La Dolce Vita

A few thoughts from Steven Rockford
Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 30, 2013 9:59AM

"We have met the enemy...

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and he is us!”

Uncle Sam v Uncle Sam 

Pogo’s eloquent statement certainly rings true today.  In America’s ongoing battle in the so-called Global War on Terror (GWOT) we seem to have lost our understanding of our primary objective.  Our main goal is not to be “fighting terrorism”, but to be “ending terrorism.” 

For more than a decade we have concentrated our military and intelligence efforts on meeting the enemy head-on.  Our "anti-terrorist tactics" have morphed into something more aligned with what the civilized world would consider to be "terrorist tactics."  With our emphasis on drone-warfare, torture, rendition and worldwide counterinsurgency operations, a quick look into the mirror should show us that our tactics make us no different than the “terrorists” who we are pursuing.  Our current credo is:   

"Terrorize the enemy, just as they have terrorized us." 

With this view, however, we must understand that the innocent people living in the same geographic and demographic world as our identified enemies will ultimately view us as being “terrorists” just as much as we view them as being the same thing.  For Americans, this is not just a shift in our military and foreign policy, but also a shift in our cultural way of thinking in regard to those who we perceive to be terrorists.  Television shows like Fox’s 24 and movies like Zero Dark Thirty have painted a picture of the villian as being a stereotypical, dark, sinister Arab Muslim, while the hero is always a clean-cut American cowboy (or cowgirl). 

Regardless of one’s opinion on the impact of the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, it is important to remember that this film does indeed have a “global” impact.  Many people in other parts of the world are not viewing this movie from the same “Good Conquers Evil” perspective as the American public.  As Matt Taibbi, in his Rolling Stone article entitled “’Zero Dark Thirty’ Is Osama bin Laden’s Last Victory Over America,” stated:      

“Now we have this movie out that seems to celebrate the use of torture against Arabs, and we're nominating it for Oscars. Bigelow can say that 'depiction is not endorsement,' but how does she think audiences will receive it in the Middle East? Are they going to sell lots of popcorn in Riyadh and Kabul during the waterboarding scenes?” 

We feel that “those people hate us for our freedoms,” while at the same time we feel that we are justified in hating them because of the actions taken by a very small minority of people who live in their part of the world.  It is this mindset that has led us to believe that the GWOT is a perpetual war.  It will go on forever.   

But, does it have to be this way?   

If we could shift our mindset to focusing on “ending terrorism” rather than “fighting terrorism,” there could conceivably be an endgame in the GWOT.  Ending terrorism involves focusing on two major issues: (1) Minimizing blowback, and (2) Normalizing relations with the Arab Muslim world.

Minimizing Blowback 

History has shown that American actions in the Middle East and Afghanistan have led to dire “blowback” consequences:


 President Reagan meeting the Mujahideen at the White House in 1985

By now, it has become common knowledge that it was the CIA that armed, trained and mobilized the Mujahideen forces in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the ‘80s.  Numerous articles and books have been written about America’s part in that effort, including this Washington Blog article which takes us through a step-by-step account of the actions that were taken.  In addition, Charlie Wilson’s War brought this story onto the big screen. 

At that time, our covert actions were considered to be a huge success.  As David Johnston noted in the New York Times in 2003:  

“But in its time there was little dispute that the covert war was one of the most successful C.I.A. operations ever undertaken, a deadly confrontation conducted through a surrogate with the Soviet empire in its death throes.” 

There is also little dispute that the CIA’s arming, training and mobilizing of the Mujahideen (including elements of al Qaeda) proved to be a major part of the circumstances leading up to 9/11.  The blowback from these actions cannot be overstated. 

Today, we must be aware of (and limit) the potential blowback from operations that are currently taking place in the region.  Many young men growing up in Yemen, Somalia and the tribal areas of Pakistan have witnessed the devastation brought upon the innocent members of their families and communities by the drone strikes that are now conducted on a regular basis. 

