Ten Years After
January 9, 2005 2:12 PM   Subscribe

A Picture of the Future, You're not in It An address to the John F. Kennedy School of Government...September 11th, 2011
posted by timsteil (41 comments total)
I'm sure it's a wonderful article... for Atlantic subscribers.
posted by meehawl at 2:17 PM on January 9, 2005

This article is viewable only by Atlantic subscribers. If you are already a subscriber, and have previously registered for access to the Web site, please log in above.

On preview: yep.
posted by jokeefe at 2:18 PM on January 9, 2005

Super weak. Sorry.
posted by rfordh at 2:19 PM on January 9, 2005

"A Picture of the Future, You're not in It"...how true!
posted by Postroad at 2:23 PM on January 9, 2005

A Picture of the List of Subscribers, I'm not in It.
posted by darkstar at 2:26 PM on January 9, 2005

posted by darkstar at 2:26 PM on January 9, 2005

Ah Crap! I thought by linking to the printable version, I would be able to scoot everyone past that. Mea Culpa!!!! Anyway...while it probably violates some sort of MeFi rule....I have it posted on my site if anyone wants to read it.

It really is boo scary fascinating...


ps. Sorry again
posted by timsteil at 2:31 PM on January 9, 2005

timsteil, ouch. here's the url for the article.
posted by rocket_skates at 2:32 PM on January 9, 2005

hopefully his ommision of this was due to it never having gotten the green light.
posted by rocket_skates at 2:38 PM on January 9, 2005

Gimme a break. This reads like Clancy channelling McCarthy after a two week amphetamine binge.
posted by keswick at 2:45 PM on January 9, 2005

What keswick said...it is pure fiction, and will almost certainly cause the anti-Bush crowd to salivate at what he and his policies have "done."

One could easily paint a picture of September 11, 2011, with no terrorist attacks, a more peaceful world, and other anti-Clarke-isms.
posted by davidmsc at 7:25 PM on January 9, 2005

There goes Clarke with his hair on fire again.
posted by Arch Stanton at 7:29 PM on January 9, 2005

This is what I find frustrating about Clarke. He combines good stuff with bullshit in almost equal measure.

The good stuff (I'm an Atlantic subscriber): pounding home the many options the terrorists have for hurting us at home, and how we've got to think about both prevention and reaction.

Part of his message (I think) is to civil libertarians, who are, in their own way, practicing head-in-the-sandism more than anyone else. The ACLU really ought to stop worrying so much about partial-birth-abortion and the prayers before football games and get pro-active -- putting forward model principals which might help channel the natural reaction against the next attacks, if they come, into productive, security enhancing legislation which minimizing unnecessary invasions upon freedom.

The bad stuff: his geopolitics. The idea that the U.S. would stand by and do nothing while Islamists seized Saudi Arabia is laughable. While Iraq shows that it's not easy to police hostile population centers, there's no law that says one has to do so -- bombing anything that moves for long enough to put barbed wire and a mine field around the oil fields is still well within the capability of the US military, and there's no reason why the mullahs couldn't keep on running the villages and towns as long as they kept a thousand yards away from the new Exxon of Arabia property.
posted by MattD at 7:42 PM on January 9, 2005

One could easily paint a picture of September 11, 2011, with no terrorist attacks, a more peaceful world ...
Preach it, man. I love Sci-Fi too :)
posted by kaemaril at 7:44 PM on January 9, 2005

kaemaril, why is my outlook considered "sci-fi," while apparently Clarke's isn't?
posted by davidmsc at 7:47 PM on January 9, 2005

Apparently the various intelligence agencies and special forces units designed to combat terrorism are completely out of the picture in Clarke's scenario....on the other hand considering this administrations record of listening to those folks....

Still, you can't stick your fingers in your ears forever. Going into Iraq has been a mistake in the short term, but it remains to be seen whether the situation can be remedied.
(Of course that could be pure optimism on my part)

We'll have Delta and other counterterrorist folks kicking over tea wagons throughout the globe for some time. Not knocking out the Afghan training camps was so clearly a mistake I doubt anyone will make that kind of mistake again.
Bureaucracies are big dumb slow animals and any small group generally out maneuvers and adapts faster than any large group, but no one is going to want to be the guy who allowed the second attack on American soil.

But this does seem more like a rant than a cautionary tale.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:57 PM on January 9, 2005

...it is pure fiction...

Golly. And I thought it was a message from the future.

