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'Some of these guys are just perverts.'
June 24, 2010 7:46 AM   Subscribe

'They blow each other up by mistake. They bungle even simple schemes. They get intimate with cows and donkeys. Our terrorist enemies trade on the perception that they’re well trained and religiously devout, but in fact, many are fools and perverts who are far less organized and sophisticated than we imagine. Can being more realistic about who our foes actually are help us stop the truly dangerous ones?' The Case for Calling Them Nitwits.
posted by shakespeherian (108 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Three words: "Exploding Donkey Decoys."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:48 AM on June 24, 2010 [14 favorites]


Jay: I am the master of the C.L.I.T. Remember this fucking face. Whenever you see C.L.I.T., you'll see this fucking face. I make that shit work. It does whatever the fuck I tell it to. No one rules the C.L.I.T like me. Not this little fuck
[referring to Silent Bob]
Jay: , none of you little fucks out there. I AM THE C.L.I.T. COMMANDER! Remember that, commander of all C.L.I.T.s! When it comes down to business, this is what I do. I pinch it like this. OOH you little fuck. Then I rub my nose with it.
posted by jkaczor at 7:49 AM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


That's OK, our first (N) level(s) of security are nitwits too.
posted by DU at 7:50 AM on June 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


One thing I've hear a lot is that would-be terrorists are "limited only by their imagination".

The process seems to be that we must therefore also imagine a whole bunch of stuff, and then try and protect ourselves against what we imagine. Which would be totally acceptable if we were all four years old and our defence budget consisted of a security blanket and a thumb to suck on, but it's not how sensible adults manage risk.

Unless you profit somehow from significant increases in security expenditures in some way! Or have (I mean, purely in the hypothetical) a vested interest in increasing the size of your budget or the scope of your authority. Crazy talk, I know.

But in that case, yeah, holy shit terrorism everybody panic until we buy bigger guns and take away your rights to make you safe.
posted by mhoye at 7:54 AM on June 24, 2010 [26 favorites]


Bruce Schneier was saying this years ago.
posted by charred husk at 7:54 AM on June 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


unsubstantiated claims and generalizations... what was the point?
posted by HuronBob at 7:56 AM on June 24, 2010


... the quiet truth is that many of the deluded foot soldiers are foolish and untrained... publicizing it could help us erode the powerful images of strength... that terrorists government fearmongers rely on for... funding.

FTFH
posted by Joe Beese at 7:57 AM on June 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


This is Four Lions, isn't it?
posted by robself at 7:57 AM on June 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure where this article takes us -- clearly enough of them are smart enough to succeed (Madrid, London, etc) that it's something to be concerned about. Some of them are clearly stupid, but why should that surprise us? Take any random sampling of people in the world, and some of them will be stupid.
posted by modernnomad at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is it OK to question the "our" and "enemies" paradigms?
posted by Jode at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


...the Nigerian “Jockstrap Jihadist” who boarded a Detroit-bound jet in Amsterdam with a suicidal plan in his head and some explosives in his underwear.

Come on, guys. First Rule Of Comedy: "Underpants" is always funnier than "underwear."
posted by griphus at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Our terrorist enemies trade on the perception that they’re well trained and religiously devout, but in fact, many are fools and perverts who are far less organized and sophisticated than we imagine.

Sorry, I was distracted by some photos of the mercenaries we hired for hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be spent on better health benefits for the wounded, mentally damaged veterans of our actual military raping an 8-year old boy in a secret prison as part of the longest war ever fought by the United States mainly in the interests of securing a natural resource that we failed to make any inroads in conservation on to the degree that our continued desire to acquire it without any regulation or attempts at oversight has now led to the country's worse and likely irrevocable ecological disaster because the company in charge we ignored safety checks for decided not to buy a piece of a equipment for a thousandth of a percent of their annual operating budget, that I was reading in a magazine soon to be bankrupt because it's much easier to read it on a website that a millionaire doesn't think writers should be paid to contribute to on the two hour wait to get on my airplane because my toothpaste had to go through a bomb scanner. What were you saying?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:59 AM on June 24, 2010 [109 favorites]


That's OK, our first (N) level(s) of security are nitwits too.

See, I always thought that we had to portray terrorists as deadly competent because if we didn't, some enterprising fourth grader would come to the conclusion that you can get away with damned near anything.

That, friends and neighbors, would be bad for business.
posted by Mooski at 7:59 AM on June 24, 2010


"where it’s fair to say...."

"many suicide bombers never even make it out of their training camp...."

"According to several sources ...."

"Many Taliban operatives are just as clumsy...."

"many of the terrorists who strike in the West are well educated...."

"many of those arrested on terrorism-related charges possess long criminal records and little sense of how to put a nefarious idea into action...."

"Similar videos abound...."

"analysts concede privately that our foes also have a voracious appetite for pornography...."

"speaking on the condition of anonymity..."

"are likely ...." (x2 in the same paragraph)
posted by HuronBob at 8:02 AM on June 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


So basically, in order to undermine terrorists, we need only to publish some of this surveillance footage on YouTube? With Benny Hill Theme accompaniment? Certainly couldn't hurt.
posted by explosion at 8:08 AM on June 24, 2010


Crazy Ivan: "I lost a bomb, do you have it?"
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:13 AM on June 24, 2010


What were you saying?

Sometimes a bit of humor helps to get by, is all.
posted by griphus at 8:17 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I seem to remember several people (other than the aforementioned Bruce Schneier) making this point over the past decade.
posted by KGMoney at 8:17 AM on June 24, 2010


A strong case Indeed.
posted by atrazine at 8:19 AM on June 24, 2010


Sometimes a bit of humor helps toget by, is all.

Humor, and obscene amounts of untouchable funding.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:30 AM on June 24, 2010


Related posts by Bruce Schneier: Portrait of the Modern Terrorist as an Idiot (2007) and some discussion of the Atlantic Article.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 8:30 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is true that they blow themselves up a lot. I don't have any statistics, but I would guess that 40% of the IEDs planted over here end up blowing up on the person placing it. I have also heard of taliban cell members running over pressure-plate IEDs with their motorcycles that other taliban cells have planted.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 8:33 AM on June 24, 2010


This doesn't seem like a particularly controversial stance. The 9/11 attacks were nicely thought out, but weren't exactly complex or reliant on many resources. The London bombings on 7/7 were just a few guys with (badly) home-made explosives. Since 9/11, the attacks that we've found out about (as opposed to being silently thwarted by hypothetical govt agencies) have been amateurish and showed an incredible lack of imagination. Hardly the hallmark of a groups set up to outwit MI6, the CIA, etc.