At the same time, many Arab Muslims are watching the global news and film reports of the innocent members of their communities being tortured (or being rendered to other nations to be tortured) or being indefinitely detained.  These images are burned into their souls.  It is these people who will ultimately seek revenge against us. 

Unfortunately, drones are now a major part of our global military arsenals.  Many countries have, or will have, the capability to use these weapons in warfare for many years to come.  It appears that the United States will not take action to limit their use.  However, there is action being taken by the United Nations to look into civilian casualties caused by drone strikes.  Let’s hope that this will lead to international guidelines regarding acceptable rules-of-engagement. 

Even though the US government has declared that detainee torture has ceased, there is still evidence that suspected terrorists are being rendered to other countries where torture is taking place.  Stopping this practice, along with the closure of Gitmo and other secret detention sites, would greatly reduce the potential for future blowback. 

Normalizing Relations with the Arab Muslim World  

An impossible task?  We certainly can’t expect that our efforts in this area will convert the average Yemeni tribesman into a Wallmart shopper and his wife into an avid fan of Dancing with the Stars.  But, there are steps that can be taken to soften our image in the region.   

The above mentioned Washington Blog article went into detail about the blowback effect of our strong unconditional support of Israel and certain authoritarian regimes in the Middle East prior to 9/11. 

After 9/11, the leaders in our diplomatic, military and intelligence communities took extreme measures to combat the terrorist threat, many of which were not well received by the Arab Islamic community.  The torture, rendition, indefinite detention programs and the subsequent invasion of two countries in the region didn’t bode well with the average members of these communities.  It must be remembered, though, that the tone for these actions was set by a rather radical reactionary group of our leaders at the time. 

Condoleeza Rice at State and Donald Rumsfeld at Defense had no military and little or no previous diplomatic experience.  They both represented the views of the US energy and military-support industries.  Other neo-con decision-makers at the time like Cheney, Bolton and Wolfowitz were spurred on by the hawkish right-wing think tanks to take whatever radical anti-terrorist actions they felt necessary.  And, of course, Bush and his surrogate legal staff were there to sign off on their recommendations. 

Today, our diplomatic and military leadership appears to be less likely to make the same potential blowback and Arab-relationship mistakes made after 9/11.  Yesterday’s confirmation of John Kerry as Secretary of State and the (hopeful) confirmation of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense should set us on the right course for ending the GWOT.  Both men are combat veterans.  Both men are familiar with and respected by the key players in the Middle East.  And, neither man believes that American strength can only be maintained through the use of force. 

We seem to be heading in the right direction.

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Haven't re-read this since it was re-posted, but the following comments were written between my first reading and your withdrawal.

Excellent essay as usual, Steve. But a couple of comments are in order.

Many people in other parts of the world are not viewing this movie from the same “Good Conquers Evil” perspective as the American public.

Many people here in this country who are part of “the American public” are not viewing this movie from the perspective of “good conquers evil.”

I loved the movie…and I did not arrive there. I know several people who saw and enjoyed the movie who are not there. It seems to me that Bigelow went out of her way not to head in that direction…and it also seems to me that some viewers are allowing their understandable loathing of the adoption of torture by Americans to cause them to think that because she did not have people running around with signs proclaiming “Torture sucks”…she was advocating for it.

Any thought that the film advocates that torture was a necessity (or even effective) as a means of obtaining required information is MANUFACTURED by the viewer seeing it that way. It is not there in the film…in any substantive sense of “being there.”

Secondly, although I agree with you that there are intensely negative consequences to “fighting terrorism”…

…since you advocate “ending terrorism” rather than “fighting terrorism”…you ought really to offer some substantive alternatives for doing the former without doing the latter. I ask you: Name five concrete steps that can be taken that do not involve actually “fighting” terrorism and that have a reasonable expectation of working to eradicate it.

I don’t think you can…because I do not think anyone can. It seems to me to be an impossibility. Aside for a throw away line about moving away from “unconditional support for Israel” (which I advocate), I truly do not see anything in your essay to consider as an alternative to what we are doing.