Davidmsc, do you actually understand what science fiction is? I'm just asking....
posted by lodurr at 8:27 PM on January 9, 2005

One main point the article showcases (regardless of whether it's Clancy-style masturbation fantasy or not) is that counter-terrorism is a band-aid solution which may slow the rate & decrease the severity of incidents, but the only things that will 'beat' terrorism are long-term anti-terrorism reforms & high-level governmental action dealing with the issues surrounding terrorism as opposed to the guys holding the guns.

MattD said: ...productive, security enhancing legislation...minimizing unnecessary invasions upon freedom

Yes, but it's hard to lump all the blame on one group (ACLU) since their knee-jerk reactions against any reduction to civil liberties comes from a history of overkill from legislators. There needs to be discourse to reach a middle ground, not the 'all or nothing' approach of the last couple of years.
posted by cosmonik at 8:41 PM on January 9, 2005

One could easily paint a picture of September 11, 2011, with no terrorist attacks, a more peaceful world, and other anti-Clarke-isms.

Yes, one could easily paint that picture; I doubt they could do it believably, but they could certainly do it--this I will grant you.
posted by The God Complex at 8:44 PM on January 9, 2005

davidmsc: I was alluding to the fact that a world that has managed to completely eliminate terrorism in ten years is a world that exists only in science fiction :). I was not comparing anything to Clarke, merely pointing out the problem in your statement.
posted by kaemaril at 9:42 PM on January 9, 2005

Oh man, in 2008 I'm still going to have spam in my inbox?
That sucks.
posted by whoshotwho at 10:00 PM on January 9, 2005

So is this the "A short story" in this month's Atlantic? Just state your theories, for goodness sake, and don't couch them in a boring lecture from the future. I have suffered enough of those in the past. (Though, I am looking forward to the opening of the Austrian Biergarten at Mouseworld in 2006.)
posted by scottfree at 10:21 PM on January 9, 2005

Eins, zwei, g'suffa...boom!
posted by scottfree at 10:27 PM on January 9, 2005

Moral: If you don't like the message, criticize the color of the messenger's tie...
posted by lodurr at 10:42 PM on January 9, 2005

hmmm, no nukes...which makes this the 'optimistic version', IMHO.

I don't understand why it's so hard to see how much damage 50 people could do when they attack the soft-underbelly of America.

What the god complex said, as well.
Perhaps, too, we could have followed the proposal of the 9/11 Commission and engaged the Islamic world in a true battle of ideas. Indeed, if we had not from the start adopted tactics and rhetoric that cast the war on terror as a new "Crusade," as a struggle of good versus evil, we might have been able to achieve more popular support in the Islamic world. Our attempts to change Islamic opinion with an Arabic-language satellite-television news station and an Arabic radio station carrying rock music were simply not enough. We talked about replacing the hate-fostering madrassahs with modern educational programs, but we never succeeded in making that happen. Nor did we successfully work behind the scenes with our Muslim friends to create an ideological counterweight to the jihadis. Although we talked hopefully about negotiated outcomes to the Palestinian conflict and the struggle in Chechnya, neither actually came to pass. Because we were afraid to "reward bad behavior," we let Iranian nuclear-weapons development get too far along, to the point where our only option was to attack Iran. This set back the Iranian democratic reform movement and added Hizbollah to our list of active enemies.
Hmm, what was it that Diamond pointing to again? Ahh yes.
Still a third consideration is that one has to look at a society's relations with hostile neighbors. Most societies have chronic hostile relations with some of their neighbors and societies may succeed in fending off those hostile neighbors for a long time. They're most likely to fail to hold off the hostile neighbors when the society itself gets weakened for environmental or any other reasons, and that's given rise for example, to the long-standing debate about the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Was the conquest by Barbarians really a fundamental cause, or was it just that Barbarians were at the frontiers of the Roman Empire for many centuries? Rome succeeded in holding them off as long as Rome was strong, and then when Rome got weakened by other things, Rome failed, and fell to the Barbarians.
posted by wah at 10:53 PM on January 9, 2005

I wonder if ties will be wide or narrow in 2011? I just hope the knit ones don't make a comeback.

No, making an argument worth consideration means delivering it in a way that is interesting, believable and cogent. Not a futuristic rambling with barely veiled references to the MGM Grand and Disneyworld so as to avoid a lawsuit. Pleeez. But I ramble.

I would not get past the editorial board at the Atlantic, and considering the great writing I have read there in the past, I am surprised this piece did.
posted by scottfree at 11:07 PM on January 9, 2005

scottfree, you're still not addressing the actual message. How is it not interesting, believable or cogent? You can dance around the elephant all you want but you know you're dancing and so do we. I mean, attacking the references to public amusements? You can do better.