Stopping this sort of thing is effectively impossible: there will always be areas where crowds gather and it's not possible or desirable to watch everyone, all the time.

So given that terrorist attacks are both (a) rare and (b) generally a bit rubbish, the most plausible explanation seems to be that terrorists themselves are very rare and a bit rubbish. Especially when you compare them to the IRA, who were actually distressingly good at this stuff back in the day.

Granted I'm a scientist and a geek so perhaps have some advantages, but in idle conversation with friends we've come up with targets and attack vectors far more effective and poorly defended than terrorists have tried over the years. I'm no kind of evil genius and hardly obsessed over this stuff like a terrorist presumably would; the fact that none have tried these soft targets must be that the terrorists are quite thick or simply don't exist.
posted by metaBugs at 8:33 AM on June 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


Portray them as honestly as possible. This is always my axe to grind with the media: why go with the truth when you can jazz it up a little and make it more interesting?

Well, here's why.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:37 AM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Here's the thing. Terrorists are criminals, pure and simple. And criminals, like the rest of us human beings, screw up. A lot. The whole idea of brilliant evil cabals or criminal masterminds is so much horse crunkey.

So I agree with this piece, but isn't it stating the obvious?
posted by bearwife at 8:43 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Movie terrorists are always smart and cunning and interesting to watch. We want life to be like the movies, full of drama and excitement. Ergo, the media's creation of the smart, dangerous Al Qaeda operative.
posted by desjardins at 8:46 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


So I agree with this piece, but isn't it stating the obvious?

yes, but it's saying something that is obvious that is mostly obscured by all the media fearmongering.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:52 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


bearwife: "So I agree with this piece, but isn't it stating the obvious?"

If it was so obvious then everyone wouldn't be so afraid.
Refuse to be terrorized, people!
Hashes collide because they're trying to get out of Bruce Schneier's way.
posted by charred husk at 8:56 AM on June 24, 2010


I assume this article was directly inspired by the Four Lions movie although the writers don't mention it.

(Tangent: Why Oh Why did The Atlantic decide to become like Newsweek and Time? As if those are safe business models to follow?!?!?!?)
posted by Bwithh at 8:57 AM on June 24, 2010


Well, I think this discussion generally makes the blisteringly obvious point that the vast majority of terrorist agents are idiots because bright people generally do not get the urge to strap unsafe devices to themselves with the goal of destroying themselves along with a crowd of [fill in hated group here].

Masterminds are another word that comes up all the time.
You keep hearing about these terrorists masterminds that get killed in the middle east.
Terrorists masterminds.
Mastermind is sort of a lofty way to describe what these guys do, don't you think?
They're not masterminds.
"OK, you take bomb, right? And you put in your backpack. And you get on bus and you blow yourself up. Alright?"
"Why do I have to blow myself up? Why can't I just-"
"Who's the fucking mastermind here? Me or you?"


Underwear Goes Inside The Pants, by Lazyboy
posted by Samizdata at 9:07 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nitwits and donekyfuckers. That's a way of putting it, but why is it then that the US political establishment, backed with its economic and military might, has been unable to subdue nitwits and donkeyfuckers in Korea, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan over the past sixty years?

Just who exactly is the nitwit and who is the donkeyfucker?
posted by jsavimbi at 9:09 AM on June 24, 2010


> Nitwits and donekyfuckers. That's a way of putting it, but why is it then that the US political establishment, backed with its economic and military might, has been unable to subdue nitwits and donkeyfuckers in Korea, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan over the past sixty years?

Just who exactly is the nitwit and who is the donkeyfucker?


There's a difference between a tribal elder who plays both sides for his own gain and a moron who packs his underwear full of explosives to blow up a passenger jet. There are two different things here.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:13 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think part of it is that we've been able to keep them from really coordinating well since 9/11. Even though guys like OBL are around, AQ can't just trust any new recruit. Anyone who comes in new needs to stay at the edges of the network, which means they can't get the kind of expert guidance that would make them more dangerous. I Fisal Shazad didn't even get the right kind of fertilizer. Presumably if he'd been able to travel freely and carry material around indiscriminately he'd have been able to get proper training or even buy real explosives.

Oh well.
posted by delmoi at 9:15 AM on June 24, 2010


This doesn't seem like a particularly controversial stance. The 9/11 attacks were nicely thought out, but weren't exactly complex or reliant on many resources.

Given that they were trying to cause as much damage as possible against the nation with the most well-funded, most powerful military in human history, I have for the last eight years regarded this as brilliance, not stupidity.

Think about 9/11 in the context of, say, the Manhattan Project. Thousands of workers, trillions in today's dollars in funding, a decade of research into technology, testing, development. Bin Laden figured out how to cause mass destruction with a fraction of the cost, time, manpower and effort. It's a plan that the United States has failed to achieve since the American Revolution.

For people like bin Laden and the Taliban Mullahs, who really gives a shit if suicide bombers have a 60-70, hell, 95% failure rate? The sheer existence of terrorists means they win. If one bomb out of a hundred takes out a bus, they win. It costs them practically nothing. This isn't like the Mars Lander tipping over and oops, that's a few bil down the toilet.

The success of the terrorist network is in complete and total expandability. Jesus, how many times have we killed the Number 3 member of Al-Qaeda?

What I find funny here is they're doing everything they think they should be doing, and we're arguing if we shouldn't address them as clever because our media is fucking up depicting them. Elected officials openly reference a fictional character on a Fox TV show in context of fighting terrorism. We're banning liquids on airplanes because we think in some Michael May movie fantasy that they could mix a bomb in the bathroom - something that is almost literally impossible - and we're asking if we should start calling them "nitwits?" Tactician, heal thyself.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:16 AM on June 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


Unfortunately, because of things like Abu Ghraib, we have zero credible leverage when it comes to portraying the donkeyfuckers as donkeyfuckers.

Steve: "Look, your buddies are donkeyfuckers!"
Achmed: "Yeah, well, you're just waterboarding white trash that likes to pile naked prisoners in a heap."
Steve: "Oh, right. Yeah. Carry on, then."
Achmed: "Jihad!"
/Steve shoots underwear bomber, then punches his brother.
Achmed's brother: "Jihad!"
Steve: "Fuck. Is this ever going to end?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:19 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


If America was to be judged by the most easily remembered examples of stupidity and sexual confusion you would have to call all Americans Republican Political Office Holders.

Over-generalization is always fun and perfectly accurate!
posted by srboisvert at 9:19 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


It may be delusional, but I think we're better served thinking of the terrorist enemy as a crack team of religious soldiers bent day and night on the destruction of the west, than to portray them as Beavis and Butthead meet the Three Stooges.
posted by crunchland at 9:20 AM on June 24, 2010


> I think part of it is that we've been able to keep them from really coordinating well since 9/11.

