Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Bad Arguments

In today's Foundation for the Defense of Democracies News & Notes Cliff May wrote something that did not sit well with me:
BAD NEWS IS NO NEWS? FDD's Andy McCarthy notes that The New York Times reported on the plot at JFK airport on page 37 on Sunday. He notes:

Page One, meanwhile, features such cutting-edge news as: "In a New India, An Old Industry Buoys Peasants" (about brick making), "After Sanctions, Doctors Get Drug Company Pay," and, of course, "Fingers That Keep the Most Treasured Violins Fit." Good to see the Upper West Side still has its finger on America's pulse.

First off, the Sunday New York Times, especially the front section, is oftentimes planned well in advance of the Sunday it is to appear. Criticizing almost any major national newspaper for its Sunday edition not having a lot of hard news on the front page is kind of, well, ignorant. Or willfully dishonest. You choose. And never mind the conceit of deciding to pick on other news stories, as if India's economy isn't something of a big deal, as if medical ethics are something not to be worried about and as if every newspaper in the country has not, at some point or other (read: almost every day) included soft news on its front page. No, I'm instead going to emphasize a story that the Times did cover the next day: "Paperws Portray Plot as More Talk Than Action." Uh oh -- maybe not so good for self-righteous knee-jerk blatherers. And these lines are not going to help:
But the criminal complaint filed by the federal authorities against the four defendants in the case — one of them, Abdel Nur, remained at large yesterday — suggests a less than mature terror plan, a proposed effort longer on evil intent than on operational capability.

(Ms. Mauskopf noted in her news release that the “public was never at risk” and told reporters that law enforcement “had stopped this plot long before it ever had a chance to be carried out.”)

At its heart was a 63-year-old retired airport cargo worker, Russell M. Defreitas, who the complaint says talked of his dreams of inflicting massive harm, but who appeared to possess little money, uncertain training and no known background in planning a terror attack.

“Capability low, intent very high,” a law enforcement official said of the suspects.

So what we have is a group of people and one in particular with self-important ideas about what they might accomplish were money, logitics, time and expertise not barriers. Scary, but maybe not gnashing our teeth, j'accuse against the "mainstream media" scary.

This leads us back to Andrew McCarthy's blistering but largely nonsensical screed at National Review Online. In fact, let's look at McCarthy's column a bit more closely. I'll block quote his words and then will respond.

War is about breaking the enemy’s will. Having laid bare the sorry state of our brains and our guts, jihadists are now zeroing in on the will’s final piece: our hearts.

I'd love to say that I hope that the rest of the article is not this execrably written. But of course I absolutely hope the rest of the piece is this execrably written. What fun would it be otherwise?

That is the central lesson to be gleaned from Saturday’s news that four Muslim men have been charged with plotting to blow up John F. Kennedy International Airport, and with it much of Queens.

Really? That's not the lesson I draw, and presumably I'm on McCarthy's side, at least broadly speaking. (This is the time for full disclosure -- McCarthy is the director of the Center of Law & Terrorism at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. I was a faculty fellow with FDD in 2003 and have continued to maintain informal ties with the organization since.

We now learn that for radical Islamists, lovers of death, the heart is the jihad’s most coveted prize. Tear it out, and you get to kill not once but twice. So says 63-year-old ringleader, Russell Defreitas, whose nom de guerre is, of course, Mohammed.

I'm a little bit worried that he is taking this heart metaphor too literally. He then quotes Defreitas:
Any time you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to do to the United States. To hit John F. Kennedy, wow!... They love John F. Kennedy like he’s the man…. If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It’s like you can kill the man twice.

Jihadists are bad. There is no doubting that, which is why few sane people doubt it.
Defreitas, er, Mohammed is a naturalized United States citizen. He is another splash in that gorgeous mosaic of American Islam — the one over whose purportedly seamless assimilation the mainstream media was cooing just a few days ago, putting smiley-face spin on an alarming Rasmussen poll.

