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Dec. 30 2009 - 11:14 am | 748 views | 2 recommendations | 18 comments

On Drama Queens and Cool Cals

UNSPECIFIED LOCATION - DECEMBER 28: In this ha...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Suddenly, underwear are in the news in a way unknown since Britney Spears got out of a limo without them. And, as with Ms. Spears, suddenly things are laid bare in a way with which none of us are entirely comfortable.

What’s been laid bare is a division: between those stuck in the Bush paradigm (where terrorism is or ought to be a cause for a rolling state of panic) and those transitioning into the Obama paradigm (where terrorism is a fact of life to be managed as coolly and rationally as possible).

To the Bush paradigmers, this incident has been a confirmation of everything they detest about Obama — his refusal to engage in chest-thumping rhetoric, his refusal to treat terrorism as the defining issue of our age, his propensity to look at things in terms of costs and benefits as opposed to good and evil.

For the Obama paradigmers, this incident has been a confirmation of… well, exactly the same things. Except they (OK, we — let’s be straightforward about where my sympathies lie here) voted for Obama because of these qualities.

What’s also been laid bare by the undie incident is just how out of touch with reality the Bush paradigmers have become — and just how full of hypocrisy they all are. Suddenly, refusing to hold a press conference the day some ass clown sets his tighty-whities on fire is a major lapse in national security. Suddenly, a passenger thwarting an Al Qaeda plot is no longer a chance to celebrate the heroism of the Western individual versus the nihilism of the radical follower (as it would have been for the Right during the Bush years), but instead is an opportunity to whine about the fact that a man might be called upon to defend himself and his fellow citizens instead of Big Brother taking care of everything. Suddenly, a refusal to act like cowards and quake before the mighty Al Qaeda is a sign of weakness instead of a sign of strength.

Let’s be clear: The Bush paradigm failed, and it failed big. We invaded two Middle Eastern countries and achieved little but to create an endless stream of new Al Qaeda recruits. This isn’t to say Al Qaeda would have atrophied otherwise, but it is to say that “state sponsorship” has proved less the key to terrorism than the existence of failed states. And, unless America can conquer every square mile of failed state on the globe, terrorist networks will always have a “safe haven” of one sort or another. Thus, the entire idea of a “war on terror” has proved a farce. The hawks already want to march on Yemen — good luck to them, and see them in Somalia soon.

Meanwhile, those of us who realize terrorism can’t be “defeated” in a “war” have had to shift to a different way of looking at the world. There will never be an end to, or a victory in, a “War of Terror” in our lifetimes. Al Qaeda will never sign an armistice in the aisle of a transatlantic flight. So, it’s no longer sensible — or even sane — to talk about a “war.” To talk about holding detainees until “the end of the war.” To talk about instituting liberty-crushing security measures until “the threat has passed.”

Whatever we do now we have to be ready to live with forever. And some of us, at least, aren’t ready to live in a state of 24/7 terror and panic and hysteria for the rest of our lives. For that reason, Obama is our president.

For the drama queens, life is meaningless without a never-ending struggle between good and evil. For the rest of us, terrorism is a problem to be managed and fought down to an absolute minimum — so that the real business of life can go on.

The problem with the Obama approach, unfortunately, is that an attack may — let’s face it, will — one day happen again. Bush avoided subsequent attacks by luck just as Obama avoided the Christmas Day attack by luck. But one day we all won’t be so lucky, the bomb will ignite, and then where will we be? Will such an attack be Obama’s fault because he didn’t bang the podium loudly enough and demand the Yemen terrorists “dead or alive”? Of course not. But we’ll be told the Obama administration didn’t take the terrorist threat “seriously” because they refused to invade another country or hang a prisoner on the wall by his balls.

And, so, I applaud the way the president has handled the terrorism issue so far, and I pray we don’t see a successful attack on his watch — as much for the obvious reasons as for fear of what demagoguery might spring up in its wake.

Terrorism is not now, and has never been, an existential threat to the United States. As we’ve discussed, the threat of dying in a terrorist attack is far smaller than the threat of being hit by lightning. No one’s arguing we shouldn’t be vigilant against terrorism — and airline security in particular is a farce, a problem that must be solved, and (frustratingly enough) a problem that can be solved. As is the problem we seem to have of keeping people — even people who’ve been flagged by their own families — on the proper watch lists. But these are law-enforcement problems and intelligence problems. They are not a war.

The war is in our minds, between being scared of our shadows and keeping the true threat in perspective. It’s not easy of course — I’m a New Yorker, every day I get on a subway that could be bombed, that rumbles under what used to be the World Trade Center. But is there any true solution other than to keep a stiff upper lip?

Fear is a powerful weapon — and there’s no reason the American president should act as a force multiplier for Al Qaeda.


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  1. collapse expand

    RE:What’s been laid bare is a division: between those stuck in the Bush paradigm (where terrorism is or ought to be a cause for a rolling state of panic) and those transitioning into the Obama paradigm (where terrorism is a fact of life to be managed as coolly and rationally as possible).

    Old chap, when the planes blows up….and we are free falling out of the plane to the ground 30,000 feet below….is that a cause for panic….or should we be thanking God for the wonderful, cool president we all have?

    Save lives…fly naked

  2. collapse expand

    Somewhere during the Bush years the Democrats (Howard Dean?) figured out that the right response to Christian fundamentalism was not Secular humanism but Christian humanism. Obama was the first Dem since Jimmy Carter to tout his Christian faith, to reclaim the ground ceded to the Christ Hijackers like Bush and Falwell. How very far short of that faith Obama has fallen in his rhetoric and his actions concerning this latest Crusade.
    Ryan, just what is it about Osama bin Laden’s articles of war that you think are non-negotiable, that require that we hunker down for perpetual war? That we stop persecuting Palestinians? That we stop our foreign adventures? That we stop gaming the oil markets?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/nov/24/theobserver
    It’s true that on a behavioral basis we should not be rewarding our attackers, but that’s gonna have to be water under the bridge at this point. Or, good “Christians” that we are, we could pursue perpetual war.

  3. collapse expand

    Yawn. Nobody wanted a “rolling state of panic” under the Bush paradigm. And there certainly wasn’t any panic. 90% of the country went about their lives as if the War was a TV show. They still do. You just have to say that to justify opposing him in the face of his success in preventing post 9/11 attacks.
    I think a great measure of Obama’s failure is how often his worshippers bring up the name “Bush” while defending him.

    • collapse expand

      Post 9/11 attacks? Like Anthrax, the London bombings, the Madrid bombings, or the destruction of the Golden Dome- the one that damn near precipitated civil war in a “pacified” Iraq? My God, you Right-wing Extremists don’t know anything. And the worst part of it is, you think your ignorance is Virtue. Sit down. Get out of the way. Your side bungled the job of American security, just like it bungled the economy, & the deficit.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    NCfrom, if you don’t believe Bush was effective in protecting Spain and the UK, I guess you’re right. But he was only President of the U.S., not Emperor of the World like our current President.
    Face it, Obama is a typical Lefty pacifist without the first clue as to how to deal with our real world enemies. His vanity and venal nature will prevent him from bringing in people who know better than he does, so we’re stuck with 3 more years of a leaderless military. Don’t think Al Qaeda hasn’t noticed.

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    I'm a freelance writer and blogger based in Brooklyn, NY. My background is mostly in politics. I've worked on the editorial boards of the New York Sun and New York Post. In 2006, I wrote a book, "The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party" (Wiley). I've also done my share of freelancing, for places like the Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Reason, and RealClearPolitics.

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