And it probably goes without saying that their smartest people died on 9/11 or soon after in places like Tora Bora. Osama bin Laden wasn't in a position to recruit new people since the USS Cole attacks, nor was he ever much more than a venture capitalist and cheerleader. Whatever of Al Qaeda that survived the first waves of the US attack on Afghanistan will never be able to organize at the level that it did before, and groups that call themselves Al Qaeda or are are called such by governments are just trading on the brand recognition and stigma rather than actually being the same continuous thing.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:21 AM on June 24, 2010


> Jesus, how many times have we killed the Number 3 member of Al-Qaeda?


The number 3 man of Al Qaeda is really not an enviable position. He can't remain hidden like the first two guys, by necessity of having to interface with the operatives. The fact that we haven't gotten any usable leads from any of them about Zawahiri or bin Laden shows that they're still able to attract fiercely loyal people. They're not dopes, even if the foot soldiers they recruit are.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:24 AM on June 24, 2010


We're fighting a war on "terror." There aren't any actual enemies. For the vast majority of people on earth, the most terrifying and organized force out to do harm on them is the US. We (speaking from the US obviously) invade countries because we carry the self-righteous mandate of heaven to kick the ass of those we see as unrighteous; and of course we always fail to see that by invading countries on fallacious premises (inviting the thought that there are deeper, less publicly acceptable ones) and killing everyone in sight we are the most powerful terrorist organization on earth.
Who the fuck can blame the people of the "undeveloped world" for responding with anger to our imperialistic hubris and rapacious greed?
posted by KingoftheWhales at 9:26 AM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jesus, how many times have we killed the Number 3 member of Al-Qaeda?
20
posted by Rubbstone at 9:26 AM on June 24, 2010


Bin Laden figured out how to cause mass destruction with a fraction of the cost, time, manpower and effort. It's a plan that the United States has failed to achieve since the American Revolution.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that crashing an airliner into a skyscraper will cause mass destruction. The United States has no interest nor no need to do this.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 9:28 AM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think part of it is that we've been able to keep them from really coordinating well since 9/11.

This is definitely true, but the rouge cell mentality is equally problematic for us and beneficial for Al-Qaeda. These guys are naive groupies, thinking they'll be honored by Al-Qaeda leaders for their achievements. And it's a win-win for Al-Qaeda. They don't need to lift a finger, and if the guy is successful, they'll claim victory, and if he fails miserably they'll release a statement disavowing him as a lone dork.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:29 AM on June 24, 2010


srboisvert: "Over-generalization is always fun and perfectly accurate!"

crunchland: "It may be delusional, but I think we're better served thinking of the terrorist enemy as a crack team of religious soldiers bent day and night on the destruction of the west, than to portray them as Beavis and Butthead meet the Three Stooges."

It isn't so much a point of making terrorists out to be the tree stooges as it is to realize that they aren't supervillains with Muslim heat vision. That way we can make more accurate security trade-off decisions instead of pouring money into protecting us from COBRA's weather dominator.
posted by charred husk at 9:30 AM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Clearly Gary Faulkner is just the guy to go after them.
posted by TedW at 9:34 AM on June 24, 2010


Given that they were trying to cause as much damage as possible against the nation with the most well-funded, most powerful military in human history, I have for the last eight years regarded this as brilliance, not stupidity.

Eh, had they waited another hour or so, they would have significantly upped the number of deaths. I always thought they were kind of stupid not to have waited.

The brilliance though was in guessing that America would collectively lose its mind and do crazy things, such as invade Iraq (though the terrorists didn't predict that exactly). I'm betting they were also surprised by how quick the response was to ground all planes and that passengers would actually fight back they understood the full scope of the hijackings.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:41 AM on June 24, 2010


Most people are idiots. As I get older, this becomes my inescapable conclusion.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:45 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


And this success rate hasn’t improved at all in the five years they’ve been using suicide bombers, despite the experience of hundreds of attacks—or attempted attacks.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think it's possible for suicide bombers to have more experience, let alone any, at all.

Afghanistan, where it’s fair to say that the Taliban employ the world’s worst suicide bombers: one in two manages to kill only himself.

I'm having trouble with the wording on this one. If what is meant is only 50% of the suicide bombers manage to kill someone in addition to themselves, that's not necessarily a bad percentage. The term "suicide bomber", to me, indicates that if the bomb goes off and you die, then it was a flaming success. I guess the understanding is that the collateral is the aim which, in my opinion, makes the writer of this article heartless. To the families of the people who died, are they supposed to take comfort in the fact that the bombers aren't batting 1.000?

Thus, many suicide bombers never even make it out of their training camp or safe house, as the pressure from these group hugs triggers the explosives in suicide vests.

As funny as the imagery is, I consider it dubious, at best. As dumb as they want us to believe the terrorists are, I doubt this happened more than once. To believe anyone would want to be near a guy they just loaded up with explosives is quite a stretch, but even more so if you believe other terrorists, upon learning Gomer Mohammed Pyle just turned the hug orgy into a crater, didn't say to themselves, "hey, why don't we just high-five the ones wearing bombs, or kiss them if it really has to be a first base equivalent."
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:47 AM on June 24, 2010


It doesn't take a genius to figure out that crashing an airliner into a skyscraper will cause mass destruction. The United States has no interest nor no need to do this.

Bin Laden didn't "crash an airliner into a skyscraper," he coordinated an organized, timed effort to use less than two dozen people to exploit gaping flaws in various levels of security to take over four separate airliners with almost no equipment, then successfully fly three of them into specific targets. Thanks to most likely a modest bribe to the government of Pakistan, bin Laden then snuck away. The United States, in response, has spent three hundred billion dollars not catching him and restoring Afghanistan to the heroin capital of the world.

My point, which no offense I think you may have missed, is not that the U.S. should be on equal footing with terrorists in terms of military strategy. It's that Al-Qaeda accomplished their goals at a far cheaper cost and likely can continue to do so, while the United States has continued spiraling further and further into debt and even today is arguing exactly what our objective over there is anyway.

And none of that is a sign of stupidity. Callousness, utter disregard for humanity, yes. But not nitwitted. They cut costs wherever possible often at the expense of their employees in order to maximize profits at a minimal expense. If Al-Qaeda were an American corporation they'd be hailed as the next Wal-Mart in terms of brilliant business practices while the United States Military viewed as a corporation would be every single dot-com combined to the power of New Coke times the XFL.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:49 AM on June 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Top five reasons it would have been better to portray the terrorist enemy as Beavis and Butthead meet the Three Stooges instead of a crack team of religious soldiers bent day and night on the destruction of the west:

1. War in Iraq

2. War in Afghanistan

3. Guantanamo Bay

4. Abu Ghraib

5. Patriot Act


Feel free to make additions.
posted by batou_ at 9:52 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Three words: "Exploding Donkey Decoys."

