Tuesday, August 31, 2004

George was right the first time

The President got caught talking out of school in an NBC interview yesterday when he said concerning the war on terrorism:
"I don't think you can win it...I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."
No sooner did Mr. Bush's GOP colleagues hear that typically ill-considered remark than a full-scale backpedaling was in order. Here's George W. today at the American Legion convention in Nashville:
"We meet today at a time of war for our country; a war we did not start, yet one that we will win. If America shows weakness or uncertainty in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch."
Truth to tell, the Prez was right the first time. Terrorism can't be entirely defeated. That's what makes it scary.

It's no different from what the Secret Service used to say about defending the life of the President: no matter how snug the security, a determined maniac who isn't afraid to scarifice himself in the attempt will always be able to accomplish an assassination. It's ugly and frightening, but it is what it is. As long as there are people who will do anything — even at the cost of their own lives — to pull off a terrorist attack, we will always have terrorists we cannot prevent. No possibility of punishment is a deterrent to the person who is willing to die.

And, because terrorists rarely announce their future plans on The NBC Nightly News (or, perhaps more appropriately these days, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart), we will always be in peril of surprise attacks. Think about it: if you got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and decided to blow up your neighborhood Wal-Mart (I'm not saying you should, you nitwit; I'm speaking hypothetically here — put the blasting caps down), and didn't tell a soul beforehand, who could stop you? No one, unfortunately.

Until the day comes that we have precognitives floating in a pool at the police station forecasting violent crimes like Samantha Morton in Minority Report — and you remember how badly that turned out — unannounced acts of terror will continue to plague us, and we will be powerless to eradicate them. All we can hope to do is keep our eyes and ears open, try to learn as much of what the bad guys are up to as we can, catch as many of them as possible in the act...and leave the rest up to the Lord.

I'm no fan of this President, but I do think it's a sad commentary on politics that he can't tell the truth even when it's obvious that he wants to. It should be okay for the leader of the free world to admit that there are some problems that are beyond our power to fix; we'll make ourselves as secure as we can, but we can't expect to wipe out or imprison all of the people in the world who may decide to do us harm. It's a dangerous world out there, and not even the President of the United States, the most materially powerful person on the planet, can promise to make it otherwise.

Sad fact but true: we can't win the war on terrorism, any more than Pandora could cram all the pandemonium back in the box, or than I can get all the Styrofoam packaging back in the shipping carton. The best we can do, as the President alluded, is to try to mitigate the damage, and make mass violence a less attractive option.

It's a shame that our elected officials — on all wavelengths of the political spectrum — can't just be honest and tell us the truth. It's an even bigger shame that if they did, we wouldn't vote to elect them.

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