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13 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:17 pm

Tragic News


Just two days ago, I linked to and reprinted a phenomenal essay on September 11 written for The Atlantic about a year ago by David Foster Wallace, the noted novelist and essayist.   Today comes the very sad news that he died.

David Foster Wallace, the novelist, essayist and humorist best known for his 1996 [novel] Infinite Jest, was found dead last night at his home in Claremont, according to the Claremont Police Department. He was 46.  Jackie Morales, a records clerk at the Claremont Police Department, said Wallace’s wife called police at 9:30 p.m. Friday saying she had returned home to find her husband had hanged himself.

If you have not done so, make sure you read Infinite Jest. It is not the easiest novel to read — a huge chunk of it, including key plot developments, is written in footnotes to the main text, and I hated the ending — but there are few better — and funnier — critiques of contemporary American culture and the coming decline of American power.

A great loss, not just for letters, but also for everyone who is willing to think critically about those things that our leaders want us to ignore.

If you missed it the other day, you can find the essay after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:03 pm

Those We Remember


At CNN.com, a memorial to those who lost their lives seven years ago.

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:03 pm

Seven Years Later: From Tragedy to Denial


Given everything going on around the election — lipstick, pigs, sex, wolves, seals and all sorts of other so very important matters — you might have missed this little gem, from yesterday’s White House press briefing:

Perino’s claim that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, not Osama bin Laden, was the “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks is so staggeringly and blatantly a lie that it’s hard to know where to start.  For the Administration to cover up its failure to capture bin Laden by arguing the detention of KSM somehow matters more, is akin to suggesting that Radovan Karadzic’s arrest absovled Soblodan Milosevic of any responsibility for what happened in Bosnia.

Whenever any leader makes a decision, there are two levels of responsibility:  strategic and tactical.  The person who identifies the direction that an organization or country or business is going to take determines the strategy.  The person who designs and implements the actions necesssary to implement the strategy  determines the tactics.

In this case, Osama bin Laden chose the strategy — attacking the United States.  Khaled Sheikh Mohammed decided the tactics — how and where to make the attack a reality.  It is just mind-boggling that the Bush Administration doesn’t understand — or is pretending not to understand — the difference.

Just in case it’s the former, permit me to remind Ms. Perino and her boss what Osama bin Laden said in his first interview (with Taysir Alluni, al-Jazeera’s Afghanistan bureau chief)  after the September 11 attacks.  The transcript is from Messages to the World:  The Statements of Osama bin Laden:

As far as concerns [America's] description of these attacks as terrorist acts, that description is wrong.  These young men, for whom God has created a path, have shifted the battle to the heart of the United States, and they have destroyed its most oustanding landmarks, its economic and military landmarks, by the grace of God.  And they have done this because of our words — and we have previously incited and roused them to action. . . . And if inciting for these reasons is terrorism, and if killing those that kill our sons is terrorism, then let history witness that we are terrorists. . . .

Making connections is easy.  If this implies that we have incited these attacks, then yes, we’ve been inciting for years, and we have released decrees and documents concerning this issue, and other incitements which were published and broadcast in the media.  So if they mean, or if you mean, that there is a connection as a result of our incitement, then that is true.  So we incite, and incitement is a duty. . . .

I say that the events that happened on Tuesday September 11 in New York and Washington are truly great events by any measure, and their repercussions are not yet over. . . .These repercussions cannot be calculated by anyone due to their very large — and increasing — scale, multitude and complexity, so watch as the amount reaches no less than $1 trillion by the lowest estimate, due to thise successful and blessed attacks.  We implore God to accept those brothers within the ranks of the martyrs and to admit them to the highest levels of Paradise.

Now I know that Ms. Perino is not a lawyer, neither is President Bush.  I’m not either.  But unlike me, they’re surrounded by some of the top legal minds in the country.  One of them just might want to explain to Bush and Perino the concepts of conspiracy and incitement.  It just might clarify things a little.