Donkey dies in failed Gaza terror attack

Poor donkey. :(
posted by homunculus at 9:53 AM on June 24, 2010


Refuse to be terrorized, people!

True, true, true. And a great link, too. If we treated terrorists as the criminals they are and refused to let them succeed in making us fearful, then:

-we wouldn't give have to surrender basic rights like keeping our persons and the content of our personal items free from suspicion-less searches by government in every public location

-we wouldn't give the government a blank check to get sweeping warrants without effective court review through the FISA act

-we wouldn't have a (so ironically named) Patriot Act

-we'd actually preserve our constitution and some basic liberties
posted by bearwife at 9:56 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does anyone know or have a good guess why none of the coordination or training seems to go on over cipherspace / anonymous P2P networks like Freenet or I2P? I've never come across anything interesting out there, at least nothing apparently terrorist or even interestingly criminal, which disappoints my fantasies of being able to peek into the underworld. And I never hear of them in the news. I suppose it's only feasible in industrialized countries with lots of spare bandwidth and maybe the networks aren't really big enough to be effectually anonymous yet.
posted by XMLicious at 9:57 AM on June 24, 2010


My point, which no offense I think you may have missed, is not that the U.S. should be on equal footing with terrorists in terms of military strategy. It's that Al-Qaeda accomplished their goals at a far cheaper cost and likely can continue to do so, while the United States has continued spiraling further and further into debt and even today is arguing exactly what our objective over there is anyway.

Yeah, I see what you are saying. I actually think we (the U.S. Military) are better in terms of military strategy, however we cannot operate the same way the Taliban and Al-Qaeda do. We have to abide by a certain set of rules (although neither the Taliban nor Al-Qaeda are subject to Geneva Convention protection, we still abide by it), while they do not. That is why they are able to do what they do so cheaply.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 10:02 AM on June 24, 2010


I often find myself thinking things in the same spirit as this, but what always stops me half-jokingly -- and what I'm sure is honestly stopping too many of my fellow Americans full-seriously -- is:

"If they're nitwits, what does that make us?"
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:04 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know or have a good guess why none of the coordination or training seems to go on over cipherspace / anonymous P2P networks like Freenet or I2P?

Because a) it's not as anonymous as you think when you're the government and you hold all the cards, b) it's exactly where someone would expect you to go, c) most of this "coordination" is done by personal relationship, family/tribal connections and d) anyone on a P2P network asking about where they can learn how to make bombs is probably a plant.

Finally, think about street gangs. There's no "leader." Just a bunch of guys that say they're in the gang, with multiple nodes of concentrated areas. The reason you can find coordination is that there is no coordination. Not in the way you and I think of it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:05 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The United States has no interest nor no need to do this

Well no, the US could do this, but it wouldn't have the same effect. In fact, it would probably piss off allies and make the country look like a thick headed and malicious bully. See: Iraq Invasion.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:08 AM on June 24, 2010


Bin Laden didn't "crash an airliner into a skyscraper," he coordinated an organized, timed effort to use less than two dozen people to exploit gaping flaws in various levels of security to take over four separate airliners with almost no equipment...

Actually, as far as I know, the FBI will not go so far as to say he planned it. Click Here. He is a suspect, but it has never been proven conclusively and, in fact, there are many doubts that he did.

Plus, if you recall, initially he had stated emphatically that Al Qaeda had no part in it. It was only later he took credit.

Please keep this in mind.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 10:08 AM on June 24, 2010


Bathtub Bobsled: "Plus, if you recall, initially he had stated emphatically that Al Qaeda had no part in it. It was only later he took credit."

After the CIA paid him off to TAKE THE FALL.
Wake up sheeple!
Sorry, BB, someone had to go there at some point
posted by charred husk at 10:13 AM on June 24, 2010


I think part of it is that we've been able to keep them from really coordinating well since 9/11.

Is there any way to verify a statement like this? I don't have any links, but in 2001/2 I was a student and I recall reading a fair bit that suggested the picture of AQ being a well-coordinated top-down hierarchical structured organization was overstated even back then.
posted by Kirk Grim at 10:24 AM on June 24, 2010


(although neither the Taliban nor Al-Qaeda are subject to Geneva Convention protection, we still abide by it)

Oops. I meant they are unlawful combatants. They still are afforded protection under GCIV.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 10:25 AM on June 24, 2010


So they're basically saying we should publish all the "Imam fucks an alter boy" stories like we publish the "priest fucks an alter boy" stories. I'm down, that sounds like progress, less progress that the article imagines, but progress sure.

If you want real progress, provide an ass load of money for sexual cultural exports, and make sure they're available in the middle east. Sex and the City and MTV beach parties will achieve more than simply smearing people the main stream already considers crazy.

If you wish to optimize say MTV beach party for the middle east, link their most desirable cultural analogs with the shenanigans. For example, show some happily married couples telling their stories about how they met & hooked up on the beach a couple years previously.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:28 AM on June 24, 2010


My point, which no offense I think you may have missed, is not that the U.S. should be on equal footing with terrorists in terms of military strategy. It's that Al-Qaeda accomplished their goals at a far cheaper cost and likely can continue to do so, while the United States has continued spiraling further and further into debt and even today is arguing exactly what our objective over there is anyway.

Comparing Al-Qaeda effectiveness to US military effectiveness makes no sense. Al-Qaeda has a huge giant 300 million-plus population target that sits in one place and mills around in predictable masses. The US military has a tiny target, in hiding, that is specifically attempting to evade detection and capture. Of course one of these tasks is going to be easier.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:31 AM on June 24, 2010


Tyrone: And again, I must point out Bush said "the militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, allowing them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region." That's what the militants believe. They may just be delusional. He says that himself: "Some might be tempted to dismiss these goals as fanatical or extreme. Well, they are fanatical and extreme -- and they should not be dismissed. Our enemy is utterly committed."

John: But he's citing that desire as a basis for our strategy. You can't cite your enemy's delusional hopes as a basis for a rational strategy. Goals don't exist in a vacuum, they're linked to capability. David Koresh was utterly committed to being Jesus Christ. See how far that got him.

Either Bush is making strategy based on a delusional goal of his opponent, which is idiotic; or he's saying he believes his opponent has the capability of achieving this delusional goal, which is idiotic. Neither bodes well for the republic.


