After 9/11, "connecting the dots" became a sport for those attempting to place blame on their political opponents and a the game of obfuscating the connections became a full time profession for some of the guilty. The obfuscators ultimately won the field; bureaucrats are far better at escaping blame and CYA than at actually illuminating their mistakes. It is inarguable that our current world is so complex that it is both possible to find connections where they do not exist and it is also possible to miss connections that should be obvious. Students of Chaos Theory are fond of pointing out that through the magic of complexity, the vortex from a butterfly's wings in the Amazon rain forest can cause a hurricane in the Caribbean. In light of the current chaotic changes taking place, here are a few dots which may or may not be connected but are worth thinking about:
Lets start with The Myth of Multi-Tasking: The Problem of Listening while Driving:
This principle applies to much more than driving while listening.
The problem with multi-tasking robbing resources from one area to devote to another exists at every level of human organization.
Now consider that Gordon Brown, much admired by Barack Obama, has apparently decided that our struggles with those who oppose us (not otherwise specified) is not with an Axis of Evil but with a "Line of Terror":
While the core concept of the “axis of evil” rested on the notion of state-support as the engine of terrorism, the “line of terror” idea appears to rely upon the idea of supporting formal states in conflict with ungovernable and illegitimate subnational units. Brown, who told Pakistani President Ali Asif Zardari that 3/4 of all terror plots in Britain were hatched in Pakistan, announced that Britain would provide training and other assistance to help it crack down on “the chain of terrorism that links the mountains of Afghanistan to the streets of Britain.”
This shift in terminology may imply two things. First, that Brown, in harmony with Barack Obama’s own views, regards Southwest Asia and not the Middle East as the strategic center of gravity of the terrorist threat. Second, that future responses to terrorism will take the form, not of toppling state sponsors of terrorism, but “helping” governments rein in militants. If the military expression of bringing down state sponsors of terrorism was the conventional military invasion, the corresponding mode for the Brown/Obama strategy will be counterinsurgency, aid and diplomacy.
President Bush's conduct of the war on Islamic terrorism included one very good strategy and one very poor strategy.
Invading Iraq and establishing a democracy in the heart of the Muslim World was a very good strategy which, despite the difficulties in implementation, should have a positive long term impact on the course of the war. The potentially disastrous strategy involved a well intentioned desire to avoid the slippery slope that would have led from the 9/11 attacks to a global conflict between Islam and the West. The West chose, and President Bush could not or would not take issue with the prevailing wisdom, to treat Islamic terror as distinct from and in conflict with traditional Islam as practiced and supported by states throughout the Muslim world. This was always an argument that had more realpolitik to it than reality and it crucially caused the West to disarm in the intellectual and information aspects of the ideological struggle with Islamic radicalism. Traditional Islam is a target rich environment for an ideological struggle. The traditionalists are completely inept in dealing with ridicule yet they constantly insist on issuing a stream of ridiculous pronouncements. Yesterday, MEMRI posted a classic of the kind, Yemenite Cleric Abd Al-Majid Al-Zindani Presents "Scientific" Proof that Women Cannot Talk and Remember Simultaneously which includes these two gems:
"When a Woman Talks, She Might Use the Part of the Brain Containing the Memory for Talking – And That's It, The Data is Lost"
Compounding our problems, the West has been in an extended ideological slide of its own. It is not just that our elites have become unmoored from the traditional anchors of our ethics and morality (religion, tradition) but they have adopted as their ideological underpinnings a new variant on the Marxist mantra. We have gone from "to each according to his need, from each according to his ability" to a more nuanced and contemporary "to each according to his desires, from each according to his willingness to donate (sometimes under coercion) his time, energy, and money." This goes hand in hand with the idea, as so eloquently expressed by the open source mavens that "information wants to be free." It is already an item of faith among the younger generation that information is, or should be, free. Most young people of my children's generation have thousands of mp3's on their iPods and yet have paid for none of them. In my own field, Medicine, the idea that the "consumer" should actually pay for their health care has become an outmoded object of ridicule. Now that the idea that "Health Care is a right, not a privilege" has been accepted by all strata of society (imagine trying to refute such an idea in public!), the implications of such an attitude are starting to become visible. Confider this New York Times article about an impending and ongoing disaster, Where Have All the Doctors Gone? Medicare is often held up as the prototype for a well run, government funded, universal health care program. It will not be considered quite so fine when the baby boomers have to wait six months to see their doctor, if they are lucky, and cannot find a Doctor willing to take on new Medicare patients, if they are not so lucky.
America is so wealthy that a large fraction of our population actually believe that everything ought to be affordable to everyone, otherwise it is not fair and must be addressed by the government. How is such a culture going to even recognize what is required to support a complex economy and a working society? How can we expect that those who only know how to want, will understand what it takes to defend our culture. The Obama administration has the opportunity to change the culture of indulgence that we have but if they devote their energies to nonsensical ephemera, like Global Warming, while needing to devote enormous energy and enormous amounts of fabricated money on the economy saving bankrupt business and protecting bankrupt business models, then we are all in for a bumpy ride.
It is true that an Obama administration means that the Democrats will finally take partial ownership of the War on Islamic terror yet the idea that they can or should continue the worst failings of the Bush administration is of concern. Barack Obama is in an ideal position to address the failures of the Islamist model and the successes of the Western liberal model for organizing a society. Unfortunately it is not at all obvious that he actually believes the liberal democratic model is better than the alternatives.
All these dots may only be related in my imagination yet they suggest that the Obama administration is going to elect not to fight ideologically against the Islamists but will try to manage terror using a policing model (with the more unsavory aspcets of the Bush approach, such as extraordinary rendition, simply being hidden and denied) which is guaranteed to never address the actual causes of Islamic terror.
Barack Obama is likely to try to minimize the problem of Islamic terror and as such, will end up facilitating its growth. It has perhaps escaped his attention (he does have a lot on his mind) and the attention of Gordon Brown that their idea of a "Line of Terror" simply replicates the approach that the Palestinians perfected under their Nobel Peace Laureate, Yasser Arafat, one of the great evils of the last century. Allowing Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other "friends" to escape responsibility for the murder and mayhem done in their name in service to the misguided idea that we will then be better able to manage terror, is the single best way to assure the perpetuation of terror. If a tactic works and has little cost, it is sure to be repeated.