Gathering Storm: A Call to Reason, A Call to Action
October 24, 2002
To defeat an enemy militarily, it is said, one must first
define that enemy’s political goals. Our current ‘war’ is
with terrorism – no small irony, in that terrorism is not,
in and of itself, a political goal, or even an ideology. It
is instead, a technique. Thus, we are not at war with a clearly
defined ideology, bent upon imposing its political goals through
the use of force, but instead we wage war on a technique.
Techniques cannot be defeated, except through the use of
reason and suasion, wherein all parties with the means to
employ a certain technique – be it biological warfare, nuclear
power, or yes, even terrorism – agree to restrict themselves
from the use of such a method because of a shared interest
in ‘civilized warfare’. Such agreements are part of history
– The Geneva Convention being the most widely subscribed to
and most widely adhered to of such agreements.
Terrorism is nothing new. It has been employed, in various
guises, since recorded history – even God, in seeking to bend
the Pharaoh to His will, employed a variety of terrorism –
the killing of all first born sons of Egypt as punishment.
Thus, through the slaughter of innocents, did God compel Pharaoh
to release the Jews and so achieved His political goal. We,
as a nation and a people, have the right to defend ourselves
against acts of aggression and to seek physical security whether
at home or abroad. Such a right is fundamental (or ought to
be) to all citizens of the planet. It is for this reason that
the war on terror is accepted and to a large extent justified,
even to the use of force when a coherent enemy target can
What is not so clear is that simple military might is the
key to success in this latest campaign. Since we have not
yet identified a coherent foe – and Al Qaeda, for all its
evil intent, is a fairly loose knit organization – whose political
goals are clear, we have been unable to formulate a countering
national strategy for combating an enemy whose chosen technique
is terror. Worse, although we, as a nation, may (rightfully)
vilify the actions of agents of the Al Qaeda network, even
should we soundly defeat this particular organization, we
will have accomplished little, since terror as a technique
is not limited to this one organization.
We have instead chosen limitless and endless low-grade warfare
against an amorphous coalition of threats, who may or may
not be aligned with each other, in the name of combating ‘terrorism’.
Since the proponents of terrorism have specific reasons for
so choosing such tactics (among them an appreciation of their
asymmetric capabilities as combatants), and an unlimited supply
of means at their disposal, it should quickly become clear
that military action against a dispersed foe who chooses the
killing of innocents to make some political point is doomed
What is instead needed is a thoughtful examination of the
enemy’s political goals – once we know why persons and organizations
choose to engage in terroristic acts, once, in other words,
we discern the political motivation behind the acts, then
– and only then – may we, as a nation, formulate a coherent
response based upon the twin pillars of diplomacy and military
might. Cowboy posturing, however effective its soundbites,
accomplishes little in this regard.
Regrettably, a complex approach to a complex problem appears
to be beyond this administration’s grasp. The answer offered
is simple: kill all proponents of terror, the principles,
the supporters, the camp followers, the suppliers, and the
trainers. In short, apply a military solution to a political
The problem with this approach, however, is that while it
is ideologically pure, it is practically impossible. We can
no more successfully attack all those who employ some form
of terrorism as a means for achieving political goals than
we can successfully identify them. They are too many, and
they too often, disturbingly, resemble our allies.
Anyone with an axe to grind and access to even such limited
means as black powder and a bag of nails can become a terrorist.
And, when they band together, develop organization, they then
become a political entity, with some defined political goal
– however amorphous and inscrutable that goal may appear to
be to us. They become a political problem, and political problems
require political solutions, of which force is only one solution,
and an often-ineffective one, at that.
Further, one man’s terrorist is often another man’s partisan
– the distinction lying in the choice of targets. Civilian
targets are terrorism at its worst – the deliberate killing
of innocents has no place in the military pursuit of political
ends. Attacks on military targets are another matter – while
we might decry sneak attacks, we can no more call a bomb directed
at a military target a terrorist attack than we are willing
to call our own attacks against other’s military targets terrorism.