Lunch Discussions #145
posted by Mayor West at 10:34 AM on June 24, 2010


Jesus, how many times have we killed the Number 3 member of Al-Qaeda?

It would appear that being the Al-Qaeda Number 3 is the terrorist equivalent of being Spinal Tap's drummer.
posted by ob at 10:42 AM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


I like Marc Maron's take:

Envision a recruitment poster for suicide bombers: "Be All You Can Be! Once."
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:44 AM on June 24, 2010


It's that Al-Qaeda accomplished their goals at a far cheaper cost and likely can continue to do so, while the United States has continued spiraling further and further into debt and even today is arguing exactly what our objective over there is anyway.

It's just the distinction of the goals, though. It's much easier to destroy things than to discover, save, solve or fix a problem. It's been shown countless times that if you want to, you can pretty easily sneak lots of things onto a plane. The main reason terrorist attacks don't happen more commonly is that the vast majority of people have no interest in causing a terror attack. And of course, now that we've seen terror attacks, there would be a much higher likelihood of a counter attack - if someone took out a weapon on a plane, someone else would fight back.
posted by mdn at 10:52 AM on June 24, 2010


It would appear that being the Al-Qaeda Number 3 is the terrorist equivalent of being Spinal Tap's drummer.

"Fell victim to bizarre gardening accident..."
posted by zarq at 10:54 AM on June 24, 2010


Anthrax much? That was not the work of nitwits. Is that why SOOO many people conveniently exclude it from discussions of post-911 terrorism against Americans?
posted by NortonDC at 11:03 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can anyone explain the use of the word "Talib" in the article? I've never seen that usage before (beyond Talib Kweli, but that's not linked). Is it really just a shortening of Taliban?
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:06 AM on June 24, 2010


> Can anyone explain the use of the word "Talib" in the article? I've never seen that usage before (beyond Talib Kweli, but that's not linked). Is it really just a shortening of Taliban?

It's a slangy shortening of Taliban goon, or words to that effect. It's kind of lazy. "Talib" is an Arabic word that simply means student. It's unfortunate that the word, like madrassah and jihad, has been co-opted in the media to be something more sinister. The Atlantic should use more precise terms.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:13 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


groups that call themselves Al Qaeda or are are called such by governments are just trading on the brand recognition and stigma rather than actually being the same continuous thing.


If you want real progress, provide an ass load of money for sexual cultural exports, and make sure they're available in the middle east. Sex and the City and MTV beach parties will achieve more than simply smearing people the main stream already considers crazy.

Basically Lebanese music videos are the most potent possible weapon against Al Qaida
posted by atrazine at 11:19 AM on June 24, 2010


It would appear that being the Al-Qaeda Number 3 is the terrorist equivalent of being Spinal Tap's drummer.

Or wearing a red shirt on the Enterprise.
posted by nickmark at 11:25 AM on June 24, 2010


> If you want real progress, provide an ass load of money for sexual cultural exports, and make sure they're available in the middle east. Sex and the City and MTV beach parties will achieve more than simply smearing people the main stream already considers crazy.

You've put forth this highly spurious and false argument before, and it is quite an arrogant dismissal of the real economic situations that cause the desperation needed to turn someone into a suicide bomber. Suicide bombs and terrorism have nothing to do with lack of access tittie-infused Western-style throwaway pop culture.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:28 AM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Many of "our" "enemies" got that way because of our own fuckwits. It's not like -they- have a monopoly.

Consider: We pay $500 billion annually for defense. With all due respect to those who lost their loved ones: How much did 911 cost to pull off?

Consider, too, the possibility that as long as we have an "industry" that big to feed, we'll never stop having "enemies".

The future of the human race ... which could actually be quite wonderful ... will continue to resemble HELL until we get a grip and stop refusing to understand that ALL relationship problems are 50-50.
posted by Twang at 11:43 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's that Al-Qaeda accomplished their goals at a far cheaper cost and likely can continue to do so, while the United States has continued spiraling further and further into debt

There's a reason why they call it "asymmetric" warfare. If you don't care about who you kill, you can do it on the cheap. Killing people is easy. Not killing people is hard, and expensive. Particularly if you measure the cost of your wars not so much in material or financial cost, but in soldiers' lives, which is how the U.S. public does it.

The U.S. military apparatus is entirely capable of killing everyone in Afghanistan, and if this was the goal I'm quite confident it could be done for less than the war has cost so far. But the modern military is not optimized, thankfully, for killing as many people as possible with as few resources as possible, as Al Qaeda seemingly is. It's optimized for sustained force projection, for selectively killing certain people without (or at least trying to avoid) killing others, and most of all for doing it with minimal friendly casualties. Viewed through this lens, the U.S. military, despite its cost and bloat, is remarkably successful. To date, there have been 1,793 coalition deaths in Afghanistan since 2001; the Soviets lost 14,453 in their romp through the same countryside in the space of ten years; the British back in the 19th century lost something in excess of 4,500 soldiers and perhaps 10 or 12 thousand support personnel in four -- and neither of them had anything resembling the restrictive rules of engagement currently in place. (The British basically conducted a scorched-earth campaign in retaliation for their losses in the retreat from Kandahar; the brutality on both sides during the Soviet invasion, which allegedly descended to charming things like captives being forced to eat their own testicles at knifepoint, is well-documented.)

I am not personally convinced that attempts to turn the military from a sledgehammer into a scapel are useful or good; to the contrary, I suspect that training only for total warfare and then releasing the military only under the most extreme circumstances and against existential national threats might be a better plan all around. However, the U.S. public has, via its political apparatus, dictated a strategy which requires walking the razor's edge between a global police force and a traditional military, and I'm not sure that the military performs all that poorly given the conflicting priorities.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:44 AM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


> I am not personally convinced that attempts to turn the military from a sledgehammer into a scapel are useful or good

Speaking broadly, we can have it both ways. There can be rapid response brigades, heavy conventional units, counter insurgency specialists, and everything else in the spectrum. It's simply a matter of leadership and cooperation.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:46 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


That would make a great movie trailer voiceover.
posted by mecran01 at 12:16 PM on June 24, 2010


This is pretty stupid, and a great example why the U.S. has been such a failure against "terrorism" the past ten years in particular.

You're forgetting the most basic of basic things: what is terrorism? Terrorism is just a way of obtaining political results. You don't judge the effectiveness of terrorism by how many direct victims there are, or how much effort it took, or how "efficient" the means were. You judge it by how effective it is in attaining its results. Terrorism is like an germ that does its damage not by direct toxins, but by sparking a violent auto-immune response that is actually the real agent of damage. Only a complete idiot would argue that the germ is "relatively harmless" because it releases such feeble toxins and is so inefficient in doing so... that is not its purpose.

