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Perhaps it’s an unwritten message from President Obama to Al Qaeda: Like Luca Brasi, Osama bin Laden now “sleeps with the fishes”. Of course the burial at sea also has the advantage of eliminating the possibility of creating a shrine to one of the most famous of the world’s terrorists, although it is unlikely he could compete favorably for the title of greatest terrorist of all time if we also consider Adolf Hitler, Genghis Khan, Oliver Cromwell, Attila the Hun, or Josef Stalin. Perhaps he might deserve a more appropriate title, like Terrorist of the Decade. Soon to be forgotten, in two generations he will be nothing more than a footnote in history – if that.

However, there is a legacy he leaves behind that may affect the world for a long time to come: he taught us mistrust. Bin Laden’s message to the world was that he could not be trusted, nor could his followers. It didn’t matter if you knew them or not. It didn’t matter whether you were in the fight or not. It didn’t even matter if you knew what the fight was about or if you even knew there was a fight. You were in danger from bin Laden and his gang of murderers. It sounds like insanity, doesn’t it? Perhaps it was. Perhaps it is. Even so, it will have a lasting impact on how we live.

Anyone who used to fly on airplanes before 9/11 and who now flies on airplanes is well aware of bin Laden’s legacy. But it’s not only aviation that is affected. Governments around the world now take all sorts of measures to protect things that we never thought needing protecting; things like subway systems, sporting events, ocean liners, water supplies, natural gas depots, and so forth. The list could go on and on because during Osama’s attempted  reign of terror nothing was truly safe. Not that they ever were, because accidents happen all the time anyway. But Osama thought that he could force something to happen by his actions. However, Osama is gone and the political world has been little changed by the actions of Osama and his Al Qaeda followers.

Even so, his legacy is all around us – a legacy of mistrust. How long will it permeate world society? One can only wonder; however, there is another aspect of Osama’s legacy: the way he died. A U.S. Navy Seal Team surprised him in his home in the middle of the night and killed him in a heartbeat. Death from above.  This is terrorism turned upon itself. It wasn’t long after Osama was killed that another Al Qaeda leader, thought to be Osama’s successor, was killed without warning by a Predator drone, and only recently another Al Qaeda leader was killed at a police roadblock in Somalia. It would seem that the members of Al Qaeda have also received a legacy of terror from their leader. For the foreseeable future they must live with the knowledge that they might die at any moment without warning. He who lives by the sword…

It seems that all that Osama bin Laden succeeded in doing was increasing the uncertainty level in an already very uncertain world.

It is interesting to note that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan do not seem to have had much involvement with the recent losses experienced by Al Qaeda. This, of course, is to be expected. The Iraq War had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. It was an attack on Saddam Hussein by George Bush with a trumped-up charge about “weapons of mass destruction” that Iraq did not possess. Could it be that it was more likely revenge for Saddam’s earlier attempt to assassinate the first President Bush? Certainly Saddam was captured and hanged. But there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam hated Al Qaeda, so it wasn’t that. So far, the U.S. government has never given a satisfactory explanation of what the Iraq war was all about. We just know that it had nothing to do with fighting terrorism. Remember when Vice President Cheney was talking about a different kind of war that would be fought clandestinely? It would be our secret agents against Al Qaeda’s secret agents:

In 2001, Vice President Cheney appears on NBC’s Meet the Press and says, “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful.”

I guess that wasn’t going so well and that’s why we sent the army into Iraq and Afghanistan. So far we have spent a little over 1.2 trillion dollars on these two wars (that’s $1,200,000,000,000.00 approximately). I guess that is also part of Osama’s legacy. We have spent our fortune conducting a traditional war against an untraditional enemy.  However, in the end, it was the spy vs. spy approach that killed Osama bin Laden. Nevertheless, couldn’t the cost of these two misguided wars be considered his legacy because that was the excuse the Bush administration gave for waging them? Of course these wars were not paid for by taxes (we borrowed the money from China), so now we are in debt up to our eyebrows and the national and world economies are teetering on the brink of another collapse. Could this economic catastrophe also be part of Osama’s legacy, although most certainly an unintended one?

On the other hand, who would have thought President Bush would act so irresponsibly as to conduct two wars for which he had no money? Come to think of it, since the US and world economic collapse was probably the last thing on Osama’s mind, it’s probably not right to say that it is Osama’s legacy. Let’s call it George Bush’s legacy; that would be more accurate.

