Monday, October 11, 2004

Winning the War on Terror: Eugene Volokh is talking about John Kerry's fundamental view on terrorism, essentially looking at it the same way we look at illegal gambling or prostitution, a problem that will never go away but that we can control to the point that it's not our main focus. Here's the Kerry quote:

"We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of
our lives, but they're a nuisance," Kerry said. "As a former law-enforcement
person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end
illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level
where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and
fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not
threatening the fabric of your life."

I get where Kerry's coming from, but I think he's wrong. We've been waging stupid, symbolic wars on everything from drugs, to cancer, to poverty for decades, and they are all still a fact of life, to a greater or lesser extent can be argued (for instance, there are probably more instances of cancer diagnosis today than thirty years ago, despite massive effort to treat it and prevent it, the best we can). It's a bad way to describe the effort because it implies something that can be won, which is of course false. Our efforts to "defeat terror" are much the same, and it's fair for Kerry to point that out; there will always be terrorists and if we propose to wage a "war" on them until they're gone, we're going to be very tired and frustrated when it doesn't happen. Being vigilant, but not frenzied, is the proper attitude.

And that was a good point to make on September 10, 2001. Terrorism was something that happened mostly overseas, and when it did reach our shores, we, and our buildings, were too strong to be hurt seriously by a couple of ragheads with a backpack full of Semtex. We can't "win the war" but we can change the climate that creates it much more if we take the fight overseas, regardless of the feelings we hurt in the Brussels.

After all, there's still certainly plenty of gambling and prostitution in NYC, but Rudy Guiliani didn't clean up Times Square by holding a summit with street punks.

Via instapundit.


Razor said...

I can't remember who wrote this, but it was someone smarter than me, but the essence was that terrorism isn't something you can defeat because it's not a tangible thing, but an idea, a philosophy. It's like saying you want to win the war on cubism.

What Kerry was probably trying to say was that he wanted to beat back the terrorists so that they go return to blowing themselves up, and not Americans on their own soil. Certainly, if we could somehow manage to keep terrorism confined to "other places" that would be a great victory, in a self-centered way. However, we should not forget that for as many Osamas as there are, there are just as many Timothy McVeighs.

Flyer said...

Razor, i understand that Kerry was making a complex and nuanced point about terrorism being a constant fact of life in the world and i don't disagree entirely. But it's a poor attitude to take into the fight, if in fact you think the fight is worthwhile. If 9/11 was presumably more than a nuisance, what level below that is acceptable? Attacks on foreign soil, even if they target Americans? Attacks only on military personnel? Full on Gaza Strip during intifada season is probably unacceptable, but can we live with Belfast circa 1988? I just have a hard time taking Kerry seriously when he talks this way, because I don't think he takes anything seriously, except elections.