The courteous thing to do would have been to have explained why that Rasmussen poll was so alarming and why the "mainstream media" was so wrong. I, for example, would like to see if "seamless assimilation" is McCarthy's phrase or if it is the media's. I have my suspicions. I guess I'll never know. I was able to track this down, but it does not argue what McCarthy says it argues. Again -- the courtesy of letting us know what you are talking about would be appreciated. Thanks.

Alas, Defreitas/Mohammed turns out to be the part of the story the press dutifully buried in paragraph 19: He is that nettlesome one of every four American Muslim males who thinks mass-homicide strikes against civilians, like the one he and his cell were scheming, are a perfectly sensible way to settle grievances.

Wait -- every media outlet that produces printed words "buried" the story in paragraph 19? Is this hyperbole? Is there a specific story to which he is referring? Plus, why the word "nettlesome"? unless someone has used that word you appear to be placing it in the mouths of others. That seems dishonest. And since the USA Today story I just liunked discusses the one in four figure, and since the USA Today is nothing if not meainstream, and since no reasonable person believes that suicide bombing is a "perfectly sensible way to settle grievances," who exactly is the target of the ire dripping from this paragraph? (Note: I've no idea if ire drips. It might ooze. Or fester. I'm unclear of its viscosity.)

Does this mean he never really assimilated during his long journey from Guyana to treason against the adopted country he so abhors? Not hardly. For that one in four Muslim males turns out to be in pretty much the same place as one of every two members of the United States Congress — already tacking toward two of every three as we look ahead to September. All are content to let Islamist savagery carry the day.

Three questions: 1) Did he really just use the phrase "Not hardly" in an article in a major American intellectual journal? (That question is rhetorical -- the answer is yes.) 2) Did he really just compare the one in four Muslim males who embrace terrorism to half and approaching two-thirds of Congress? (It's rhetorical -- the answer is, yes, he did. That's pretty fucking bold.) 3) Did anyone else have to read that paragraph three times to get any sense of what he was trying to say? (See my opening salvo re: execrable writing).

Militant Islam, you see, is mustered in Iraq, where al Qaeda — the inspiration for Defreitas and his cohorts — has called America out. Like Defreitas & Co., Osama bin Laden and his ranks see themselves in a world war between the United States and a vision of Islam shared by tens of millions. (Think one-in-four, writ large). Iraq, they have decided, is their frontline, though very far from their only line. Everywhere, America is their target. Everywhere, terror — the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent men, women, and children — is their weapon of choice.

Well, first, militant Islam is not only, exclusively, or even largely mustered in Iraq. A sign of this? The subject of your freaking article. He apparently is "mustered" in the United States. Osama bin Laden? Not in Iraq. Otherwise this is cut-rate Victor Davis Hanson hypermasculine prose determined to tell us what a bad ass the writer is when he's not sitting behind a keyboard. (You may recall that I sometimes have issues with Hanson as well.)

For the new Democratic Congress and its growing wake of jittery Republicans, that turns out to be a choice worth living with. Oh yes, they’ll sputter about how barbaric and unsavory it all is. But, like those one in four Muslim males, they’re prepared to let terror rule the day. That’s the plan: Al Qaeda blows up things and people; we leave, grumbling all the way home about civil wars and intractable hatreds between the Religion of Peace’s murderous sects; and al Qaeda triumphs … with bin Laden reminding his acolytes: See, I told you, they’re a paper tiger — make it bloody for them and we win.

I'd love to be able to focus on the substance of the argument, which is pretty shoddy. But the writing just keeps distracting me. His first line of the paragraph says that Democrats and some Republicans are living with a choice. What is the choice? Where has he indicated that these people are looking at two options and weighing them? Where the hell is the NRO editorial staff? Meanwhile, this conservative tactic is beginning to piss me off -- agree with every single element of their argument or else you are not only wrong, you are "prepared to let terror rule the day." It's odd how McCarthy and his ilk are prepared to let Osama dictate our policy when it is convenient for them. It also fascinates me how more and more Americans are beginning to question some of our policies in Iraq and elsewhere and yet the logical conclusion that some of our Ultimate Fighting Champions of the Keyboards can draw is that all of those people are willing to coddle terrorists.

