On the Road, Talkin’ War

Daesh terrorists hit Paris while my buddies and I were in California on a motorcycle trip. We talked about it during stops, and were glued to our motel room TVs at night. I felt, and still feel, that what happened in France has the potential to swing our upcoming presidential election to the Republican candidate, whoever that turns out to be. If Daesh manages to carry out a successful attack in the USA, I’m virtually certain we’ll have another Republican president. The thought does not fill me with glee. With this in mind, I posted a comment to Facebook during a break at a freeway rest area:

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There wasn’t much context to that post, and some didn’t know what I meant by it. Was I advocating troops on the ground in Syria? Carpet bombing ISIS-occupied towns and cities? No. I’ll try to explain:

In the wake of 9/11, brave Americans turned out to be not so brave. We cowered. We turned against Muslim-Americans and immigrants in general. Congressmen warned against terror babies. We cheered the Patriot Act, passed by a cowardly congress. Bill of Rights? You can have it, so long as you keep us safe from brown terrorists. Except for the Second Amendment, of course, because white terrorists are just fine with us. Who cares if any of it made a lick of sense? It’s what the majority of Americans seemed to want.

Here we are again, with what seems to be a majority of Americans crying out against scary brown people, led by Republican candidates, their friends in congress, and the national media. Some are even advocating internment camps. The cowards are in full cry again, and cowards vote Republican (mind you, I don’t say Republicans are cowards, but that cowards are Republicans).

Personally, I agree with President Obama’s military strategy against ISIS. I’m confident our national security agencies are burning the midnight oil, keeping a close eye on groups and individuals identified as even remotely likely to mount attacks. But the cowards among us (cheered on by the media, red state governors, and posturing GOP congressmen) are howling for roundups and retaliation, and next November—if in the meantime President Obama doesn’t take some kind of decisive, highly visible action against ISIS and the Arab states behind ISIS—they’re going to flock to the polls to vote for their bully-boy GOP candidate. Many Democrats and progressives, on the other hand, might stay home out of pique if Hillary gets the nomination over Bernie, which she will.

A recipe for disaster? Damn straight, and multiply everything by ten if there’s a Daesh attack on American soil between now and then.

I mentioned Obama’s military strategy. It’s a shame the military is so shy of the media, because the extent of our ongoing operations against ISIS is rarely reported on. Part of this is the media, which gives unlimited page space and air time to Obama’s opponents because it’s sexy and sells; part of it is that there are very few (if any) reporters embedded with American military units in the Middle East, as there were when we invaded Iraq in 2003. And part of it, to be fair, is that we don’t click on headlines about American air strikes against ISIS. Even when the media does pass on information about American military action in Syria and Iraq, we don’t pay attention, because boring, and anyway how does any of that affect us here at home?

For the past 15 months, President Obama and our military have waged a daily campaign against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria. We have conducted 6,353 airstrikes (2,658 of them in Syria). Our coalition partners have carried out just 1,722. None of this gets much attention in the media, and when it does it’s generally ignored. Republican congressmen and presidential candidates say Obama’s doing nothing, and our stenographic media passes on this misinformation.

Over and over again, right-wingers and Republicans ridicule our president for drawing a red line with Syria’s Assad, threatening military action if Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, then doing nothing once he did. That’s not how I remember it. What I remember is Assad crossing that line, immediately followed by Obama asking for congressional approval to strike Syrian government targets. Since no Republican congressman wanted to be seen working with Obama, congressional approval never came. In fact, ever since Obama took office, he has had to conduct military action in the Middle East without any participation by congress, which, under our constitution, can alone declare war. And if we’re at war, then where is congress? Absent without leave, because they’d rather wait for Obama to make a mistake than work with him as the constitution requires.

Without congress declaring war, there’s probably little President Obama can do beyond what he’s already doing, and that is a dilemma for whoever the Democratic candidate turns out to be. Some of my Facebook friends say I shouldn’t worry, that by November 2016 American voters will have forgotten Paris and it won’t have any effect on the election. True, we quickly forgot the post-9/11 terror attacks in London and Madrid, but we sure as hell haven’t forgotten 9/11, which continues to drive national policy and politics today.

You have to factor in this: Republican politicians (though they will never admit it) inwardly cringe over the fact that 9/11 happened under a Republican president, not a Democratic one, and will bend over backwards to conflate overseas terrorist attacks like the one in Paris with our own 9/11 and try to blame Obama. The media will play along, and a lot of people will come to believe it. Those people will vote.

Yes, it’s a dilemma, but if Obama wants to give Hillary or Bernie a good shot at winning the election, he needs to pull off some kind of visible, decisive victory against ISIS. And for damn sure, he needs to ride herd on the various intelligence and law enforcement agencies until his command, lest they start withholding information from one another again, as they did during the lead-up to 9/11. If Daesh or Al-Qaeda does pull off an attack on American soil, IMO it’s all over for Hillary and Bernie.

And that’s what I meant.


Another thing we talked about when we were talking about war:

Apparently Bernie Sanders stated, during the recent Democratic candidates’ debate, that he regarded climate change as a greater threat than terrorism. I heard that on the news and thought no more about it, because isn’t that obvious? You might as well say the sky is blue. But at breakfast the next morning, my riding buddies—who are both conservatives—were incredulous that anyone would take climate change seriously. I listened to them for a few minutes and couldn’t contain myself. I said, “Of course Bernie is right … climate change is a far greater threat than terrorism, or damn near anything else.”

Right away they both went after me, and it was the way they went about it that got my attention. Because here’s what they did: they challenged me to prove there is such a thing as climate change. “How do you know the climate is changing?” “Are you a scientist?” That sort of thing, which is a variation on the “Where you there?” question creationists deploy against educated people who defend the theory of evolution, which in turn is a variation on the timeless question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”

Now, these guys are my friends. I’m happy to have conservative friends. It’s racism I draw the line at, and my friends are not racist. But when they insisted I prove climate change to their satisfaction, I knew two things right off the bat: one, no one could prove climate change to them; two, they didn’t really expect me to try. They were letting me know their minds were made up, and there was nothing I could say that would alter that.

But anyone who lives outside the bubble of Fox News and AM talk radio knows climate change is a fact. Whether we believe it’s caused by human activity is a side issue. Whatever is causing it, global temperatures are rising. Parts of the Middle East are getting dryer and hotter, and before long (many say it’s already happening) will not be able to sustain the number of people now living there. The same thing is happening across North Africa and the American Southwest. At some point aquifers will be exhausted and millions of people, displaced by drought, will be on the move. What’s happening now with Syrian refugees will be completely forgotten when entire regional and national populations are displaced. It will cause wars, and countless numbers of people will die. It will be, quite literally, the end of the world for millions.

A greater threat? Barring a world-killing asteroid, it is the greatest threat.

Bernie, whatever you do, don’t pull a Dick Durbin and back down.

Update (11/19/15,9:27 PM): added minor clarifications to show that my intent is not to bash Republicans in general, or my friends in particular.

© 2015, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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5 thoughts on “On the Road, Talkin’ War

  • Just tell ’em you read Scientific American and ask if they do. If they don’t, the conversation is over.

  • Re: President’s Middle East strategy. General George C. Marshall once said, “If you get the objectives right, a lieutenant can write the strategy.” I believe it is safe to say he had a clue about strategy. Objectives are based on policy or, in the case of the military, the mission. Both are created and set by the President. I guess I missed it, but what exactly is the President’s Middle Eastern policy?

    Re: Intelligence failures. In the case of 9-11, the investigating panel discovered that the FBI and the CIA were not sharing intellegence because they were forbidden to share by law. BTW, the CIA totally missed the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991. Talk about an intelligence failure! But no one gave a damn because that one broke our way. Heads should have rolled on that one.

  • Well, the notoriously conservative Wall Street Journal thinks the president has a strategy: Obama Sticks to Strategy on Syria, Islamic State.

    Waiting to hear what Obama and Hollande come up with during their meeting today. I suspect we’ll continue to fly airstrikes, but with relaxed restrictions. Currently, I understand, most of our aircraft return to base with unexpended weapons, because the crews can’t get clearance to attack out of fear of civilian casualties. Maybe that’ll change.

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