I've said it before, I'll say it again: Spengler was an optimist.
Nicholas Schmidle, "After Mehsud: The rest of the Pakistani Taliban won't be such easy targets". August 7
EIGHT-HUNDRED words, once a week, and Douthat earns 1/50 of his salary reviewing a popcorn muncher and the oeuvre of Judd Apatow. Have they started looking for his replacement yet?
Here's a tricky moral quandary for ya: Why do our self-appointed public moralists get to self-appoint which issues are moral questions and which aren't? It's like making the Hall as a .300 hitter because you were allowed to require every pitch be a fastball, belt-high and outside. (Douthat, if memory serves, wrote a piece after the murder of Dr. George Tiller in which he took about six paragraphs before interrupting his anti-abortion screed to brush aside the actual murder as a "terrorist act". Retribution for some sins is best left to the terrestrial courts. How convenient for you.)
Oh, and, you want the moral lesson of a Judd Apatow flicker? You walked right past it. It came when the girl in the window told you it would be 10 bucks to get in.
Okay, so it's an academic complaint; I don't really care if Ross Douthat shows any moral, or intellectual, consistency. And what would it matter if he did? Still, I couldn't help thinking, when I saw the Times puff graphic, what it would be like to live in that Bizarro World where a Monday Douthat addressed, say, the weekend celebrations after the CIA, and our freedom-and-nuclear-technology-loving pals the Pakistanis, managed to robokill yet another Top Terror Official (sheesh, and I thought Indianapolis Public Schools administration was top heavy. SPECTRE board meetings must need satellite communications just to reach the other end of the table.), along with his wife, his father-in-law, and whomever else was in the area, and orphaning his four daughters.
About a month ago I saw a Military History Channel piece about the mission that brought down Yamamoto's plane. It's one of the most remarkable missions of the Second World War, crossing 400 miles of ocean at wave-top height, navigating with a pencil, to arrive at the precise moment when the attack was advantageous. And the men who were interviewed, some forty-five to fifty years after, from the looks of things, had clearly dealt with the question of whether the assassination of one man was a legitimate act of war. They were personally in the clear; they were airmen following orders, and the order had come from the President. The man they hunted and killed was the author of the attack which had killed thousands of their fellows, and plunged them into war, a plan which, so far as they knew, had included an absence of warning. Sure, they'd probably been asked about it several thousands times by then, because we used to raise such questions, and it was a ticket home for those involved, because we were desperate our code-breaking ability not leak out, so those men knew other other fliers died in their places. Still, they'd internalized the argument; such men are rarely filled with false bravado or dismissive of violent death, not like so many guys in the typing pool back home.
And today? My title refers to Slate's original headline; in all the excitement of the opening of Incessant State Fair Train Whistle Blowing, Fourteen Hours Per Day, Now For Seventeen Days! season I forgot it was unlikely "We Got Him" would still announce the thing come Monday morning. "We" got "Him", him who not one American in a thousand could have identified last Thursday, who only one in four would have gotten in a multiple choice exam. The "him" who takes his place in a long line of Second-in-Commands of the Month, a list which, by the way, requires us to believe everything the government, and the CIA, chooses to hand us. Not to mention immediately forgetting the results:
So, does Mehsud's death mean the end of the Pakistani Taliban? Not by a long shot. The Taliban are a regenerative militia; historically, the death of one Taliban member has only spurred others to avenge the fallen one's death. Several commanders are waiting to take over from Mehsud, including Qari Hussein, Mehsud's ruthless deputy, who is thought to be most responsible for training suicide bombers. Whether Hussein or another lieutenant takes over, they'll be hoping to strike back....
But in the war against al-Qaida, where symbols, DVDs, and audiotapes carry so much weight, Mehsud's death is a huge victory for both the United States and Pakistan. I imagine his elimination might be comparable to that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—even though al-Qaida in Iraq continued after Zarqawi, it was never the same. Without their near mythical leader (whose stature had grown as a result of all the assassination attempts he had dodged), the Pakistani Taliban may find themselves in a similar, declining trajectory.
Note, by the way, how quickly, in death, Mehsud became a card-carrying al-Qaeda, much in the way, oh, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi became one by crossing the border into Iraq. Juan Cole doesn't quite agree that al-Zarqawi's death had some earth-shaking effect on the Iraqi insurgency (Motto: Now With More Insurgence!), and he points out, into the bargain, just how much good the Sharon government bought itself with its program of political assassination in Lebanon.
And, look, I don't really want Ross Douthat injuring that big Hahvahd brain of his thinking outside his own skin. And I'm not issuing one of his half-sentence denials of personal responsibility. Mehsud was a bad man, but he was our problem only because we followed George W. Bush into a quagmire, cheered on by the sort of people who imagine Bill Clinton securing the release of two jailed American journalists is a Civilization-threatening act of insufficient aggression. Schmidle has to pronounce him guilty of killing US personnel in Afghanistan just to keep up our fifty-year tradition of not knowing who it is we're fighting, and thus avoiding altogether the little matter of why we were in range in the first place. The question isn't whether he deseved killin'; the question is why we continue the shadow dance which says this can possibly mean anything at all. Why are we still listening to David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, and Bob Woodward discuss all this? Why are they still theologically convinced--at least in public--that the white upperclass in the United States can still figure out what's Right, Wrong, or Crosswise, let alone impose that successfully elsewhere?
Okay, we're in Afghanistan because it's difficult to imagine an American administration, c. post-WWII, which would have had the political courage not to invade immediately, or to try anything much different than Bush's "turn over everyone on our list by sundown or we blow you into remaining in the Stone Age." More of us are there now because Barack Obama knew he couldn't become President without supporting at least one of our two current wars, and being noncommittal, at least, on greenlighting more. I know how we got there. What I can't figure out is how we got to the point where we no longer seem to care that we should know better by now.