So what did Osama accomplish? He made us mistrust each other more than usual. He temporarily increased the uncertainty in an already very uncertain world for everyone, including his own misguided followers.

Compared to George Bush, it’s not much of a legacy is it?

 

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There is a very old joke that goes something like this: a man is walking along the street at night when he sees another man on his hands and knees crawling around beneath a street light. He walks over and asks the man, “Did you lose something?”

“Yes,” the man replies, “I lost a quarter.”

“Oh. Well, just where did you lose it?” the first man asks.

“Over there,” the other man says, pointing down the street towards the darkness.

“Well then, why in the world are you looking here?” the first man asks.

The man on his hands and knees just looks up impatiently and replies, “Because there’s more light over here!”

Today, the U.S. military in Afghanistan is in the midst of a major battle. The target of the coalition (mostly U.S.) forces is the Taliban in Helmand province – a Taliban stronghold. The U.S. Marines are attacking with full force and driving the Taliban out of the cities and into the hinterlands of Afghanistan. The idea is that this will allow the Afghan government to exert more control over Helmand. It will also help destroy the opium crop, which is said to be a way the Taliban raise money.

I suppose it is easy to forget, in all the turmoil of war, that it wasn’t the Taliban who attacked the U.S. It was Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.  At least that’s what the NSA says, based upon their communications intercepts that preceded the 9/11 attack.

Apparently the people of the Netherlands have come to the conclusion that this war with the Taliban doesn’t make a lot of sense. They are going home. Their sentiments are not much different from a lot of Europeans, and that has Secretary of Defense Gates worried. He says the European anti-war mentality is a danger to peace.

Dick Cheney was right about only one thing in his entire life. When we first got into the war against Al Qaeda he said it would have to be a different kind of war, a clandestine war. He also said we wouldn’t be hearing much about the war because it would be waged in secret. He was wrong about the second part, we hear about the War on Terror all the time. But he was right about the first part – this kind of war has to be different. It’s not the kind of war an army can win. It has to be more like a police action – a secret police action. Maybe a CIA kind of thing or a job for something like Israel’s Mossad.  It’s simply too easy for a nimble organization like Al Qaeda to evade a slow-moving army or the Marine Corps. That has been effectively demonstrated for the last nine years in Afghanistan.  Pretending that the Taliban is our real 9/11 enemy doesn’t help in countering the true threat from Al Qaeda.

The would-be captured terrorist Najibullah Zazi has said recently that he was close to launching a new attack on the U.S. It’s worth noting that his capture had nothing to do with the U.S. Army or Marine Corps or Air Force or Navy.   Al Qaeda is planning more attacks – not spectacular attacks like 9/11, but smaller ones – deadly but smaller.

One must ask: is our attack on the Taliban really an effective way to fight Al Qaeda? The answer has to be: “No”.  The problem we have is that this is the type of fighting our military is trained to do, but warfare has changed and we have not adapted to the change. We still haven’t learned the lesson of Vietnam. You can’t fight unconventional forces in a conventional way. The tactics of World War II, even though they were gloriously successful, just don’t apply here. But, that’s what our generals are trained to do, so we do it.

We’ve been lucky. Our FBI or CIA or some other quasi-police agency caught Najibullah Zazi. However, there are probably others like him: sleeper agents and spies. Infiltrators.  The question our military should be addressing is how to counter these clandestine agents because that is the real military threat we face. The Taliban do not pose an imminent threat to America. We all know are not nice people, in fact they seem to be really nasty people.  But they are on the other side of the world and their primary concern is Afghanistan. Al Qaeda’s primary concern is America. The Taliban is not Al Qaeda, and that is exactly the problem with our defense against Al Qaeda.

We’re like the guy looking for his lost quarter under the street light.

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If there is one thing that everyone in America seems to be able to agree on, it is this: we are in big economic trouble.  After having a near miss with a second Great Depression, we are unsteadily moving towards a state of continuing economic uncertainty.  It’s not just us; it’s the whole world. Spain, Greece, and Portugal are now in deep economic trouble and if they default on their debts the euro and the entire European economy could be endangered.  China, now the prime manufacturer for the world, and the principal holder of U.S. debt obligations, is mostly concerned with their own economy, not ours; except that their economic fate is inextricably linked to ours. If we go down, they go down.  That is something they would really like to avoid, so they are taking their own self-protective steps to strengthen their currency and prepare for a second round of economic bad news.

Everyone, almost everyone anyway, seems to feel we spent a huge amount of money in forestalling the complete meltdown of our banks. We did this with borrowed money – money that was essentially borrowed from China and will eventually have to be paid back.  The problem is that we are very close to being in a situation where as a nation, we spend more than we earn. And it looks like this imbalance will only get worse in the coming years.  It is a recipe for economic disaster.  We either have to earn more or spend less. The problem with earning more is that our multinational companies have outsourced so much production to China and other countries that it is now really hard to earn more money. We just don’t make enough stuff here anymore. So what’s left? Cut expenses. Spend less.

Immediately, the right wing goes after the entitlement programs, since, philosophically, they have always opposed them. Slash Social Security, cut Medicare and Medicaid, eliminate anything that smacks of helping people – and let’s don’t even talk about universal health care. On the left we hear about different types of cuts. Recently President Obama said he wanted to cancel NASA’s plans to go back to the Moon.  He also wants to tax the banks and the rich folk (makes sense – after all, that’s where the money is).  There is one thing no one talks about. The big 800 pound gorilla in the room, the Emperor’s unmentionables, the biggest ticket in the U.S. budget, the Mother of All Budget Breakers: Defense Spending. There – I’ve said it.  That which must not be said. The ledger which must not be looked at. The sacred amount, the holy of holies which must not ever be questioned: it is this one little item that is bleeding the life blood from our country.

Whoa, pardner. Wait just one cotton pickin’ minute, Glenn Beck might say. How do you figur’ that?  How come I’m not going after that big money waster, Social Security or Medicare? Well, for one thing, I’ve already paid a lot of money into the Social Security/Medicare Ponzi scheme and I want my money back some day. And I’ll get it too, and so will you, just so long as the population keeps growing – the key ingredient to any Ponzi scheme.

Defense spending, on the other hand is different. A lot of it goes to defense contractors who get their contracts via lobbyists and cozy relationships with our Senators and Congressmen.  They build all sorts of useless things like B-1 bombers and nuclear powered aircraft carriers.  They spend a lot of money on their own version of entitlement programs like huge pensions for retired admirals and generals, free medical care, free or low cost housing, food, clothing, schooling, transportation, recreation, you name it. Talk about Socialism, talk about entitlement programs, this is the King of Entitlement programs. We all know this, but it’s unpatriotic to say so, so we keep quiet.  For a great many people, the military is a jobs program, except for those unlucky few who wind up in actual combat, of course. The thing is that vast numbers of military people never come within a thousand miles of combat. The truth is that most of our weapons are never used. The truth is that the military is the largest old boy network in the country.  It is a system where you make alliances for life.  These alliances are used to get jobs in industry after people leave the military or in the government itself where you can find groups of people working in the same office who “just happened” to know each other in the service. We all know that – we just don’t talk about it.  It’s not patriotic to say that.  The thing is this: having a nice and safe, cushy career in the military and then retiring to a fat job in government or industry while collecting a fat pension is not the same thing as dying for your country in the rocks and sand of Afghanistan. But we act like it is.

The simple fact is this: our military budget is horrendously bloated.  Our military spending is way out of line. We buy the wrong weapons.  We have the wrong strategies.  We have the wrong number of people.  We are wasting enormous amounts of money on our military budget, and like a drug addict or an alcoholic, we can’t stop.  Defense spending is our sacred cow. It must not be questioned.  It must not be cut. It is killing us financially, but we won’t and we can’t admit it.

Here’s something to think about: how many years has it been since 9/11? It’s getting close to nine years. So how is our military doing fighting this war against terror? Well, let’s see….we bombed Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban, but we didn’t get Bin Laden. We invaded Iraq and killed Saddam Hussein, but we didn’t get Bin Laden.  We’re back in Afghanistan but we can’t seem to locate Bin Laden. Nine years our military has been fighting yet still we face possible terrorist attacks from Al Qaeda every day. Does this mean our military isn’t up to the job? No.  It means that this is not a job for the military.  Remember when Cheney said that the war against terror was going to be a clandestine war and we wouldn’t hear much about it? Well, that was about as close as Cheney ever got to the truth. We are not going to defeat Al Qaeda with armored columns or stealth bombers or aircraft carriers or 20,000 Marines. We don’t even know where they’re hiding.

After World War II Europe pretty much disarmed. We didn’t. Neither did the Soviets. President Reagan drove the Soviet Union into bankruptcy by accelerating the arms race. Massive military spending didn’t help the Soviet economy, it killed it. Even so, we don’t learn.  We continue on, preparing to fight multiple simultaneous wars on different fronts, like the Cold War never ended.  We’re spending enormous amounts on the War on Terror at the same time.  More than anything else it is this unconstrained defense spending that is destroying our economy.  Why? Because the military does not create a product. Money goes in but no consumer products come out. It isn’t a business. Money spent on defense is not an economic stimulus, it is a burden on the taxpayer – a burden we have to acknowledge and sensibly reduce. This doesn’t mean we stop fighting Al Qaeda, it means we have to fight in a more productive, intelligent, and clandestine way – but not the way of the military.

Our problem is that we cannot even talk about this. Our problem is that we have a corrupt system that continually increases defense spending in ways that are not useful or effective. Our problem is that, more than anything else, defense spending is killing our economy and we won’t admit it; we are afraid to admit it.  Our problem is that defense spending has become our sacred cow and it has become unpatriotic to question anything about it. Even so this will end, either when we get up enough courage to honestly debate defense spending or when our economy simply collapses and defense spending, like everything else, simply withers away.

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There’s a word for this: bureaucracy.  The U.S. narrowly escaped a devastating airborne disaster on Christmas Day and today President Obama unveiled his plan to assure us that such things won’t happen again. Unfortunately, his plan is a plan “of bureaucrats for bureaucrats”.  It preserves the holy pecking order of the government civil service.  Information gleaned by operatives in the field is passed up the chain to be reviewed and analyzed by experts.  Judgments are made or not made.  Alerts are issued or not issued. Nothing has fundamentally changed.  The bureaucrats are happy. Order in the office has been preserved.

Consider a hypothetical case: you are in a public building and you see a fire in a corridor.  You look around for a fire alarm, but there are none.  You look for a fire extinguisher, but there are none. You run to a nearby office to tell someone about the fire, but you are told you have to stand in line if you want to make a report.  Fortunately, our real world isn’t like that.  Buildings have fire alarms and anyone can pull a fire alarm.  The first person who sees a fire can warn everyone and call the fire department at the same time. In the world of the CIA, DIA, DHS, and the unending list of government acronyms and abbreviations, there are no fire alarms. A CIA agent can’t pull one and warn the world about anything. It has to go through the system – a system that demonstrably does not work.

President Obama has issued a stern order: make the bureaucracy work better.  Right.  This isn’t going to work.

The President said the buck stops with him. That does not help.  It might sound good, like in the old Hollywood movies. But it doesn’t help.  No organization can be victorious with incompetent people manning critical positions.  Imagine that the New York Yankees lost the World Series last year and their manager said, “The buck stops with me. We are not planning to trade anyone. We’ll keep the same team, same positions for next year. I take full responsibility.” Right.  That’ll work.

Here is one simple piece of evidence: the father of the man who tried to blow up the plane told the CIA that his son had become radicalized and that he was a threat to the U.S. The CIA person who received this information should have been able to pull the fire alarm.  He should have been able to put this man on the Do Not Fly list in a heartbeat – maybe two heartbeats.  He should have been able to put this man on a bunch of other lists too, but he couldn’t.  That’s because our anti-terrorism system is a gigantic bureaucracy.  It can never be successful fighting an agile enemy like Al Qaeda. President Obama does not understand that. Neither does anyone else in the self-sustaining bureaucracy of the bloated U.S. government.

Meanwhile, it seems that the facts surrounding the whole underpants bomber incident are morphing as the government bureaucracy passes the papers back and forth from desk to desk.  Take a look at the official accounting of what happened on the plane. This was published today, just a few hours ago. It says that after the terrorist failed to set off the bomb that he was restrained by the flight crew until the plane landed.  Gee, that’s odd.  I thought I had heard that this Dutch guy had leaped over four seats and tackled the terrorist and put out the fire with his bare hands  and that everyone on the plane was cheering for him and calling him a hero. At least that’s what it said in the Washington Post a couple of days after the incident. So what ever happened to good old Jasper Schuringa, the guy who saved everyone? Why has President Obama studiously ignored him? No medals for heroism? No key to the city of Detroit from the Mayor? Nothing?  Not even a thank you?  Are we too embarrassed to admit that the plane was saved by a Dutch passenger and that if it wasn’t for him almost 300 people would have died?  So, officially, Jasper doesn’t exist anymore and it was the flight crew (the stewardesses?) who saved everyone?

