Monday, April 30, 2007

General Incompetence: Reclaiming the Battlefield

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

811 words.

Terrorism isn't something I worry much about any more. When I take a plane, I pop a Xanax. If I die, I die. Crossing bridges I no longer try to hold my breathe the whole time like I did after 9/11 in the grade school superstition that it would keep me safe, and when I get on a train, I check my seat for coffee spills, not suspicious packages.

It's somebody else's job to worry about all that. Or it should be. Besides the moral issues involved in the fiasco of the Iraq War, daily revelations about the leaders of our armed forces and intelligence services pretty much indicate in terms of sheer effectiveness we've got chimps at the helm, or John Cage maybe, determining policy with throws of the I Ching.

I'm not exactly a hawk, but if we're going to have an army, or secret services, they should work. I have to agree with the Senator from New York, when she said, in the recent Democratic debate, "You know, we haven't secured our borders, our ports, our mass-transit systems. You can go across this country and see so much that has not been done."

Worse, what is being done is usually racist, undemocratic, and in tactical terms, garden variety stupid.

Take my flight back to New York this week. When they were handing out the immigration cards on the plane, I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me.

The whole trip we'd been terribly discrete with each other. What could be worse than a chatty seatmate for 8 and a half hours? Still, he seemed nice.

He spoke French and had a little accent in English that reminded me of this Colombian fag I know. I'd peeked over his shoulder every now and then and looked at what he was reading. It was all about renal transplantation and organ rejection in sensitive immunological systems.

It turned out he was a medical doctor in the last stage of his training. He was from the Middle East, but working in the Mid-West. He had a four-hour layover in New York. When I made sounds of commiseration, he said the delay was on purpose so he wouldn't miss his next flight.

"I'm always picked during their random searches. It's funny." He laughed a little, and said it again, "I'm always picked in random searches." He smiled faintly at how "always" and "random" could occur in the same sentence. "It's funny." So now he sticks in a few extra hours between changes for his pals at Homeland Security.

I could see why they might find him threatening, that striped blue shirt, those slacks that strained a little at the waist, his menacing giggle. Clearly, all that transplant stuff was code.

Everything is, after all. The list I compiled during the flight of things I had to do in the next three days from arguing about bills with the clinic to collecting for an article I'd done for a glossy mag was an SOS of a disgruntled American. I don't need a detonator to explode.

Poor guy. By now, all the aspiring terrorists have names like John Smythe and carefully coiffed blonde hair. The only thing my man does is think about kidneys night and day. When we landed, he called his mom to let her know he was safe. Or maybe that was code for I'll be taking out New York as soon as I get past those losers in customs.

What we should do is detain the generals and politicians that have bungled things so badly since 9/11 that they've created more terrorists than ever.

Last Saturday half the newspapers in the country gave front page space to, "A failure in generalship," an article by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling first published in the Armed Forces Journal.

An army lifer and history wonk, Yingling ripped a new one for the armed services, and Congress, too, for neglecting their duties to prepare for war, and advise the civilian government of the realities pursuing it.

He takes it seriously, that little lieutenant colonel, going after the generals with quotes from every military theorist from Frederick the Great to Augustine and Andrew Krepinevich. I imagine he won't get his extra brass unless somebody wants to show how reformist they are and use a promotion for him as a shortcut.

What he hated the most was silence, generals that knew we were following the wrong course but didn't have the balls to go public with their concerns.

It's only ninety percent their fault. The rightwing in this country marches to whatever tune the president plays, and the left, such as it is, is far too pure to deeply consider issues of national security, much less create a safety net for military voices of dissent.

Leaving the battlefield to Republicans, we deserve what we get.

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