Then again, those are the same lawyers who told Bush that torture was okay.  So maybe not.

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:03 pm

9/11: Democratic Martyrs and the American Idea


About a year ago, The Atlantic asked a number of prominent thinkers to write, in 300 words or less, what they thought was “The Future of the American Idea.”

This is what novelist David Foster Wallace had to say in response.

Just Asking

Are some things still worth dying for?

Is the American idea one such thing?

Are you up for a thought experiment?

What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?

In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?

Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price?

Is monstrousness why no serious public figure now will speak of the delusory trade-off of liberty for safety that Ben Franklin warned about more than 200 years ago? What exactly has changed between Franklin’s time and ours? Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice—either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious?

In the absence of such a conversation, can we trust our elected leaders to value and protect the American idea as they act to secure the homeland? What are the effects on the American idea of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Patriot Acts I and II, warrantless surveillance, Executive Order 13233, corporate contractors performing military functions, the Military Commissions Act, NSPD 51, etc., etc.? Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer—are they worth it?

Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?

Links added.

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:03 am

September 11, 2001


On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in New York City to interview some job candidates at my then-employer, Amnesty International USA.  As I walked from my hotel to the AIUSA office, I came upon  dozens of New Yorkers standing on the sidewalk outside a McDonald’s on the corner of 28th Street and 6th Avenue, staring at something going on downtown.

When I looked up, I saw that the North Tower of the World Trade Center was on fire.  Nobody around me knew what had happened.  I pulled out my cell phone and called a friend to tell her to turn on CNN.  As we were chatting, I started yelling into the phone — “Oh shit oh shit oh God oh no no no. . . .”  As I and all those around me watched in horror, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower.

Before the day was out, I saw first the South Tower and then the North Tower collapse.  I watched as a convoy of dozens of ambulances raced down 8th Avenue.  I stood in the door of a neighborhood delicatessen as hundreds of soot-covered residents trudged past.  I consoled friends and colleagues who lost loved ones in the collapse. I saw a city I loved turn into a silent ghostly shell of itself.

I also had spent much of the day desperately trying to reach friends in Washington to make sure they were okay.  When the attacks had just taken place, there were dozens of what later turned out to be false alarms.  CNN reported was that a car bomb had destroyed the northwestern corner of the State Department — which was where my office had been and where many of my friends still worked.

That night, as a result of a tip from a friend still in government, I managed to get on one of the few trains leaving New York for Washington.  Sitting across from me for the first two stops was a firefighter who had lost over half of the members of his company.  The trip took a lot longer than it normally did — we must have stopped at least a half-dozen times while engineers checked the tracks to make sure nothing was wrong.

That train felt like a refugee convoy – except these refugees wore suits, carried suitcases, and kept trying to use their non-functioning cell phones.  The trip turned into a discordant symphony of repeated “call failed” signals.

I returned home to a city under siege, with military police in armored personnel carriers patrolling the streets around the Union Station.  Although that worried me, my main emotion was relief that I made it home.  But when I got there, I couldn’t go to sleep.  Instead I stayed up almost all night, watching CNN replay the days’ events over and over and over again.

I am not a “survivor” of September 11.  My life was never at risk, and none of those I love died.  I have no right to speak on behalf of those who lost their lives or loved ones on that sad day.

For the next few months, that’s what I kept telling myself:  what happened to me wasn’t that bad.  But then I started to have trouble sleeping.  When I did manage to get to sleep, I dreamed of planes crashing into my apartment building.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but these were symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD is “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.”  Those suffering from PTSD often have flashbacks in which they believe the traumatic incident is happening again, as well as other symptoms.

That’s what happened to me.  That’s what the dreams were about: planes I could see coming but couldn’t stop.  I had no trouble getting on a plane or flying, but the sight of planes in the air freaked me out.  Living near the Potomac River, which is the approach path used by commercial airlines flying into Washington National, became a nightmare.  Planes come in low and fast, and often look as if they’re veering towards the city.  Every time I saw one, I would panic.  A couple of times, I had to pull off the road.