Do you?
You’re right Frank. I too do not think anyone can come up with an alternative for “ending terrorism” without “fighting terrorism.” But I think we’d all agree that “ending terrorism” is a better long term goal than accepting terrorism as being a “never-ending fact of life.”
Definitely, Steven.

Just wish I could come up with some real ideas. I cannot...and honestly do not hear of any coming from anyone else.

We still are a really primitive species...just recently down out of the trees. It was only 150 years ago that we finally gave up slavery!

I once floated an idea that was a bit of fluff...but I am wondering if the germ of an idea can be found in it.


Not saying women can not be as destructive as men...but to be honest, I think they are more loathe to immediately go to muscle. They seem to prefer using brains and persuasion to beating heads.

Or at least, the women in my life have been that way.

Whatever we do, I hope we do it soon. Economic conditions are such that great upheaval seems in in the wings anxious to come on stage. When that starts...all bets are off regarding our unwillingness to destroy our planet in a fit of pique.

Allow me to agree in spades with the major theme here:

As Pogo suggested: We are the enemy.
[r] I rate this for addressing the horror even though you avoid bringing up specific focus on Obama's escalation of war which is a profound omission.

And maybe instead of as much detention and torture Obama has decided annihilating the enemy is much more convenient and efficient to avoid more Gitmos and Bagrams but not if he can cover them up. Impression management not morality is number one with Obama.

With him now you don't just render and detain and torture as much as track the "bad guys" (and is anyone a bad guy who minds that his or her country is being destroyed, their resources plundered, their relatives killed, their lives displaced even to becoming refugees to survive--and if you are a military age kid or simply a tall adolescent you are dead meat because you are immediately calculated then killed -- droned -- as ENEMY-- BUG SPLATS our brave pilots 8,000 miles away call them on the screen) down, you kill 'em all, bad or good guys, and let God sort 'em out. (that is one of those marching military marching chants I believe.)

And then you lie or have your guy Brennan or somebody else lie and claim you only kill the enemy, an "enemy" who deserved it, not just a pawn to be destroyed to plunder a country's oil or gold or uranium or a country next to or friendly with that country that has something worth something and you want it to satisfy your corporate war lords who got you elected twice who are so sociopaths and should be recognized as such to anyone with half a brain cell.

Because you (Obama) have a personality that eclipses your weak and puppet-willing-to-be lack of character. A personality that is appealing thanks to the media and MSNBC propaganda and your own ability and education, and Oprah endorsed you, etc., you lie lie lie to an American people, the majority of which want to believe in you from jingoism or laziness or distractedness and you get away with murder.

Killer Tuesday kill lists. People droned. Then those who attend their funerals droned. As for the whistleblowers in this country calling out reality and obscene levels of amorality, you make sure you twist the law and they get good and locked up and discredited, and you have the media on your side, not discussing them or vilifying them for you. And the big corporate criminals you play golf with or attend lavish parties with. Why not? Nobody seems to be able to stop it so go for it.

And you keep on spreading the wars for corporate profit. The CIA works with the supposed jihadist enemy who killed and maimed our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq but you don't care since they are useful for regime change, except the weapons and money they are getting from you and your allies is having them perpetrate ethnic cleansing on the civilians who were trying to lead happy lives but now they are either killed, maimed or displaced, living in horror if they managed to live.

But you don't care as president nor does most of the citizenry. Some are confused, some are conveniently racists. Some are stupid. Some don't have much character or conscience, either.

How could you avoid mentioning Obama, Steve? Are you part of the personality cult with your selective powerful commentary above?

Eating popcorn at movies? Do you think those countries we have helped find their "democracy" (makes me want to vomit thinking of that big lie) they have something left as modern as movies when we and our death squads and drones get through with them? With our troops gratuitously maimed on hamburger hills from egotistical military brass who go on Meet the Press and no where near danger and from politicians who simply take marching orders from banksters and craven opportunistic corporatists and contractors.