The article is very interesting but, like all such "science fiction," it's a very simplified construct designed to bring out and highlight certain themes. The main problem is that it both overestimates and underestimates the terrorists. On the one hand, the American people would simply not tolerate actions such as handing out gas masks to people in metro areas (think of the ultimate financial cost of such an action) on the other hand its optimistic to assume there'll be no nuclear strike. Even a completely ineffective nuclear strike would have tremendous psychological value with its ability to prey upon fifty years of Cold War propaganda and the an increasingly sensationalistic media. For the committed terrorist it's a holy grail.

The most interesting part of the article: our leaders made the clash of cultures a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm not quite sure I'd call it self-fulfilling as much as "good television." But ultimately the construction of the grand narrative that is the "War on Terror" will be put to test. The administration, and so many others, blindly hope it'll end up like the Cold War with the US declaring a decisive victory but this seems pretty baseless. If we do reach the point where the story clearly does more damage than good (and this will largely depend on Iraq), history and the world will be extremely unforgiving to the story tellers.
posted by nixerman at 11:40 PM on January 9, 2005

America's holiday mall shopping effectively ended that day, as customers retreated to the safety of online retail.

Another dotcom boom! Woo!
posted by moonbiter at 6:34 AM on January 10, 2005

Dear Evil Doers:

"Time Out."

The American President and the American People.

That should work, right?
posted by andreaazure at 6:37 AM on January 10, 2005

I hate the US administration and its fithy war, but this article is written like crap on a shingle. Arguing good points so horribly makes us look BAD.
posted by squirrel at 6:59 AM on January 10, 2005

The point of an exercise like this is to excite the power of narrative to provoke insight.

Humans are narratizing animals. That's how we understand things: We tell stories about them. That's how we understand the human aspects of an argument: We make an account of it. If you're a student of philosophy at the college level, you've no doubt been told to "provide an account" of your view; if you're a software engineer you've no doubt been called on to describe a use-case. These are examples of narratizing.

This is an example of science fiction as thought experiment. All the best SF is really SF primarily by virtue of its nature as thought experiment. All effective polemical fiction indeed is basically thought experiment. And you can judge the fiction on its effectiveness, or by the quality of its thought experiment.

Endless maundering over the literary qualities of a piece like this miss the point, and smell of a sophomoric attempt to discredit the messenger by criticising his accent or the pattern of his tie. The validity of a scenario is not contingent on its literary qualities or even how exciting or plausible it seems. The validity of a scenario can onlly be rightly judged on the validity of its premises and conclusions.

The vast majority of traction in this thread is from people who are really concerned with Clarke's tie and the frog in his throat. Memo: Your objections come off as disingenuous. Your objections to the medium are a smokescreen for the fact that you find this material hard to deal with -- for the fact, in short, that you don't want to really challenge yourself to actually think about it.

Get over it.

Now, to talking about the message:

FWIW, this all seems very plausible to me, in terms of domestic security risks. I've laid out these kinds of scenario many, many times; if we're honest, we can agree that the terrorist attack scenarios are not only plausible, but that we need to wonder why they haven't been done.

What bothers me is that this promotes the idea that the "war" could actually be "won" by "fighting harder": By "improving security" with things like Federal Railroad Police, total surveillance, and SIDs. Measures like this are reactionary, and erode and qualitatively alter the nature of life in America. I would humbly submit that, given competent foreign policy leadership, they are also unnecessary to attain basic safety.
posted by lodurr at 7:06 AM on January 10, 2005

post-preview: Squirrel, I'm not sure who "us" is to you. I suspect I am, but I don't think Richard Clarke is. He is the enemy of your enemy. I think he's also a smart and reasonably honest guy, but neither that nor the fact that he distrusts the same people I do inherently make him my "friend."
posted by lodurr at 7:10 AM on January 10, 2005

Then the second wave of al-Qaeda attacks hit America. Since then we have spiraled downward in terms of economic strength, national security, and civil liberties. No one could stand here today, in 2011, and say that America has won the war on terror. To understand how we failed to win, and exactly what has been lost along the way, I want to look at the past seven years in some detail.

This is the problem for me. All his arguments are based on completely fictional events. He basically sets it up as, everything was fine until 2005, and then it all went to hell, which doesn't tell us much about what we ought to be doing now, but more about how we should be worried about what might happen next.

I'm not saying none of it is interesting, but it does come off as a bit disingenuous.
posted by mdn at 7:28 AM on January 10, 2005

Those unfamiliar with the narrative form may thank lodurr, for his condescending treatise, but I know that he misses the mark. An important aspect of effective science fiction is that it is at least well-written enough to make the reader believe in the reality of the world he is depicting; since suspension of disbelief is key, the prose does matter. I love sci-fi as much as I hate Donald Rumsfeld, but this writer makes an embarrassing show of attacking my enemy, and thus is not a friend but a liability to my cause.
posted by squirrel at 7:49 AM on January 10, 2005

... for his condescending treatise....

... which condecension the intended audience richly deserved, I might add. You may have noted that my comment to you implied that I'd read it after my first comment; from that you might have inferred that it wasn't directed at you. You might still regard it as patronizing, and you'd be right, it was. But I say again: They deserved it.

... but I know that he misses the mark. An important aspect of effective science fiction is that it is at least well-written enough...

I miss neither the mark nor the point. Nobody, myself included, said this is "good SF", nor would I argue as much. It's a scenario. It's not literature, nor, to anyone who's not trying to dismiss it without dealing with it, does it seem to be presented as literature.

In fact, BTW, "suspension of disbelief" is a mistaken requirement for "good SF". And the "prose" isn't what makes for believability in a scenario, at least to someone who reads the scenario for what it's intended to convey.
posted by lodurr at 8:11 AM on January 10, 2005

You know.....

I think what struck me the most about the piece is the "death of a thousand cuts" aspect of this "war on terror"

We piss away money and young people's lives in Iraq...when it was never the target to begin with, and at least IMHO...hasn't done much of anything to make the US any more secure, or immune to domestic attack.

I think it is safe to say that, if anything, our war on Iraq has made us a bigger target, and more hated in the eyes of fundamentalist Muslims.

While it is good and fine to debate the fineries of sci-fi and narrative, I keep coming back the thought that none of the scenarios Clarke lays out is improbable. We arrest Cat Stevens, but leave our NBC(nuclear/biological/chemical) facilities basically unguarded.

It seems much of the naysaying in this thread is about the identity of the author, and not the message itself.

Face it...nothing he is imagining is that far fetched. Be you a Bushie or a Dem....that much should be obvious

posted by timsteil at 10:01 AM on January 10, 2005

Pet peeve time: the Clarke piece is not science fiction. It's a fairly typical futurology workshop scenario: a vehicle for presenting ideas about what may happen in the near future, and why.

Having said that, here are Clarke's main points:

1. Complex societies are vulnerable to attack in direct proportion to their complexities. (If your society has no nuclear power stations or airports, you don't need to guard nuclear power stations or airports.) The USA, as a complex society, has many different highly vulnerable internal weak points.

2. To guard all those weak points adequately would require a full-scale militarization of society, and it still won't solve the problem of the other side discovering new weak points.

3. Security is inversely proportional to civil liberties. (What was it Jefferson said, along the lines of "those who seek to buy security at the price of freedom deserve neither"?)

4. To deal with terrorist insurgencies you need to use a carrot as well as a stick. The current shape of the US response to Islamicism is 100% stick. All the beatings do is generate more recruits for the other side. You've got to offer them an attractive alternative if you want them to put the guns down, and right now there's no sign of that happening.

5. The longer the US government continues down this road, the harder it will be to turn back.

None of this is particularly controversial -- especially if you've had a ring-side seat at one of the major terrorist insurgencies in a western country, such as the Provisional IRA's bombing campaigns in London during the 1990's. (Been there, been evacuated from the pub.) Bluntly, the US government is currently making the same mistakes the British government made with Northern Ireland in the early 1970's -- with a few extras: it's doing so on a much larger scale, and it's refusing to listen to advice from those countries (hint: this includes France and Germany) that have defeated terrorist groups attempting to attack them.
posted by cstross at 1:19 PM on January 10, 2005

the Clarke piece is not science fiction. It's a fairly typical futurology workshop scenario: a vehicle for presenting ideas about what may happen in the near future, and why.

Sounds like some of the best sci-fi I've read. Near-future believable stuff makes for the best entertainment. More often than not it's based on the same forecasting principles as futurist projections. That's not to deride either camp, of course. Just pointing out that the difference between 'sci-fi' and 'futurology workshop scenario' is not as big as you seem to imply.

Thumbs up to your points 4 and 5, cstross. I wish more legislators not only realised this, but acted in accordance with it.
posted by cosmonik at 1:53 PM on January 10, 2005

cstross: OK, OK, let's say it's Speculative Fiction instead. Happy? :)
posted by kaemaril at 3:27 PM on January 10, 2005

Ah! Oh, yes; very. ;^)
posted by squirrel at 4:25 PM on January 10, 2005

Here's the full text: Go crash Free Republic's server
posted by trinarian at 1:41 AM on January 21, 2005

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