Friday, September 11, 2009

What 9/11 Means

Eight years ago, a team of terrorists killed three thousand innocent people for the advancement of an evil conspiracy. On the eighth anniversary of the most horrific act of evil deliberately perpetrated against the United States, the man in the White House is arguably the least ready in memory to effectively deal with an enemy who would, if they could, repeat that act on an even greater scale. The Congress of the United States has taken steps to disarm the men and women who protect the nation, while all but apologizing to the colleagues of the murderers for the U.S. getting in their way during the Bush Administration. And the people of America, once united in the face of the crisis, are divided and worn out by petty bickering and farcical mockeries of the duties and obligations of politicians in both major parties.

The nation is at war. It is an obscene fact that many Americans have managed to somehow forget that fact, to take for granted the efforts of our military to secure stable, free nations in Iraq and Afghanistan, or that the war still continues to this day, with all the stakes and risk that existed from the beginning for those who put nation first.

Terrorists are not ‘criminals’, they are not ‘freedom-fighters’, they are not ‘misunderstood’. They do not have equal standing with the people they attack and kill. They do not have civil rights under any established law. They do not enjoy protection under the Geneva Convention. The Geneva convention was designed to protect combatants serving nations under certain rules of conduct, defined clearly and it’s not difficult at all to confirm that people who do not belong to any national army or militia, who do not operate under military protocols, who commits atrocities not in isolated cases but as deliberate strategy, do not enjoy identification as ‘combatants’ in the sense of that treaty. Terrorists commonly enter foreign countries to perform their murders, so it is not correct to presume that they enjoy the protection of law that is accorded citizens. And the very nature of their conduct and strategy makes it necessary to treat terrorists on a simple means of identification and extermination. Find them and kill them, end of story. If there is doubt, investigate, but if there is no doubt, then there is no quarter to be given. Terrorism by its nature is anathema to humanity, and therefore such groups must be exterminated in total whenever and wherever they are found.

Before 9/11, it was politically sensitive to deal directly against terrorists. This can be seen in the policies of airlines, for example, which told their crews not to resist hijackers, but cooperate in order to save lives. The 9/11 attacks made it clear not only that the old system was not functional, but hopelessly naïve. On the international level, as well, the clear focus and imperatives of the Bush Administration after 9/11 made it clear that informal wink-and-nod arrangements between terrorist groups and certain national political groups would no longer be tolerated. A new U.S. doctrine took effect, which required President Bush to set aside all his original plans and policies in deference to his commitment to defend America from the threat of terrorism.

Before 9/11, religious thought regarding terrorists was sparse, especially among Muslims. Since Islam does not emphasize a separation of Church and State (quite the opposite, the very concept of Dar-al-Islam presumes mutual religious and military conquest of all the world), there was no overt debate on the morality of terrorist actions – those who opposed such actions thought them too incidental to address in the context of the faith as a whole, and those who supported such actions thought it unnecessary to risk dissension by discussing the religious context of the actions. A few Muslim sheiks had observed Koranic prohibitions against killing known innocents, especially women and children, that suicide was permissible in defense of innocents but not in murder of same, even if Dar-al-Harb. After 9/11, Muslims found themselves more compelled to examine their faith in the light of such actions, to decide not only whether terrorism should be part of their faith but also what their response as Muslims should be to terrorism acts by Muslim extremists. Non-Muslims found that they knew little of Islam, and often judged the entire faith by the actions of its most extreme. As with all faiths, prejudice and history have been difficult for people to overcome, both outside of and within the community of faith.

Prior to 9/11, there was a belief in some quarters of the world that supporting a terrorist group could advance a national strategy, and in so doing produce an economic benefit for their country or government. It is now more generally recognized that Terrorism is economic parasitism. By its nature, terrorist groups consume goods and destroy people and materials; it is literally impossible for terrorism to create gain or improve economic conditions. Economics is not, and has never been and never will be, a zero-sum game; any farmer can tell you that his neighbor’s misfortune in no way helps his crops or livestock, and in many ways another’s loss threatens his own well-being. That fact is now more apparent than ever before, giving regimes pause in considering the results of supporting such groups.

Before 9/11, there was some discussion that American military force was not up to the job in all places, that “lessons” in places like Mogadishu and Haiti showed the limits to U.S. power and influence, and various apologists for defeatism and appeasement pushed to scale back the size and mission of the American military, and to replace pro-American doctrines with policies of retreat and surrender, similar to the British pull-backs following World War 2, on the theory that U.S. interests represented imperial designs. This lie ironically found increased support in the fiction of the “peace dividend” after the fall of the Warsaw Pact, as if the ensuing chaos in a part of the world with more than 50,000 nuclear warheads was of no concern, or that other nations would not rush in to fill the void of power left with the fall of the Soviet Union, with attendant threat to American interests and citizens. While America power was clearly impressive in the first Gulf War of 1990-91, critics charged that things would be far different if the U.S. were committed to a long war, or tried to actually change the political structure of a major Mid-East country.