Kerry and Hagel? Both sides of Congress are captured by the corporatists. Kerry has betrayed massively. I heard he made lots of money with the contractors over in the Middle East. WTG, John. Just another sell-out trying to be the white hat against the Republicans. What a knife in the back from someone who as a younger man was a hero. As for Hagel, just cause he is not an absolute toady for Israel, to get elected he will have to become one. Look at how down and dirty Hillary was. Maybe going in she was already, certainly as a toady for Israel. Coming out she is a certifiable war criminal. Her last appearance was minimizing what shouldn't have been!

Heading in the right direction? Michael Moore is defending the Bigelow movie, an absolute propaganda piece for the illegal, immoral actions of our government and especially the CIA. I say the opposite. Whatever the war addiction disease is and the enabling war addiction of our leadership disease is, it seems all the more entrenched.

The new world order is craven and disgusting and it took an Obama to NOT turn our ship of state around but worsen things even beyond Bush and who dreamed that was possible.

best, libby
obl was clear about why he was fighting and publicized his motivation often. he wanted american soldiers out of saudi arabia, first. he got that, technically, when they were moved to kuwait.

but he and his followers, it was and is not monolithic army, are simply unhappy with the hegemony of america in the middle east. they all want america out, support for puppet dictators ended.

but what did america hear from its leaders? "they hate us for our freedom." in fact, this is not as absurd as one might think, for 'freedom' to the masters of america is the military ability to go where they choose, and kill all who resist.

such a 'freedom' can not extirpate 'terrorism,' for resistance to violent occupation of one's land is found everywhere, and the methods of 'freedom' plant new seeds of resistance daily.

if there is a war against terrorism, it began with the overthrow of mosadegh, with the support of saud, with the support of zionism and these three 'successes' generate resistance still. you can not beat this resistance with bombs, or any other violence, unless you commit to genocide. this is the eternal war, that obama hopes can be fought cheaply with drones. he has no hope of ending it, nor hope of winning it.
That's fine, although some people will never, ever like the United States too, and then you make choices.
Relations with the "Arab world" will not be stabilized until the occupation of Palestine (what is now called "Palestine") ends and the United States is no longer the lap dog of Israel. I don't say this rhetorically. We can finagle till the prophet returns, invent drones that are invisible, and fool every non-Arab on earth, but until those people receive the dignity of nationhood, there is little reason to hope.

There's a little break now given the elections but I sincerely doubt if it's enough. Unfortunately, after the nations like Egypt get through their birth pains, it may take having their armies lined up on the border to end Israel's mass psychosis.
Yes, re Palestine, agree with BS above.
Egypt and Jordan had 20 years to do something with the Palestinians, including recognizing Israel and creating such a state, and did not.
Maybe it would help, but that isn't the only grievance in the region either, and not by a long shot, although if I were Israeli, I would finish the fence, a Berlin Wall at the Clinton line, but even the Netanyahu line is only 5 per cent of the land at the 1967 boundary and walk away saying here's your state, good luck, with lots of missile defenses.
The hatred of Israel on this site is amazing, like a Nazi party meeting.
For a very important clear analysis of why and how Obama is destroying the democracy of the USA and the long history of its occurrence see
Excellent piece, Steven. It is no surprise that factions that would delegitimize their opponents here at home would be quick to call their opponents abroad "terrorists" as well whether the term applies or not. The "war on terror" theme worked so well for the right wing on so many levels I know they were sad to see it go, and bringing it back, I am convinced, is why the Right is obsessed with the Benghazi tragedy and the largely semantic question of whether our embassy personnel were, or were not, killed by "terrorists."
Frank suggested that we would have a better world if we had more women involved in leadership. Based on the women in his life. It hurts me deeply to have to disagree, based on essentially all women who have been in leadership roles. Sigh. Based on the men in MY life, men are decent gentle souls for the most part... It's the kind of people who have the disposition to get into leadership who are the problem, and gender seems to be irrelevant.