There were also other symptoms, ones that weren’t as obvious but which often manifested themselves in unexpected ways. I got angry a lot — irrationally and blindly angry — often for no reason.  I became moody.  I snapped at people –- no, I yelled at people.  Folks didn’t want to be around me.  I withdrew from the world.

The good news is that I got better.  Thanks to a wonderful therapist and caring friends (especially my future wife), I was able to understand what I was going through and start taking the necessary steps to get better.  After some bumps in the road, including one significant relapse triggered by a completely unrelated incident (also not uncommon among those with PTSD), I no longer have the dreams, get angry for no reason, or panic at the sight of planes over the Potomac.

What I wonder is whether my country — our country — also has gotten better.

There’s another moment that day that I still remember.  After I got off my cell phone that morning, when I and all those around me were still not sure what had happened, a woman next to me noticed the Amnesty pin on the lapel of my jacket.  She asked me if I worked for Amnesty and when I said yes, she said “Good luck.  You’re going to need it.  We’re all going to need it.”

I had no idea how right she was.

We have, over the past seven years, suffered from a collective form of PTSD, one from which we have yet to recover fully.  It manifests itself in many ways:  the fear of the other, the blanket hatred of Muslims and Arabs (and, for a brief period of deep insanity, even Sikhs), the irrational anger, the use of torture and other heretofore unspeakable acts.

Is it too soon to suggest that we need to move on?

We must find a way to continue mourning those who lost their lives but stop trying to revenge their deaths.  We must remember that we were wronged but stop using it as an excuse to inflict harm on innocents.  We must recognize that what happened that day, horrible though it was, cannot justify moral relativism or situational ethics.  We must accept that we do not honor the dead by undermining our values or abrogating our freedoms.

I believe that we as a nation can do these things.  I believe that we can get beyond the symptoms of our collective stress disorder and start living our lives again — without fear, without anger, and with acceptance.

But we’re not there yet.

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Remember


Today there will be fewer posts, little politics, and no snark.

In remembrance of all those who died on that terrible day seven years ago.

May we do better by their memory in coming years than we have over the past seven.

| posted in war & rumors of war | 1 Comment

10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:15 pm

Department of Things They Should Have Thought of Seven Years Ago


From the BBC today:

US to focus on Pakistani border

Adm Mike Mullen said he had asked for a “a new, more comprehensive military strategy for the region that covers both sides of that border”. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff has called for a new strategy in Afghanistan which will deny militants bases across the border in Pakistan. The US must work closely with Pakistan to “eliminate [the enemy's] safe havens”, he told Congress.

. . .Mullen was giving evidence to the House Armed Services Committee months before the seventh anniversary of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taleban and pursue al-Qaeda.  He argued that militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan were waging a common fight.

“In my view, these two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them,” he said.  “We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan… but until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming.”

You think?

Um, pardon the impertinent question, but shouldn’t you have freaking done this seven years ago????

Our earlier incompetence in Iraq is going to look like a walk in the park compared to what we’re now trying to do in Afghanistan.

Heckuva job, Dubya.

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8 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:45 pm

Beyond November: Ruben E. Brigety


The Connect U.S. Fund has launched a new two-year initiative to help shape debate during the upcoming Presidential transition.  As part of this effort, they’ve asked leading thinkers and advocates to talk about what should be the top two or three foreign policy priorities for the next President.  They’ve also kindly allowed us to cross-post the responses here.

The series took a brief hiatus during the conventions, but it’s back and will continue from now until the election.  Today, we’ll hear from Rube E. Brigety.  Future posts in the series will appears every Thursday.  You can find the previous posts here.  Thanks again to Heather Hamilton and Eric Schwartz for making the cross-postings happen.

