Roger L. Simon is right (he’s always right); leadership is crucial, and when leadership is rotten the whole body politic rots and stinks. Our biggest problem is rotten leadership. Until and unless we fix that, we’re gonna have lots of trouble. Of all sorts.
SIDEBAR: This is why I have no patience for so many of my friends who constantly say the president has the right to choose his team (whether a new “czar” or a new judge or justice or a secretary of something or other). If the choice is bad, we should say so and fight it. Good leaders are worth fighting for and bad leaders have to be challenged.
BACK TO SERMON: Roger understands the way the system works by saying that the FBI’s failure to look carefully and long enough at Tamerlan-the-terrorist has a lot to do with our leaders’ reluctance to call a terrorist a terrorist or to accept the fact that radical Islamist terrorists exist. The people who do counterterrorism shy away from seeing such terrorists, or potential terrorists, because if they point to such people, several bad things (from the investigators’ and analysts’ standpoint) happen. First, the policy makers aren’t going to do anything; second, the investigators and analysts aren’t going to get promoted, or rewarded with bonuses; third, they may get sued or sent to the bureaucratic equivalent of Siberia.
So when the president had to gnash his teeth before pronouncing the T-word, it had real consequences. Language matters a lot. Ask Ludwig Wittgenstein, who would probably chuckle and ask you right back, if there’s an Islamic terrorist in the forest, but we can’t say so, can it possibly fall?
Way back in the days right after 9/11, I wrote that we were going to have a hell of a problem dealing with religious-inspired terrorism. You can’t really do a decent job of intelligence gathering without taking a hard look at the mosques. That’s where a lot of radicalization and recruitment takes place, and many mosques all over the world have served as key links in the transmission belt from the terrorists’ home base to the terrorists “in the field.” But the First Amendment protects religious speech, even when it incites the faithful against others. So it’s a problem we need to address. But we can’t begin to address it if we can’t say the words “Islamic terrorist” or “radical Islamist terrorist.”
This a tough problem, and when the president acts as chief censor it makes things even worse. The rot spreads and stinks.