By that measure, OBL has been spectacularly successful. And make no mistake - this was a conscious strategy actually articulated on the record by OBL himself. He said, it was his aim to bankrupt America the way the Soviet Union was bankrupted. He explicitly outlined a strategy of baiting the U.S. into spending money and diplomatic and goodwill capital until we're so overstretched we defeat ourselves. He understood in a way the illiterate Bush never could, the wise words of Lincoln: the U.S. can never be defeated by outside armies - we can only defeat ourselves. And so, he went about systematically doing just that. Just look at how he succeeded: he is directly or indirectly responsible for dragging us into two wars that sap our resources, our goodwill, and cost us politically all over the world, as well as devastating our own society through the trashing of our constitution. Terrorism has been spectacularly successful. But OBL deserves only part of the credit - he found a perfect host in GWB. He read us well, and he prepared the poison expertly.
posted by VikingSword at 12:26 PM on June 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


What kind of seditionist talk is this? If everyone understands that the amateur jihadis aren't a highly-coordinated, serious existential threat to the nation, how will we continue to spend more on our military than all the other nations on earth combined? We'd end up with billions in surplus, everyone working 30 hours a week and getting 40 days of paid vacation every year. In other words, socialism.
posted by mullingitover at 12:27 PM on June 24, 2010


Terrorists don't need to be even remotely competent. They're like a kind of social autoimmune disorder. The mere fact that they exist means we do far more damage, and more effectively targeted damage, to ourselves than they could ever do.
posted by Naberius at 12:28 PM on June 24, 2010


Or what Viking Sword said. Crap.
posted by Naberius at 12:29 PM on June 24, 2010


Only a complete idiot would argue that the germ is "relatively harmless" because it releases such feeble toxins and is so inefficient in doing so... that is not its purpose.

The linked article has different goals than you seem to think it does. It's attempting to address the media portrayal of terrorists as ninja blackops Bond villains, a perception which is part of what allows a population to be terrorized. If the same population develops a perception of terrorists as bumbling stooges who blow themselves up at home more often than they actually successfully execute any plans, that population will react significantly less to the lurking specter of terrorism.

The goal of the article, in other words, isn't to tell us why terrorists aren't successful, but to tell us how to turn around their success and defeat them in exactly the way that their success has been manifest: by manipulation of their own image in the eyes of the American public.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:34 PM on June 24, 2010


Here by the way is a link to the explicit outline of OBL's strategy. Tell me, that it's not been spectacularly successful. Who is the nitwit now? Never mind who is the goat fucker - who is the goat reader? Looks to me OBL outlined a strategy, and goals, and then went about accomplishing those goals. This, friends, is called success, by any measure.

"The Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera released a full transcript Monday of the most recent videotape from Osama bin Laden in which the head of al Qaeda said his group's goal is to force America into bankruptcy.

Al-Jazeera aired portions of the videotape Friday but released the full transcript of the entire tape on its Web site Monday.

"We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah," bin Laden said in the transcript.

He said the mujahedeen fighters did the same thing to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, "using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers."

"We, alongside the mujahedeen, bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat," bin Laden said.

He also said al Qaeda has found it "easy for us to provoke and bait this administration."

"All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations," bin Laden said.

Al-Jazeera executives said they decided to post the entire speech because rumors were circulating that the network omitted parts that "had direct threats toward specific states, which was totally untrue."

"We chose the most newsworthy parts of the address and aired them. The rest was used in lower thirds in graphics format," said one official.

U.S. intelligence officials Monday confirmed that the transcript made public Monday by Al-Jazeera was a complete one.

As part of the "bleed-until-bankruptcy plan," bin Laden cited a British estimate that it cost al Qaeda about $500,000 to carry out the attacks of September 11, 2001, an amount that he said paled in comparison with the costs incurred by the United States.

"Every dollar of al Qaeda defeated a million dollars, by the permission of Allah, besides the loss of a huge number of jobs," he said. "As for the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars.

The total U.S. national debt is more than $7 trillion. The U.S. federal deficit was $413 billion in 2004, according to the Treasury Department.

"It is true that this shows that al Qaeda has gained, but on the other hand it shows that the Bush administration has also gained, something that anyone who looks at the size of the contracts acquired by the shady Bush administration-linked mega-corporations, like Halliburton and its kind, will be convinced.

"And it all shows that the real loser is you," he said. "It is the American people and their economy."

As for President Bush's Iraq policy, Bin Laden said, "the darkness of black gold blurred his vision and insight, and he gave priority to private interests over the public interests of America.

"So the war went ahead, the death toll rose, the American economy bled, and Bush became embroiled in the swamps of Iraq that threaten his future," bin Laden said.

U.S. government officials said Friday that the tape appeared to be authentic and recently made. It was the first videotaped message from the al Qaeda leader in nearly three years."

posted by VikingSword at 12:34 PM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Killing people is easy. Not killing people is hard, and expensive. Particularly if you measure the cost of your wars not so much in material or financial cost, but in soldiers' lives

By "not killing people is hard and expensive" you of course mean us not getting our own soldiers killed.

Not killing roughly 100,000 people has definitely proved exceedingly difficult for the U.S. military. We totally failed on the "don't kill 100,000 people" achievement. And given that we've spent nearly a trillion dollars on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - enough to build a house and/or fund eighteen years of education for every man, woman and child in both countries, I find it very hard to say that not killing people is the more expensive option here either.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:12 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


XQUZYPHYR: "By "not killing people is hard and expensive" you of course mean us not getting our own soldiers killed. "

No, he means what he said. The 9/11 attackers smashed an airplane into a building in order to kill as many people as possible, no matter who they were. The equivalent for US tactics with our resources would be to bomb every town and village until it was dust.

I get what you're saying, its just not the point that is being discussed here.
posted by charred husk at 1:40 PM on June 24, 2010


"But the evil terrorists only care about destruction and wanton killing, this is so easy, it's so easy to destroy. Our brave military cares about the nations they assault, they take care not to kill, it's so hard, so expensive, so noble, so Geneva Convention (oops, scratch the last one). We good, they bad."

And then I think about how the neutron bomb was developed, by our caring military. You see, unlike ordinary atomic bombs, they killed people, but left property behind. Now why would you go to all the trouble to develop such a... what's the best word here... humanitarian bomb? And now I see the pattern. It's because our military cares, you see. They don't want to simply destroy. I mean what's the use of Iraq if the oil is no longer accessible? Fuck the people, we'll directly or indirectly kill 'em by the hundreds of thousands, but WE WILL NOT DESTROY. Because we care. That's how we get all those stories about how the military prioritized the seizure and protection of the oil fields even at the cost to our own soldiers, rather than f.ex. securing arms depots. Or how when the shit hits the fan in Afghanistan, our military puts out the best PR the can think of for why we must stay in Afghanistan. It's loaded with 1 trillllllllllion in minerals you see. Fuck he Afghanistanis. Just like with the Iraqis, leave enough of them of course, to do some work extracting those resources.