The problem with the President’s approach is that it is the approach of a politician and a bureaucrat to a practical issue.  The bigger problem is that the President doesn’t realize that that is a problem.  The thing is this: the system in place is horribly flawed. It didn’t work. The system did not work and the people in the system who might have tried to override the system did not do so. These people are at fault. These people are the only ones who could have saved the day because the system, demonstrably, does not work. They failed. They should be replaced with people who are not afraid of taking decisive action. Instead the President has chosen to protect these failures in our system. He says the buck stops with him.  He doesn’t want to blame anyone.  Fair enough, President Obama, if that is the best you can do then maybe it is time for you to step down.  We don’t need a manager who can’t make the tough decisions, we don’t need Generals who deal in warmth and platitudes.  We need a hero who can cut the Gordian knot of our vast, and hamstrung, homeland security system and get the job done.  Many of us thought that you were that hero.  Now, I’m not so sure. My sword-wielding hero is looking more and more like an average politician. (Let’s not even get into the health thing.)

The answer to the murderous terrorism of Al Qaeda will never, ever be found in protecting incompetent civil servants or in papering over the byzantine workings of Washington bureaucrats. Don’t we all know that?  Mr. President, don’t you know that?

I know, Mr. President, that you are fond of quoting President Truman when you say: “The buck stops here”, but Mr. President, you need to make major structural changes in our homeland security system.   The system does not work well enough.  Surely, you can see that.  If you would just rather not get entangled in such a messy affair, perhaps you might also ponder another one of President Truman’s quotes: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”.

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Here we go again.  Another lunatic tries to blow up an airplane and the Department of Homeland Security once again responds in a way that can only make one wonder if they give an IQ test for employment that specifies not a minimum IQ, but a maximum IQ – maybe around 60.  This sad department of the federal government, first made infamous by its completely inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina, and then made even more infamous by its failure to recognize or own up to its own failure in Katrina, is now in knee jerk response mode to the recent attempt to blow up a Delta/Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Unfortunately for the people at Homeland Security, and thus unfortunately for the American people, this agency – and the government as a whole, with all its CIA, NSA, FBI, DIA, and who knows what other “intelligence” agencies lurk in the shadows of DC –  doesn’t believe in following up on tips from people who know we are in danger. Like for example: the father of the lunatic who tried to blow up the plane told the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son was a nut job and that he feared his son was about to do something radical. So, the lunatic gets on the plane with no problem – no questions asked, just “welcome aboard”. Homeland Security is asleep on the job – as usual.

Hours later, as the plane was preparing to land, the guy gets out of his seat and go to the aircraft lavatory – apparently to rig up the bomb in his pants.  Well, as everyone knows, his pants caught on fire but he didn’t blow himself up in his seat. The plane landed safely and now everyone is saying the same thing: what happened here? Who’s minding the store? Apparently not the Department of Homeland Security.  However, in an effort to convince us that they are not stupid, but instead that they are actually morons, Homeland Security has quickly instituted a rule that you can’t get out of your seat to go to the bathroom an hour before the plane lands. That’s because the lunatic did go to the bathroom an hour before the plane landed.

So here’s a question for the morons at Homeland Security: suppose another lunatic does the same thing but instead of getting up to go to the bathroom an hour before landing he gets up an hour and fifteen minutes before landing? Or what about an hour and a half?  An hour and forty-five minutes?

Is this the best that these inept people can do? Couldn’t a bunch of fifth graders come up with better ideas?  Couldn’t a bunch of sixth graders done a better job of responding to Hurricane Katrina?  Couldn’t a bunch of eighth graders have figured out a way by now (eight years after 9/11) of communicating information about threats to America? Doesn’t anyone remember that the government had plenty of information about Al Qaeda before 9/11 but the various departments all had their own turf and they fiercely defending that turf in the unending DC turf wars? Don’t they recall that it was these turf wars that prevented the sharing of information between departments, and that was one of the major reasons that Al Qaeda was successful on 9/11? Haven’t they figured out a way yet for crucial information about an imminent threat to the security of the U.S. to be relayed to the appropriate people in the government?

Apparently not.

And that is the continuing fiasco and failure that we inappropriately call the Department of Homeland Security.  The blind leading the blind.  Just remember, the next time you fly on an airplane – you can’t go to the bathroom.  That’s Homeland Security’s plan for keeping you safe.

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