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Monday, March 11, 2002

 
--- 2001-09-13 Flashback: Great Opportunities vs Terror ---

[In observance of the semi-anniversary of 9/11, this reprise of an article posted on The Fray, 2002-09-13. This copy retrieved from a working draft, no longer on Fray archives, may contain minor editing variances from the original post. This piece is on the upbeat side of the ledger ... the piece to follow is more foreboding.]

Enemies vowed "the streets of America will be awash in blood!", and so they are: "blood centers say there is an overflow of blood supply", with impatient donors spilling into the streets. Great, what next?

Forget rubbing out the international terrorist conspiracy. The world is simply not organized with terrorists lined up on one side of the ball and targets on the other. Terror isn't an enemy, it's not even an "ism" -- a system of thought -- it's just a tool. And it can't be rubbed out ... the harder we rub, the more seeds we scatter.

By nature, the Strong are few (and not always just) while the Weak are many. Terror is a desperate recourse, and will be reinvented ad hoc, ad infinitum by stubbornly popular lost causes. But terror does go in and out of style, and we can help usher it out -- not by creating martyrs, but by creating high-profile failures.

A project like the 9/11 attack takes major investment of time, money, planning, indoctrination, secrecy, opportunity and human sacrifice. If it knocks down buildings without deflecting our course in world affairs, it's a costly failure -- and its architects are losers.

A landmark exercise in terror often leads its sponsors into decline. Sympathizers recoil in revulsion or fear of retribution. We now enjoy an unprecedented opportunity to encourage this natural dynamic, isolate our foes, peel away support, loosen weak links, and penetrate or otherwise compromise their networks.

Terror invariably occupies one peripheral corner of a wider web of forces allied in sentiment -- hotheaded factions aligned on aims but not tactics, most of whom would never perpetrate such acts but are reluctant to betray the cause by interfering. In the aftermath of an overt act, the adjoining web of support thins out pretty fast.

Terror picks up allies of consequence, those who share nothing but an adversary in common. Fewer such interests will now find this bank-shot leverage worth the trouble, and many saw their own assets buried in the rubble. Among other considerations, the interests of all oil states and all industrial powers coincide in World Trade.

Terror uses allies of convenience -- smugglers, forgers, mercenaries, bribe-takers, common criminals large and small. These resources are not entirely without scruples, are professionally averse to intense scrutiny, and will unplug any connection too hot to handle.

Terror has allies in commerce -- global firms who will sell any available tool to any willing buyer, who remain neutral or even helpful in hope of contacts and preferences elsewhere. Most such firms had major assets in lower Manhattan, and all are capable of calculating the ROI on a decadal world-wide depression.

Terror exploits allies of complacency -- the underpaid gatekeeper, the clerk who rubber-stamps routine irregularities, the dispatcher who downgrades "out of territory" reports ... and the budget-cutter who defunded the very border agent posts that intercepted Ahmed Ressam and foiled the millennium bombings.

Beyond these problems of attrition, there will be defectors. The fanatic footsoldier is dedicated, motivated and incredibly naive. He spends years engaged in fantasy -- a bold strike against the hated enemy, a resulting chain reaction. When the actual blow is struck, the ideological enemy's human face becomes real. When the dominoes fall the wrong direction, many a True Believer regrets and repents. And every leader has enemies in his own ranks.

By virtue of being powerful, envied and misunderstood, America attracts enemies . Maladroit use of force would cultivate the next generation of fanatics, but artful manipulation of events -- and their perceptions -- can accelerate the natural process of decay in enemy camps.

How shall we proceed at street level? Defy terror! Congregate! Go to work! Go to school! Go to church! Shop! Vote! Invest! Our world will never be safe, so build it and rebuild it as many times as it takes! Sing, shout, laugh! Make love ... and war! Talk, argue, call each other names, bet on the big game, sing the National Anthem ... and play ball!