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.
To all this, add the refusal of significant numbers of scribblers and academics who, in sync with the president, refuse to admit the existence of the Ts and Is. And add the attorney general, who, like the president, thinks that we are the root cause of most of this world’s basic problems, insisting that it’s all about race. “It” isn’t all about any single thing, but we do need a serious national debate about religious hatred, and especially about jihad. It seems to me we’re not getting there yet.
NEW BUT UNEXPECTEDLY RELATED THOUGHT: The American way of war. We’ve had a few brilliant generals, but we’ve won the big wars because of our amazing energy, strength, wealth, and power. The Germans and Japanese had some fabulous generals and admirals, probably more than we did, but they had no chance. It didn’t matter how many American soldiers, ships, planes, and tanks were destroyed, because there were twice as many the next day. The country turned into an awesome assembly line of fighters and materiel, and we overwhelmed our enemies.
When I read comments about Operation Boston, in which the cops and the Bureau are criticized for overdoing it, I remember the American way of war. Did they have to put an entire city under military rule? Probably not. There were more elegant ways of doing it. But those aren’t our ways, as a general rule. We overwhelm them. And in the end, we won and they lost. Which is what matters.
It isn’t always the best way, you need hardly waste breath trying to convince me. I’m fully convinced. I keep arguing that we don’t have to fire a shot or drop a bomb to bring down our main enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran. All that talk about “keeping the military option on the table” worries me to no end (parents of Marines don’t much like military options). We can do a lot just by pronouncing the right words, like “we want a free Iran,” and “we support the Iranian people,” or “the Iranian regime is our enemy.” Those words would give hope to the regime’s opponents, and it would–as it would have in Boston–improve the quality of our own government’s investigators, analysts, and strategists.
But our leaders don’t say that. It’s not permitted. The rot spreads and the stench intensifies.