The long war in Iraq and Afghanistan proved the critics wrong again. The war has been difficult, costly, painful, and if Obama lacks the backbone to stay the course, great damage could still be done to American goals and interests in the region, but at present any objective analysis of the war would conclude that the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan are a vast improvement on their predecessors, in terms of freedom, economic opportunity, and security for their citizens and the region. Whether the war’s cause was just or the results worth the cost may be debated, but the U.S. military clearly established an unsurpassed and undeniable ability to assert its power anywhere, anytime. The ramifications of this proof become obvious when the history of the region is examined.

In summary, 9/11 was a horrific atrocity, perpetrated by evil minds who have in some part come to a just yet terrible consequence, and in others deferred their reckoning to when they must stand before God. We have seen valor and heroism from many places, some unexpected, and loathsome hypocrisy and pusillanimity from others, especially those in privileged and public positions of celebrity and the avant-garde. We have seen the Mainstream Media sabotage its own credibility, and grass-roots bloggers rise to a degree of public acclaim and success. Our military has lost thousands of casualties in two campaigns, only to see the new President discount their sacrifice in hopes of gaining political coin for himself from our enemies. Both major political parties have demonstrated a grievous lack of commitment to fundamental American priorities and values, and few of the federal elected officials make themselves available to regular citizens, let alone accountable.

Yet for all of this, eight years after 9/11, our friends and enemies alike understand that there is a core of resolve in America unlike any other country, that there is a well of strength and purpose in this nation which no enemy may hope to overcome and no friend may fear will totally fail. We may be delayed, and we may take losses, but in the end, sooner or later we shall prevail. Not because Americans are better than other nations, but because this nation stands for the best of every nation, and while our methods may falter, our cause is just. No tyrant, no terrorist, no turncoat, no traducer shall win against us.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Responsibility and Accountability

On Thursday September 3, the University of Oregon played Boise State in a season-opening game which was important to both schools, as they were each nationally-ranked and hoping to start off strong. The game ended in a 19-8 win for Boise State, after starting with a larger-than-usual show of sportsmanship. An ironic gesture, given the ending. At the game's end, Byron Hout of Boise State approached LeGarrette Blount of Oregon, slapped him on the shoulder pad to get his attention, and yelled something at him which has not yet been revealed to the public. As he turned away to face Boise State head coach Chris Peterson, who was pulling Hout away from Blount, Blount angrily launched a punch which landed on Hout's jaw. To make matters worse, Blount then attempted to punch another player, struggled with his own teammates as they wrestled him towards the locker room, and had to be restrained by police from attacking fans who taunted him at the stands as he left the field. Still worse, the game and the actions of Blount were nationally televised by ESPN. And then the day after that, it was discovered that Blount had been suspended from the Oregon team back in February.

Friday, Oregon coach Chip Kelley suspended running back LaGarrette Blount for the rest of the season.

To some degree, the decision to end Blount's collegiate career (he is a Senior, and the suspension includes any bowl games that Oregon may earn) was predictable. Blount's action was not only blatent and deliberate, not to mention nationally televised, Coach Kelly serves on the NCAA's committee which address athletes' sportsmanship, and Kelly had already been under fire for an apparent lack of discipline on the Ducks' team. The public opinion on the matter seemed to demand a heavy punishment, and so the axe fell quickly in this case. To be honest, I don't know that I disagree all that much with the decision, except of course that Blount will not have a public opportunity to show his better side. I might have expected an indefinite suspension to be a better fit, but on the other hand the Oregon officials have sent a clear message and presumably have put this behind them.

But I am writing this article to address the other man who needs to accept accountability: Byron Hout. No, I am not saying that Hout should be suspended or even given any kind of official punishment for his part in the incident. That said, I am concerned about his part in the event. Hout chose to come over to Blount, whatever he said was obviously meant to be trash talk, and Hout's grinning face as he turned towards his coach indicates that he was just fine with insulting a key player on an opposing team. What Hout did was clearly out of bounds. If it has happened during the game, it would have earned a penalty for taunting, and I speak as a former UIL football official in Texas (which uses the NCAA rulebook). Normally, a good coach considers the damage done when assessing punishment to a player for an infraction. A face-mask penalty, for example, one thing, but if they score the winning touchdown because on 3rd-and-20 you tackled the runner by his facemask, then you are in big trouble. A false start may not be a big deal, unless of course it happens on 4th down and pushes you just out of field goal range. And sportsmanship is a much bigger issue when something you say impacts the game's outcome or the image of the school. Back in my day, players were expected to wear dress clothes and ties on the bus and to represent the school and team, with total respect. It was silly at times and made the trip longer. But then again, you knew you stood for something worth your work, win or lose. Call me old school, but the sport could do with getting back to that.

Coach Peterson has said that he will meet privately with Hout and considers the incident a 'teachable moment'. The problem, of course, is that the incident was public and Hout needs to make some gesture to show he recognizes that his taunt started a series of actions which had serious consequences. Hout did not make Blount throw a punch, but he knew he was not acting in the best interests of his school, team, or the game. And Hout's unsporting behavior was public, and so it needs a public response. At the very least, Hout should apologize in public for his behavior, and Peterson needs to show that such behavior has consequences, real ones.