Join 3,425 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


October 25, 2001
10:47 AM   Subscribe

From a piece in the NYTimes today, Home Front Is Minefield for President: "The lesson we're learning," one administration official said today, "is that you can bomb the wrong place in Afghanistan and not take much heat for it. But don't mess up at the post office."

Leave it to the White House to come away with exactly the wrong interpretation. But the facts are there, too -- most Americans are more concerned about the (relatively slight) risk of getting Anthrax than the rather significant risk that, if we screw up in Afghanistan, we might lose the current coalition against terrorism, Bin Laden, and any hope for "homeland security" for a long time to come....
posted by mattpfeff (12 comments total)

 
in the time i've been alive, america has never been a country more concerned with foreign politics than with local politics. i think that's why america does have a poor record with its foreign policy: few people here really feel that affects them, and consequentially they do not pay much attention to the problems.
posted by moz at 10:54 AM on October 25, 2001


I'm not trying to defend the statement made by the administration official but I have to say that you somewhat betray your political leanings by saying that:

It's the wrong interpretation

but

the facts are there.

If the facts are there, then it's not a wrong interpretation. You may not agree on it as policy but if they official said that Americans are more concerned about X than they are Y and evidence exists to support that, then the interpretation is correct, even if it doesn't fit into your view of how things SHOULD be.
posted by billman at 11:03 AM on October 25, 2001


If the facts are there, then it's not a wrong interpretation.

I do think you can have multiple interpretations of the same facts, and I'd prefer an interpretation that simply said, Americans care more about Anthrax at home than the blessedly few and minor mistakes made in Afghanistan so far.

But you are right, I am betraying certain leanings. Not sure if they're political though; I just think a spokesperson for the most powerful military force in the world should never say, Hey, we can get away with blowing up all sorts of places. It might be true, to a greater or lesser extent, but it should never be thought or said or, heaven forfend, done.

And especially in this instance, when the risks are far higher than those innocent lives that might be sacrificed directly.
posted by mattpfeff at 11:17 AM on October 25, 2001


Not so much "interpretation" as "presentation" here.

But it's not just the White House: the BBC shows ABC World News at 1:30am every night, and the "27 Minutes of Anthrax" thing for the past week would be comic if it weren't disturbing. Interviewing random OAPs in Ohio who collect their mail while wearing plastic gloves? Talk about fanning the flames.
posted by holgate at 11:40 AM on October 25, 2001


i think that's why america does have a poor record with its foreign policy: few people here really feel that affects them, and consequentially they do not pay much attention to the problems.

re: not worrying about foreign policy issues that don't really affect us directly - i think this is true of almost any country. given that the U.S. is the largest single country source of humanitarian aid in the world, it's hard to make the argument that we're more apathetic about problems abroad than anyone else.

also - there seems to be some implication that there's something wrong with a nation acting in its own self-interest. does anyone really believe that? if so, why?
posted by lizs at 11:47 AM on October 25, 2001


I suspect that shortly the media will be given better access to the war, in order to push all this domestic strife off the front page--the wheels certainly appear to have fallen off in recent days. And with commentary like that quoted, how long will it be before certain gabby if administration officials are (quietly) replaced?

In times of war, you don't worry about partisanship, you get the best people available. That is, if you really believe you're at war.
posted by xiffix at 11:48 AM on October 25, 2001


I just think a spokesperson for the most powerful military force in the world should never say

Again, just to take point, the person was not presented as a spokesperson. It simply said an administration official. This is not an official US policy, it is the comments of someone who works in the administration (who obviously asked not to have his/her name associated with the comment or was so low down on the totem pole that the reporter didn't feel it worth mentioning). And, what he said was accurate. Perhaps not politically correct as you would like it to be, but pretty dead on accurate.
posted by billman at 12:44 PM on October 25, 2001


the person was not presented as a spokesperson

The "we" in his statement was referring to the WH, and he was speaking as a member of the WH, even if his name and title weren't provided. As for "official" policy, you're right, it's not a question of policy, but of the attitude of those who are continuing to create some of the most critical policies in our nation's history -- people who are, for the most part, politicians, who act on their interpretation of the views of the American people so as to best improve their chances to get reelected (or to get their President reelected).