To do so is to suggest that all use of military force employing
surprise is terroristic in nature.
Some might argue that it requires an open declaration of
war or a response to an attack for the use of military force
to be legitimate. If that is the case, we best watch our words,
since we have not openly declared war in this country since
World War II, and we are even now contemplating, indeed, have
re-formulated national policy to accommodate, the pre-emptive
use of force against potential adversaries.
The question of why organizations such as Al Qaeda choose
terror as a weapon is easy to answer – they have not the means
to raise effective military resistance of a more conventional
nature. They represent the classic asymmetric threat.
What is more difficult to answer, but which is the more proper
question, is why do these organizations seek at all to do
violence to members of other, non-aligned political entities?
Why does Al Qaeda want to kill Americans in the first place,
regardless of the means employed?
It is this second, fundamental question that begs answering.
For until we truly know why this organization, or any of the
many like it, seeks to do us harm, we are fighting blindly
against an implacable foe that cares little for his own survival,
and, seemingly, wishes only to inflict as much harm as possible
upon its chosen nation-target.
It has been suggested that terrorists hate us because of
our freedoms. That seems an unlikely reason, since these selfsame
terrorists spring from the very bosoms of countries we count
as allies – Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia,
India (ironically, not a single one of the accused 9/11 terrorists
was Iraqi, or Syrian, or North Korean).
If, indeed, it is hatred of our freedoms, then whence came
the ideological divide between the sons and the parent nation?
And if it is indeed hatred of freedoms, then why do such entities
not attack, with equal vigor, all nations who hold freedom
for individuals as a central tenet of their governing principles?
Why have Japan, Canada, Mexico, all of South America, Russia,
New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland – the list goes on – why
have these countries and their citizens not been targeted
as America and her direct allies have been targeted? They
provide similar, in some cases greater, freedom to their citizens.
Clearly, an unmitigated hatred for personal freedom is an
Against this backdrop of unsullied ambiguity lie our nation’s
economic, and to a lesser extent, philosophical woes.
Perhaps the two are intertwined. Perhaps the source of external
(and perhaps even internal) terrorist’s hatred is in some
way related to the effect the current wave of economic terrorism,
perpetrated by our own citizens against our own citizens,
has had upon the economic and philosophical well-being of
And yes, I very deliberately mean economic terrorism – when
corporations, through deliberate malice and greed, with knowledge
aforethought, conspire, either individually or severally,
to rob individuals of their money so that the few may be enriched,
it is economic terrorism. The lives of those individuals who
have lost money and time and youth and means are as nearly
destroyed as if they had been outright killed. Often, almost
always, they are as innocent as are the victims of the more
insidious, violent forms of terrorism
We offer the promise of unlimited freedom to a privileged
few, and pay for that freedom with the sweat and toil of countless
others who are not only not true beneficiaries of their efforts,
but are often robbed outright of what fruits of their labor
they do earn. If we, as a nation, can tolerate this behavior
on the part of some of our citizens against other of our citizens,
then what might we be willing to countenance against, and
how might it be viewed by, other citizens of other nations?
If our nation, through its business and political practices
abroad – if we rape countries of resources, promising but
not delivering benefits for all; if we provide dictators with
weapons of mass destruction, then look away when they are
employed; if we extol the virtues of freedom, but offer them
unequally, to the favored few in any country; if we damage
their crops and their livestock and their lives in the process
of destroying the drugs we provide the market for – if our
nation denies freedoms and causes harm, economic, physical,
or otherwise, to some subset of a country’s population, than
can we even wonder that some amongst that unprivileged subset
will take issue with our presence and our policies and take
up arms against us?
Hence, our current strategy against the current crop of terrorists
is at once ineffective, and perhaps, morally bankrupt.
I do not for a moment suggest that the actions of Al Qaeda,
or any organization remotely like it, domestic or otherwise,
are in any way supportable. They are not. I do not suggest
that we are wrong to seek and attack those who would do us
harm. We are not.
We will surely prevail, militarily, against any foe we choose
to engage. But, as surely as we won the battle and lost the
war in Vietnam, we will lose the fight against the never-ending
threat of terrorism unless and until we come to grips with
its origins, and with our collective role in its origins.
The wellspring of terror has nothing to do with our freedoms.
Post-WWII, even our former enemies, Japan and Germany, whom
we occupied after conquering them, did not engage in the sort
of terrorism we find so ubiquitous today. Rather, I believe
the wellspring of today’s terrorism is a response to the economic
terrorism we inflict on others, and a moral outrage at our
I believe it is driven by desperation and frustration engendered
by American economic, political, and military policy that
destroys either the lives, or the livelihoods, of some portion
of the countries it touches. It is driven by feelings of helplessness
and a desire to strike back, however ineffectually, at a country
that possesses so much, and offers so little.
This situation is not likely to improve given the current
administration, and the ideology it embraces. It is too much
a part of the problem to be a part of the solution. In this
regard, the Republican Party, with its wholehearted embrace
of big business, deregulation, and the unprovoked use of military
force, is complicit. It is no secret that today’s Republican
Party is the familiar of corporate interests, or that a majority
of its members, and members of the administration, are wealthy,
and untouched by personal involvement in the sorts of armed
conflict they are so willing to send others to.
This is no chastisement of the good people in the Republican
Party – and there are many. It is no disavowal of the Party
itself – it is, after all, the party of Lincoln, the party
with the moral courage to end slavery. Rather, it is a chastisement
of the hijacking of the Republican Party’s ideology by those
who mouth the words of freedom and tolerance and compassion
and practice exactly opposite that which they preach.
Both parties have, at times, fallen short of the moral mark.
Currently, it is the Republican Party which holds the moral
low ground, and woe to the Union should this party, this fall,
gain the full measure of power available to a party that holds
all three branches of the government. For then these same
practices will continue unabated and, rather than diminishing
acts of terror around the world (and economic terror domestically),
they will, I fear, multiply in direct response to the heavy-handed
hypocrisy of a party bent on self-promotion and self-enrichment.
Needed are three things: First, the Democratic Party must
hold at least one House of Congress this fall. This is necessary
to provide the checks and balances needed to ensure that a
Republican juggernaut does not wipe away years of progressive
effort within the country, and decades of fast-dwindling goodwill
abroad within the next two years.
Second, the Democratic Party must regain its ideology – it
must redefine its core principles, and not shy from the inevitable
storm of criticism that will flow from the Right. However
much people might smolder against certain particulars of that
policy, it is nonetheless preferable to embrace a clear, strong
voice than one that mumbles and dissembles. The people of
this country deserve a clear, consistent, and opposing voice
behind which to rally – it is the mark of any healthy democracy.
Finally, the Democratic Party needs a strong leader at the
national level, a Democratic Newt Gingrich who, however much
one might disagree with him, was an effective leader. The
Democratic Party must identify, recruit, and rally behind
a leader who can impose some level of discipline on its members,
who can inspire and challenge and unite, or it will cease
to function as a meaningful political entity in this country.
We must have a leader, and a party, that not only embrace
and welcome the disenfranchised members of this country, but
also embrace and welcome the disenfranchised of the world.
A leader and a party who remember that the other edge of the
sword is diplomacy, and will seek the means to disarm our
opponents, through reason and grace, if possible, and through
arms only if necessary, and never with an eye for enrichment
of the few.
Already, the Democratic Party is under attack by the Right,
and to a lesser extent by the Green Party, which, like a predator
intent on prey, and never realizing the danger to itself,
is bent on hastening the Democratic Party’s slide into obscurity
– culling the weak from the flock.
There is a storm gathering on the horizon – a storm of domestic
economic woes, lost freedoms, and of lost political capital
abroad. A storm wrought by two ineffectual parties, influence
splintered and divided, railing against a party that successfully
divided and conquered, and so sets the agenda, much to the
chagrin and frustration of those who had at their disposal
the means to prevent such.
Go. Vote. Vote Democratic, and, if you are so inclined, pray.