See, we care. We do not destroy. Contrast that with the terrorists. The terrorists don't care how much destruction they cause - because they are not aiming to then take over those destroyed lands, and have no incentive to leave them for in good shape for the new owners - maybe they're just trying to hit us hard so we'd leave them the fuck alone. But see - they are evil not-carers, while we are the good-carers. How dare they see themselves as liberators, while we are the real liberators (of their resources)? Be constructive, not destructive!
posted by VikingSword at 2:06 PM on June 24, 2010


VikingSword, you're sort of addressing positions that no one in this thread has taken.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:11 PM on June 24, 2010


VikingSword, you're sort of addressing positions that no one in this thread has taken.

Get a new pair of eyes:

"It's much easier to destroy things than to discover, save, solve or fix a problem. It's been shown countless times that if you want to, you can pretty easily sneak lots of things onto a plane."

There's a reason why they call it "asymmetric" warfare. If you don't care about who you kill, you can do it on the cheap. Killing people is easy. Not killing people is hard, and expensive.

"Yeah, I see what you are saying. I actually think we (the U.S. Military) are better in terms of military strategy, however we cannot operate the same way the Taliban and Al-Qaeda do. We have to abide by a certain set of rules (although neither the Taliban nor Al-Qaeda are subject to Geneva Convention protection, we still abide by it), while they do not. That is why they are able to do what they do so cheaply."
posted by VikingSword at 2:19 PM on June 24, 2010


The 9/11 attackers smashed an airplane into a building in order to kill as many people as possible, no matter who they were. The equivalent for US tactics with our resources would be to bomb every town and village until it was dust.

And shakespeherian, this is the kind of BS I'm addressing. I just don't buy that "we don't bomb the fuck out of every town or village" out of the goodness of our hearts as in contrast to the evil terrorists. We don't do it, because we are intent on exploiting those countries - and it wouldn't do to simply bomb the place until it glows. Yep, that makes it very different from the terrorists, who don't care to preserve any infrastructure for future exploitation. And when it comes to wanton killing, we'll always have countless times the number of totally innocent victims compared to the terrorists. We've certainly shown that in Iraq and so many other places.
posted by VikingSword at 2:27 PM on June 24, 2010


Get a new pair of eyes

I don't think your condescension is necessary.

And I did see those comments, but it seems to me that you're attempting to turn a conversation about the nature of asymmetric warfare and the reasons that a tiny guerilla force is different in scope and goals from a giant national army into a discussion of American imperialism and a dismantling of the myth of the benevolent superpower, and that just isn't the conversation anyone is having. No one was attempting to defend America's military nobility or suggest that we do things out of the goodness of our hearts or whatever. The conversation was about tactical differences.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:35 PM on June 24, 2010


No, he means what he said. The 9/11 attackers smashed an airplane into a building in order to kill as many people as possible, no matter who they were. The equivalent for US tactics with our resources would be to bomb every town and village until it was dust.

Not into 'a building', man. Into the (metaphorical) financial, political and military centres of the US (assuming the fourth plane was heading for the White House).

Pinpoint.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:40 PM on June 24, 2010


The conversation was about tactical differences.

Among other things. And tactical differences are driven by strategic and political considerations and you cannot divorce one from the other, sorry. And I was addressing the political considerations and how they shape the tactics involved. The reason why the terrorists "don't care" about destruction, vs the reason why we care about our destruction, and how those tactical differences translate into both human and material damages. You are welcome to address any aspect of the conversation, as am I.
posted by VikingSword at 2:45 PM on June 24, 2010


You certainly are, I'm just not sure why you're acting so fighty against a bunch of people who I'm pretty sure agree with you, and quoting bits of an unrelated conversation in order to rail against points no one made.

Anyway, I'm not really interested in pursuing it, so have fun with whatever you do.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:51 PM on June 24, 2010


I wasn't fighting anyone - the only person who seems to be fighty is you. It certainly wasn't me who got all over someone for what they think should be the proper area for discussion or relevancy. So thanks for the detour, and via con dios. And next time, skip the detour, thanks.
posted by VikingSword at 2:54 PM on June 24, 2010


> via con dios

VAYA CON DIOS, MUCHACHO
posted by Burhanistan at 3:01 PM on June 24, 2010


You're right, Burhanistan, of course... though thinking about "detour", via may not be completely irrelevant, as chance would have it :)
posted by VikingSword at 3:04 PM on June 24, 2010


A través de Dios, mi amigo.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:07 PM on June 24, 2010


The spinning kicks and monkey bar training gave me the giggles when I saw it too.

Yeah bit of a catch-22 (as mentioned above). Anyone crazy enough to use explosives in a cavalier manner is not going to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to begin with.
Dangerous does not always mean competent.

The real problem is not engaging in alarmism and overreaction when the terrorists actually are competent and dangerous and/or successful.

in idle conversation with friends we've come up with targets and attack vectors far more effective and poorly defended than terrorists have tried over the years.

Part of the element of the attack is that it has to achieve a political and often symbolic goal. Random destruction is just as fruitless a strategy for terrorist outfits as it is for us. It just seems less so when we do it because of the scale.

Consider Clinton’s response to OBL vs. Bush’s response. Special Collections was running in and out of Afghanistan from Uzbekistan and looking to capture or kill him well before 9/11. Clinton was negotiating with the Saudis to give up OBL. He launched missile strikes, authorized killing him and his lieutenants by means up to shooting down private civilian aircraft. He tried to freeze and seize but if I remember that was shot down by Phil Gramm, et.al.
Clinton – yeah, was really trying to put a dent in the guy and his organization. Pretty successful record on prosecuting terrorism as well (adjusting for the eternal resistance of the Saudis, Yemini, etc.)
He didn’t go after the Taliban, that might have been a mistake. But apparently he thought they may have had connections with Pakistan and that a land war in Asia, not so feasible politically at that time.
If we had a full scale invasion of Afghanistan pre-9/11, I suspect there might have been some criticism, yeah.

So Bush – some of the same things except with a massive and disproportionate expenditure of military resources.
Methods of counterterrorism aside (I like the law enforcement approach), one response understood strategic possibilities as subordinate to the political realities and the other saw political policy and goals as obstacles in the path of strategic execution.