Naturally, we’ll tell ourselves they’re not winning at all. They want Iraq? Let ‘em have it. Just like — when they killed enough of us — we let ’em have Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1993. Who, after all, needs these hellholes?

The Lebanon-Somalia argument has some merit, I suppose. But unlike those situations, we have stuck it out in Iraq for quite a long time -- a lot longer than in either Somalia or Lebanon. Longer than we were involved in World War II or Korea. So while in the general contours the analogy might make some sense, it really is fairly poorly applied in this case. Plus, does leaving Iraq really mean that we would be giving up waging war or otherwise containing Jihadists, terrorists, what have you? It seems pretty daft to place the world in these categories in which remaining in Iraq to the bitter end is the only gauge of seriousness.

Except … militant Islam doesn’t just want the hellholes. It wants everything. It will take the hellholes. For now. But don’t think for a second they’ll be appeased.

True for what it's worth. But since when does leaving Iraq mean that we are going to let them storm Jones Beach, or goosestep down Newbury Street, or roll tanks down Rodeo Drive? And what of the reasons for Iraq's chaos? In what possible way has this administration earned our trust in him to the point that we ought to blindly follow his policies?

The appetite grows as it feeds. Jihadists won’t stop until they break our will. Give them Somalia and they want the World Trade Center. Give them Iraq and they want JFK … and Fort Dix. They’re coming for us, they’re only too delighted to tell us they’re coming for us, and still we’re stunned when their insatiable hatred draws a bead smack in the middle of our shrinking comfort zone — this time, where a thousand flights move 125,000 people every single day.

First off, turn off the automatic cliche generator for a few minutes, will ya? Second, what on earth is the parallel between Somalia and the World Trade Center? Third, what is this idiocy that if we leave Iraq we are ready to yield JFK or Fort Dix? (And how little respect do you have for the troops at Fort Dix to think they would lose it? Why do conservatives hate our troops?) Would it kill you to stop making dumb arguments? Are you being paid by the dumb argument? If so, the day this article appeared was a profitable one, sir.

It wasn’t merely on the flights and the unlucky infidels that Defreitas and his confederates set their sights. The complaint filed by the government explains that the “brothers” wanted to do “something bigger than the World Trade Center.” Defreitas had worked at JFK. He knew its ins and outs. He wasn’t interested in the passenger terminals — that would be child’s play. He homed in on the fuel tanks and pipelines, thousands upon thousands of flammable gallons. Enough to outdo September 11. Enough to decimate the economy. Enough to make of Queens what Ahmadinejad vows to make of Israel … and, eventually, America.

Yes, scary that. But, as the Times article I linked to above indicates, almost surely unworkable even on a smaller scale than his mildest delusions imagined. Whatever happened to realistic assessment of threats with the understanding that wasting resources for pie in the sky ideas takes them from actual threats? Why has the conservative insurgency chosen to run headlong from competence?

Defreitas and his fellow jihadists, most haling from Guyana but with ties to Trinidad’s ruthless Jama’at al Muslimeen (the Muslim Group), wanted to do their part in what they unflinchingly called “the war for Islam.” They wanted to kill JFK, and kill us. A second time.

Yes. And they had virtually no chance of succeeding. None. And they have been caught. So how, exactly, is this an object lesson for remaining in Iraq? My head is in actual physical pain from the illogic.

They know there’s a war out there. Not just Iraq or Afghanistan, but Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb — jihadists versus civilization. Global. For us to win, it will not be enough to stabilize Baghdad, sow democracy and empower moderates. It’s about breaking the enemy’s will, as they are working feverishly to break ours.

Poorly written, but fine as par as boilerplate goes. Nothing we don't know, of course. And at least in this paragraph he's not implying that those who disagree with him are akin to Jihadists. So he's got that going for him. Which is nice.

Thanks to excellent police work, this time they were stopped. But there will be a next time, and another. The jihadists know what’s at stake. Do we?

Yes, in fact, I think we do. And I think that honest debate and discussion, and not demonizing those who disagree with your foreign policy prescriptions, might be the best way to continue to protect America and our allies. Your piece, however, is not an example of honest debate. And seriously -- it is very poorly written.

No comments: