- I don’t believe it — given the third-hand source of the story — but the Frontier Post in Pakistan says 65 U.S. Marines have been killed by Taliban suicide bombers.
- Reported breakthrough in Bonn talks: An aide to the king as prime minister.
Bleep of the year
- In our little meaningless poll (to the right), Rudy Guiliani is winning as person of the year. The Guardian reports on the deliberation going on inside Time and the story argues it will be as hard not to pick bin Laden as it is hard to pick him. “But a Time reporter put the magazine’s dilemma starkly: ‘To call bin Laden Person of the Year devalues the word “person”. We would need to have a separate “m*****f***** of the year” category – I think the staff would buy into that.’ ”
- The Guardian has started a special section — Libertywatch — worrying about the civil rights they fear are being trampled, squashed, pancaked, and stomped upon in this war. In a long and thoughtful piece, Columbia Prof. Patricia Williams catalogues the concerns:
…the disregard for international treaties and conventions; strict controls on media reports about the war; secret surveillance and searches of citizens* computers; widespread ethnic profiling; indefinite detention of non-citizens; offers of expedited American citizenship to those who provide evidence about terrorists; and military tribunals with the power to try enemies in secret, without application of the usual laws of evidence, without right of appeal, yet with the ability to impose the death penalty. Opportunity for legislative or other public discussion of these measures has been largely eclipsed by the rapidity with which most of them have been pushed into effect.
She proceeds to call this “one of the more dramatic Constitutional crises in United States history.” But we also face one of the more dramatic military threats on our homefront in United States history. I am sure I will regret not being more worried about what’s happening to civil rights now — but I know that it is because I am much more worried about the military threat. The professor goes on to caution:
It is worrisome, too, when the highest prosecutor in the land declares that war criminals do not “deserve” basic constitutional protections. We confer due process not because putative criminals are “deserving” recipients of rights-as-reward. Rights are not “earned” in this way. What makes rights rights is that they ritualize the importance of solid, impartial and public consensus before we take life or liberty from anyone, particularly those whom we fear. We ritualize this process to make sure we don’t allow the grief of great tragedies to blind us with mob fury, inflamed judgments and uninformed reasoning.
When it comes to permanently changing our deliberative, ritualized way of civil rights, she is quite right. That should not be done hastily. But at the same time, when it comes to protecting us from obvious threat, this must be done with haste. So where is the balance? In timing. The answer, I believe, is to make sure that these changes are temporary, exercisable in a state of war and to counter acts of war. The test is to make sure that we do what we do not out of revenge but out of protection. I headlined an earlier post on this topic, “Civil rights? Maybe later.” And Thomas Nephew quite properly scolded me for including the word “maybe.” He’s right. There’s no maybe about our precious civil rights; I concede that to the libertywatchers. But right now, there has to be a later.
- The NY Times’ take:
The inconvenient thing about the American system of justice is that we are usually challenged to protect it at the most inopportune moments. Right now the country wants very much to be supportive of the war on terrorism, and is finding it hard to summon up much outrage over military tribunals, secret detentions or the possible mistreatment of immigrants from the Mideast. There is a strong temptation not to notice. That makes it even more important to speak up.
Terror in Israel
- The Independent: “Even by the calculatedly bloodsoaked standards of the Middle East, last night’s attacks in Jerusalem were callously planned to cause maximum loss of life.”
- The Washington Post argues that we’re fighting a new kind of war — with drone spies, precision bombs and missiles, remote control, and the ability to fight at long-range: war fought with a mouse. And that this alters the equation when calculating whether to go to war:
In terms of foreign policy, the shift could have a subtly belligerent effect. Some analysts worry that the new American capabilities, by minimizing the casualties suffered not only by the U.S. military but also by civilians in the war zone, have lowered the bar for the use of force, making the military option seductively easy for policymakers to select.
But those conclusions are hugely controversial. In a unusual joint interview, the chiefs of the Air Force and Navy rejected the notion that the apparent success of the Afghan war amounted to a prescription for military reform, arguing that every conflict is different.
True enough. But I do not think this leads to an era of Easy War. War is still war. It is not something a civilized society (as opposed to a bin Laden) ever enters into willingly. And that factor is amplifed with the new world order. Now we are the only superpower and that brings not only obligations, as supercop, it also puts a target right onto us — each of us — and with all that it brings new diplomatic and public-relations and thus strategic complications. In that sense, war is more difficult. Remote-control war looks easy. But politically correct war is hard.
- The Muslim revolt that never came: The Muslim Times argues that support for bin Laden and the Taleban was minimal in the Muslim world. I’m not sure how cynical I should be: Was this the opinion before the Taliban’s defeat as well? The Times argues: “The reasons are that, in effect, most Arab and Muslim governments ñ with the possible exception of Sudan – would very much like to see the Islamist threat disappear, just as much as the West would, because it threatens their security as much as anyone else’s. The reason much of the Islamic and Arab world remained so quiet in the weeks of intense bombing of Taliban and Al Qaeda positions in Afghanistan is because not only the leadership, but the vast majority of the people in those countries realize that the extremism of the Taliban is not for them, no matter how corrupt their own leaders might be.”