Regardless of who wins the Presidential election in November, America will face challenges around the world that are arguably unprecedented in their complexity and scope. The list of urgent issues is well known – two active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the quest for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, resurgent powers in China and Russia, a weakened U.S. dollar, the need for energy independence, and the effects of climate change, just to name a few.

A common thread connecting all of these problems is that they cannot be solved with the approaches that have dominated U.S. foreign policy for the last eight years. For much of the last decade, particularly since 9/11, our government has resorted to unilateral methods to solve multilateral problems, and resorted to the use or threat of force to advance our interests abroad. Time and again, this has contributed to America’s declining popularity in the world even as it strains our military, marginalizes our alliances, and leaves crucial problems to fester. All of this can be traced to a zero-sum world view which does not tangibly link the security and prosperity of the United States with needs and aspirations of most of the world.

Our country needs more than new policies to confront the foreign policy challenges of the next decade. It needs a new worldview. It needs a framework for understanding the limits of unilateralism and military might, and the potential in cooperation and non-military methods of influence.

At the Center for American Progress, we have advanced an idea called “Sustainable Security.” An amalgamation of national security, collective security and human security, the Sustainable Security paradigm recognizes the importance of improving the lives of other people around the world as a critical security concerns for the United States. Rather than seeing foreign assistance as charity best relegated to the periphery of our statecraft, sustainable security emphasizes investing in social and economic development in countries around the world as a means of countering various threats – from the growth of radical extremism to the ravages of climate change. Furthermore, it posits that true “security” for the United States and other countries can only happen when development assistance is pursued in a cooperative manner with other countries and when it is closely coordinated with our other diplomatic and defense priorities. While there will always be a place for use of force, sustainable security argues that we have as much to gain from investing in the welfare of others as we do from investing in weapons systems to advance our nation’s security interests.

From this worldview, a few important foreign policy priorities follow. First, the United States should adopt a National Development Strategy. Despite the fact that we spend more on development assistance than any other country in the world, we do not have an articulated strategy to guide its distribution or to relate it to other aspects of American foreign policy. Promulgating a National Development Strategy from the White House that is applicable to every federal agency involved in delivering assistance would be a major statement of the important of foreign aid to our national security and provide crucial guidance for this important instrument of policy.

Second, we will have to reform the structures that deliver foreign assistance. The most important reforms should include the creation of a cabinet level development agency and a recapitalization our development infrastructure. Most of our allies that are major donors of development assistance have a cabinet agency to direct that activity. We are in the distinct minority in this regard. Elevating development assistance to a cabinet level status will not only show how important it is for us, but it will also ensure that development considerations are appropriately accounted for in our foreign policy. The next time we are forced to go to war with another country, we would be much more likely to take into account post-conflict considerations about economic reconstruction and rule of law if we have a powerful agency whose job it was to think about it and to perform the required tasks. Also, we cannot make development a major part of our foreign policy as long as there are more drummers in military bands than there are development professionals in the employ of our government. With less than one-thousand Foreign Service officers assigned to the U.S. Agency for International Development, our ability to do vital development projects, and to support our defense and diplomatic initiatives, is imperiled. This is a situation which must be reversed.

With great risk comes great opportunity, and this is particularly true for the next Presidential administration. Changing how we approach the problems of the world is vital to achieving durable solutions for ourselves and our allies. Let’s hope our next President take on the challenge.

Reuben E. Brigety, II is Director of the Sustainable Security Program at The Center for American Progress. Prior to joining CAP, he served as a Special Assistant in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Brigety is also an Assistant Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University. He is the author of Ethics, Technology and the American Way of War (Routledge, 2007) and a variety of other articles and book chapters. Before entering academia, Brigety was a researcher with the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. He served on HRW research missions in Afghanistan in March 2002 and in Iraq in April and May of 2003. He also served as HRW’s coordinator for crisis management during the Iraq war and as an HRW delegate to the Convention on Conventional Weapons negotiations in Geneva. Before joining HRW, Brigety was an active duty U.S. naval officer and held several staff positions in the Pentagon and in fleet support units.

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