Perhaps not politically correct as you would like it to be

I could care less about PC, actually. The point is pretty simple. It sounds like the people running the country -- and the current war -- are interpreting the American people's focus on the Anthrax threat as a sign that they can get away with murder (literally) in Afghanistan. The fact is, however, that they CANNOT -- and PC has nothing to do with it. The rest of the world has everything to do with it.

Do I think that they actually think they can get away with murder? I'm not sure, and I really hope not. Even the possibility that they think so is frightful. And I definitely think they shouldn't make statements that sound like they think that. Imagine, if you will, how that exact statement would play in the press in the Middle East.

Just one other clarification, by the way: This is one instance where the implications (on our own people) of our foreign policy couldn't be more obvious. Sept. 11 was only 6 weeks ago. It "affected us directly", you could say. We need to successfully prevent it from happening again. Does anyone really think a handful of Anthrax cases in a population of 200 million is a bigger priority than shutting down the terrorist organization that just killed thousands, and is most likely behind the Anthrax attack to boot?
posted by mattpfeff at 1:10 PM on October 25, 2001


I think an attempt to kill our leaders with anthrax is a huge deal. Would you be minimizing it if the plan had worked and the president or Senate majority leader was dead?

It sounds like the people running the country -- and the current war -- are interpreting the American people's focus on the Anthrax threat as a sign that they can get away with murder (literally) in Afghanistan.

You're reading a lot into the words of a single White House apparatchik who refused to have his name associated with his aren't-I-cute comment.

I think the portion of the American public that follows the news cares about the bombing in Afghanistan and efforts to reduce civilian casualties. But at present, that effort does not appear to have been botched as badly as the anthrax-contaminated post office in D.C. It looks like the feds went overboard when Congress staffers were endangered but was cavalier about the workers at the post office.
posted by rcade at 1:32 PM on October 25, 2001


mattpfeff, I have to agree with rcade, you're simply reading too much into someone's observations about what Americans care about. I think part of the issue is that in combat, there's an expectation that on occassion, you screw up and innocent people are killed in the crossfire. Nobody who has ever studied, engaged in, or has experience with, war would argue this is not simply an unfortunate reality. On the other hand, concentrated attempts at poisoning our government leaders, tends to be something the US, and for that matter the world, have very little experience in coping with and so quite naturally their attentions are focused there. The "spokesperson", as you refer to him/her, did not say that we're going to target more civilians because the American public isn't looking. My read was that they were actually surprised not to be taking more heat for the mistake. More of a commentary on where the public's priorities lie than an official killing civilian policy that you seem to stop just short of implying.

Why is this such a black or white issue? Cannot people care about two things but one more than another? There is this tone to your posts that seems to indicate that you feel that we can't care about civilian casualties AND be concerned about Anthrax. That one poses a greater chance of mortal danger to oneself something precludes one from also, but to a lessor extent, caring about the other. I think the civilian casualties to date have been very minimal and I also think that most people feel that the US is and will continue to do everything to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. On the other hand, we have no ability to control people being killed from Anthrax exposure.
posted by billman at 1:52 PM on October 25, 2001


Sounds like we agree then. I don't mean to say I'm concluding very much from the statement; my bad for coming across that way. (I was afraid I might, hence my Do I think that they actually think they can get away with murder? I'm not sure, and I really hope not remark.)

And I agree with your point when you say Cannot people care about two things but one more than another? -- hence my saying, I'd prefer an interpretation that simply said, Americans care more about Anthrax at home than the blessedly few and minor mistakes made in Afghanistan so far.

The point of this post was simply, I can't believe someone actually said that. I think I erred in sounding defensive when trying to get across what makes me so incredulous.
posted by mattpfeff at 2:43 PM on October 25, 2001


cant we just bomb our post offices and send the anthrax to Afghanistan...wait...bomb the anthrax and send the post offices to afgha...where was that again?
posted by clavdivs at 5:33 PM on October 25, 2001


« Older Gov Agency creates bare-bones web index...  |  If This Be War.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments