause “want it more.” 

For every person willing to blow themselves up, there are thousands more not there yet, but increasingly angry with (at least) the American government.

I saw a respected journalist say just recently we were now the “most hated country in the world.?  This was a guy who has done international news for 25 years, old school-style.  He went on to say, “It can’t be all blamed on Bush, but there’s no question this problem has worsened on his watch.?  Is this a candidate for understatement of the year?

For the first time in my life I am scared for my country.  The Emperor has no clothes, and no one wants to talk about the elephant in the room.

We cannot stop them all.











2 Responses to “Terrorism Math”

  1. Adrian Says:

    I’ve lived in Northern Ireland all my life so I grew up in “The Troubles” to use our euphemistically referred to the terrorism in my home country. I have many memories of waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of booted men walking through our farmyard and sleeping soundly the rest of the night – an army patrol keeping me safe in my bed. I remember the day the policeman was killed outside my school – I was 9 at the time – and that I’d been on the minibus he was driving just minutes before. Times have changed in Northern Ireland. The killing has (largely) stopped. It looks to me that the British government had to go through a process of using the same three methods before we reached this state of affairs. The “Shoot to kill” policy backfired spectacularly – it definitely produced more terrorists than it ‘removed’. The 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement was an attempt on your second suggestion that proved to be equally futile. Much of the solution was in socio-economic methods. If people are oppressed, are denied a fair education, and feel their land is invaded they loose all ‘rational’ aspirations. I believe ‘Hopes and Dreams’ are incredibly important – people by and large want to be left alone by governments and live out a comfortable life for themselves and their dependents. If people believe they have no chance of realizing their hopes and dreams they look for someone to blame. They are vulnerable to manipulation by those who are angry. They follow a cause. They don’t see themselves as terrorists – one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

    Better housing, equal status, genuine opportunities. These all played a vital part in altering the mindset of people to the point where peace was possible. To achieve it required ‘positive discrimination’, where one community was treated preferentially in order to bring it up to the same standard as the dominant community. It was a stated policy and it has been successful.

    Socio-economic strategies are not the whole answer. Nor is Northern Ireland today in some Utopian state or fully at peace, and we won’t be at peace while there are still orphans without their father, but the situation is improving. Every day that goes by without a murder is a good day.

  2. John O Says:

    Beautifully said. I hope your life remains more at peace!

    Thanks for stopping by.

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