Pretty easy to see which is easier to game.

I’ll add – terrorism aside, most guerrilla units have the luxury of expending resources more economically than standing armies and have the political advantage as well.
They can live off their enemy, or force the enemy to spend more doing less, and they don’t have to prove they can do anything. They just have to prove the government of whatever standing army is there – can’t.

In our case it’s worse than that though. Many of our leaders refuse to recognize the political realities (in order to score political points perhaps as Specter was then accusing Clinton of trying to kill OBL in order to deflect criticism on his plo chops; or as security theater is now). And they kiss the ass of a lot of defense contractors.

So you have someone who says “I can take out OBL with a yo-yo and a handful of M&Ms.” The brass looks around and says “Well, what do we have all this stuff for? Go use it!” And to some degree that dictates strategy which then moves policy.
That’s all without basic corruption and ideological myopia.

Speaking broadly, we can have it both ways
Given the objective is to implement civilian policy, sure. Lot of domestic political junk in the way of that.
But that's the hell of it I suppose. That is is possible.

Please keep this in mind.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled

Along with the hotel, apartment, and embassy bombings, mass killings at archeological site, running guys into Bosnia, Al-Kifah and their gore-porn magazine, et.al.
Ah the FBI and good old Rex Tomb (seriously, why do so many FBI agents have single syllable 'object' names like that? ‘Ross Rice’ ‘Rex Tomb’ It’s weird.)
posted by Smedleyman at 7:13 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Our terrorist enemies trade on the perception that they’re well trained and religiously devout, but in fact, many are fools and perverts who are far less organized and sophisticated than we imagine

So they're just like the American religious right then? Thought so.
posted by Brian B. at 8:37 PM on June 24, 2010


VikingSword: Among other things. And tactical differences are driven by strategic and political considerations and you cannot divorce one from the other, sorry. And I was addressing the political considerations and how they shape the tactics involved. The reason why the terrorists "don't care" about destruction, vs the reason why we care about our destruction, and how those tactical differences translate into both human and material damages. You are welcome to address any aspect of the conversation, as am I.

You know, my original comment that you called out as BS was originally twice as long because I had qualified it with a bunch of the points you later came in with. I didn't want anyone to misconstrue that I thought we used the tactics we did out of the goodness of our hearts. Then I decided that doing that buried the point I was making in a detour from the subject we were talking about and I cut that part out. I figured the little addendum at the end should be enough to cover that.

Guess not. Sorry we weren't having the conversation you wanted, VikingSword.
posted by charred husk at 9:36 PM on June 24, 2010


charred husk, I am not taking aim at you as a person. I understand that what we write here is a shorthand. It's hard to qualify everything down to the last dot, or we'd be writing like lawyers. I took your statement at face value, and felt it needed addressing. I fully acknowledge that you may have had a much more nuanced position, and time constraints did not allow a full articulation of it. Which is why I didn't say "charred husk" is X, or Y, but rather "statement X is BS", which allows for the very real possibility that the original author had more in mind than what came across - I just felt that it was worth addressing what actually stood there. No hard feelings.
posted by VikingSword at 9:54 PM on June 24, 2010


It's always supply-side when politicians talk about terrorism, never demand-side. They act like we're in a James Bond movie, where all of the terrorists are in the same evil organization, and if we kill them all then we defeat terror. There's never a discussion of terrorists' motives or attempts to diffuse them. All we get is "they hate our freedoms" when they have rational motives for committing terrorist acts.
(Noting that their motives are rational is not the same as endorsing them.)
posted by kirkaracha at 11:02 PM on June 24, 2010


VikingSword: "No hard feelings."

No prob. Came back to this thread after a long day was a little prickly - sorry to get defensive.
posted by charred husk at 6:41 AM on June 25, 2010


All we get is "they hate our freedoms" when they have rational motives for committing terrorist acts.

I think it's hard for many politicians to articulate strategic goals. Seems hard for some generals as well.
This is not at all to contend your point that obfuscation is done deliberately. What was surprising to me was how poorly Obama does it.
Y'know, you figure, smart guy. Good grasp of tactical thinking. Maybe he'd be able to deliver something other than the mantra. But you have the John Stewart showing Obama making the same 'momentum' speech. (He missed the point of firing McChrystal, but whaddya going to do, it's a comedy show).
On the other hand, part of the contention, politically, is also *not* saying something. You didn't have Churchill in WWII telling folks "Wow, we're really getting the hell beaten out of us here."
But that's predicated on the war itself being worth fighting. So there's this recursion going on where it reinforces it self.
I wasn't a fighter pilot, but I understand the concept. They call this a 'graveyard spiral.'

Speaking of James Bond. I thought 'Hank Scorpio' from the Simpsons was a fairly accurate portrayal of a terrorist leader (granted he's a 'supervillian' but still).
Look at Ayman al-Zawahiri. Not as comedically extroverted, but charismatic. Speaks a number of languages. I don't know if he's bought anyone the Denver Broncos, but y'know, the relationship seems similar in terms of Homer as a rank and file member rationalizing of and obliviousness to the 'evil' elements in working for him.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:54 PM on June 25, 2010


It would appear that being the Al-Qaeda Number 3 is the terrorist equivalent of being Spinal Tap's drummer.

Or wearing a red shirt on the Enterprise.


Or a midshipman on the Seaview?
posted by Samizdata at 5:13 PM on June 25, 2010


In fact, there is an extremely influential theory about terrorism that says basically "young males that aren't getting laid commonly form violent groups" Burhanistan. So yeah actually sexual themed media might very well help reduce the violence.

I agree that economics has an enormous role of course. Yes obviously people need "bread" to eat, but you're forgetting the "and circuses" from that famous phrase.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:45 PM on June 27, 2010


What is needed here is to turn Hamlet into a Roadrunner cartoon. Seriously.

Most terrorists are clumsy, stupid goofballs, but dangerous. Stupid and dangerous aren't incompatible. The problem comes when they are puffed up as bigger than they are to justify other agendas of the people leading the opposition against them. That was the problem with Bush and it was a problem before Bush.

It became a worse problem after 9/11 because all the people talking sense about terrorism got shoved aside by the "hurf durf terra terra terra" dingbats.

In 1999, I attended a conference in DC about terrorism and WMD. It was run by people who were making a lot of sense. The idiots were there, but they weren't running the show.

Two years after 9/11, the idiots were running the show and the people who knew which side was up were all out of jobs.

The real tragedy is that nine years had to go by before somebody would right this piece and somebody would publish it. It's all very well to say that it's obvious now. What was needed was somebody to say it back then and have the moxie to make it stick.
posted by warbaby at 7:21 PM on July 12, 2010


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