15 August 2006

This Doesn't Work

Even George Will understands that the Bush
Administration’s approach to fighting terrorism (invading
countries that pose no serious threat to our security,
destroying their entire infrastructure, torturing and killing
their civilians, and pissing off the entire world community)
doesn’t work.

As the latest foiled terrorist plot in London shows, the key
to beating terrorists is better, smarter law enforcement.

Cooperation between Pakistani and British law
enforcement (the British draw upon useful
experience combating IRA terrorism) has
validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased
by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10,
2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that
cripple drug lords, including governments
working jointly to share intelligence, patrol
borders and force banks to identify suspicious
customers, can also be some of the most useful
tools in the war on terror." In a candidates'
debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry
said that although the war on terror will be
"occasionally military," it is "primarily an
intelligence and law enforcement operation that
requires cooperation around the world."

Immediately after the London plot was
disrupted, a "senior administration official,"
insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic
words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a
point. The official told The Weekly Standard:

"The idea that the jihadists would all be
peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it
weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a
valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the
understanding or the commitment to take on
these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law
enforcement approach doesn't work."

This farrago of caricature and non sequitur
makes the administration seem eager to repel
all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric
reflects the intellectual contortions required to
sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central
to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike
"the law enforcement approach," does "work."

The official is correct that it is wrong "to think
that somehow we are responsible -- that the
actions of the jihadists are justified by U.S.
policies." But few outside the fog of paranoia
that is the blogosphere think like that. It is more
dismaying that someone at the center of
government considers it clever to talk like that.
It is the language of foreign policy -- and
domestic politics -- unrealism.

Also, Glenn Greenwald sets the record straight with this
must-read post about the surveillance techniques used to
bring down this latest batch of alleged terrorists.
Contrary to to the shrill cries of the Bush Administration
and its supporters, authorities were able to stop the bad
guys without having to resort to illegal, warrantless

And yet, here was a major plot foiled because
the terrorist plotters were using telephones to
communicate about their plans -- and using
banking systems to wire money -- all of which
law enforcement could track within the law.
This whole episode potently illustrates just how
inane are the claims that the Times' NSA story
(and its SWIFT disclosures) would endanger
national security. Terrorists already knew full
well that we monitor their telephone
conversations and banking transactions, and
they knew that before the New York Times
"told" them so. But in order to plan terrorist
attacks, terrorists must communicate with one
another and send money to each other.
Somehow, the Times' story did not prevent us
from eavesdropping on all of these
conversations. That's because the Times stories
-- as has been evident from the beginning -- told
terrorists nothing which they could use to avoid

Only Bush followers could point to a successful
law enforcement operation which, by all
appearances, complied with the law, and try to
use it to argue how necessary it is that the law
be broken. That is the central myth at the heart
of the Bush desire for increased authoritarian
measures -- that there is a forced choice
between protection from terrorist threats and
the rule of law.

That is a false choice. We can be a country
which lives under the rule of law and which
effectively battles terrorism -- just as we were
a country which lived under the rule of law
(including FISA) as we battled communism and
a whole array of other external threats. Despite
the bizarre effort by Bush followers to use this
U.K. plot to argue for the need for the President
to break the law, it actually demonstrates
precisely the opposite.