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The War on Terror & How We Feel

A lot of the rightwing blogs are linking to John Leo's column Democrats and terror which can be summarized as Even that pinko Andrew Sullivan admits that the Democrats can't be trusted to run the War on Terror. Why not? Apparently ecause Democrats aren't sufficiently terrified. This argument, that only the right Truly Understands terrorism, is in itself is a familiar trope of the Bush campaign. But the details of Leo's argument made me feel as though I was reading an op-ed piece from an alternate universe in which Bush had actually concentrated on the War on Terror, instead of settling old family scores and fighting a war more closely related to securing access to a certain natural resource; not to mention creating any number of "friendly" private militias who will be back to haunt us later when their contracts run out. There is a certain kind of blathering punditry that I am sheltered from because we don't have TV access. Last weekend, when we were at a convention, the TV was on in the hotel bar. When Bob Novak came on, my first astonished thought was That man still has a job? I mean, yes, intellectually, I knew Novak was still employed. I even linked to a remark of his a few weeks ago. But it is one thing to notice his comments on the web, and quite another to witness him showing his face in public. Returning to John Leo's column, he barely mentions Iraq -- which is why it seems to come from an alternate universe. And when he does, the view that underpins is the unreconstructed Cheney position, that Saddam was the source of the 9/11 attack. What has Glenn Reynolds -- who led the charge to link to this flight of fancy -- to say about it? Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration seems to exist in another alternate universe, one in which our military never had a chance to capture Osama bin Laden, and therefore has made no mistakes that want admitting, and cannot be held accountable for the fact that bin Laden is still at large. Josh Marshall has been following this remanufacturing of history with a certain predatory fascination that I really admire. William Gibson, who has also been watching Marshall track this down, remarks yesterday:

posted 7:07 PM
How strangely fragile, these days, is our communal grasp of even the most recent history. Josh Marshall links to this Christian Science Monitor account of bin Laden's escape here.

posted 9:18 AM
It never ceases to amaze me, how Josh Marshall can keep this administration's lies sorted, handily enough to cite and refute them, crisply and authoritatively, day after day. This must amount by now to knowing two entirely different versions of history off by heart, the one genuine, the other an endlessly (and indeed artlessly) exfoliating "tissue of sheerest horseshit*"

Here, today, he does it again, skewering the sort of shameless (not to say surreal, grotesque) revisionism that no long even causes our jaws to drop. Myself, were I to daily and directly subject myself to the full blast of ill-crafted lies issuing from the White House, I would quickly grow punchdrunk and confused. I simply wouldn't have the stomach for it. Not so Josh Marshall. Long may he wave.

*Wm. S. Burroughs, 1914-1997

The crux of the story of the Bush administration's failure to capture seems to me the extent to which they subcontracted the capture. Here is my favorite passage from the 3/4/02 Christian Science Monitor piece:

The battle was joined, but anything approaching a "siege" of Tora Bora never materialized. Ghamsharik says today that he offered the US military the use his forces in a "siege of Tora Bora," but that the US opted in favor of his rival, Hazret Ali.

Indeed, Mr. Ali paid a lieutenant named Ilyas Khel to block the main escape routes into Pakistan. Mr. Khel had come to him three weeks earlier from the ranks of Taliban commander Awol Gul.

"I paid him 300,000 Pakistani rupees [$5,000] and gave him a satellite phone to keep us informed," says Mohammed Musa, an Ali deputy, who says Ali had firmly "trusted" Khel.

"Our problem was that the Arabs had paid him more, and so Ilyas Khel just showed the Arabs the way out of the country into Pakistan," Mr. Musa adds.

So of course the Bush administration learned from its mistakes and didn't subcontract so much in Iraq -- no wait, they didn't learn anything. They took a failed policy and ran with it.

It seems to me very peculiar that at this late date Leo is arguing that the success or failure of the War on Terror hinges on How We Feel. John Leo and his ilk are welcome to watch the twin towers fall on their VCRs every night before bed time and to maintain themselves in whatever state of deep anxiety that they like. But the Bush administration feels like pushing military privatization at all costs even in the most inappropriate contexts and lying about it afterwards because Bush doesn't feel like admitting mistakes. I feel we shouldn't have to put up with this.