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“Deny Terrorists Their Power”: Terrorism’s Threat Lies Only In Its Psychological Effect

I have not seen the video.

Not saying I won’t, but for now, I’ve chosen not to. To rush online and seek out cellphone footage of two fanatics with machetes who butchered a British soldier in London on Wednesday, to watch them standing there, hands painted red with his blood, speaking for the cameras, would feel like an act of complicity, like giving them what they want, like being a puppet yanked by its strings.

Sometimes, especially in the heat of visceral revulsion, we forget an essential truth about terrorism. Namely, that the people who do these things are the opposite of powerful. Non-state sponsored terror is a tactic chosen almost exclusively by the impotent.

These people have no inherent power. They command no armies, they boss no economies, their collective arsenals are puny by nation-state standards. No, what they have is a willingness to be random, ruthless and indiscriminate in their killing.

But they represent no existential danger. The United States once tore itself in half and survived the wound. Could it really be destroyed by men using airliners as guided missiles? Britain was once bombed senseless for eight months straight and lived to tell the tale. Could it really be broken by two maniacs with machetes?

Of course not.

No, terrorism’s threat lies not in its power, but in its effect, its ability to make us appalled, frightened, irrational, and, most of all, convinced that we are next, and nowhere is safe. Here, I’m thinking of the lady who told me, after 9/11, that she would never enter a skyscraper again. As if, because of this atrocity, every tall building in America — and how many thousands of those do we have? — was suddenly suspect. And I’m thinking of my late Aunt Ruth who, at the height of the anthrax scare, required my uncle to open the mail on the front lawn after which, she received it wearing latex gloves.

I am also thinking of the country itself, which, in response to the 9/11 attacks, launched two wars — one more than necessary — at a ruinous cost in lives, treasure and credibility that will haunt us for years.

Have you ever seen a martial artist leverage a bigger opponent’s size against him, make him hurt himself without ever throwing a punch? That’s the moral of 9/11. The last 12 years have shown us how easily we ourselves can become the weapon terrorists use against us. This is especially true when video footage exists (How many times have you seen the Twin Towers destroyed?). After all, getting the word out, spreading fear like a contagion, is the whole point of the exercise.

That could not have been plainer Wednesday. Having reportedly run the soldier, Lee Rigby, down with a car, having hacked him to pieces with machetes, these men did not blow themselves up and they did not run. No, they spoke their manifestos, their claims of Muslim grievance, into the cellphone cameras of passers-by.

Almost instantly, this was all over television and the Internet. Almost instantly the voices of impotent men were magnified to a global roar. Almost instantly, we all stood witness.

Terrorism uses its minimal power to achieve maximum effect and this is easier than ever on a planet that is now electronically networked and technologically webbed. Our connectivity is an exploitable vulnerability.

But in the end, no, these people cannot destroy us. Can they grieve us? Certainly. But they cannot destroy us unless we help them do it.

Their most lasting violence is not physical, but psychological — the imposition of fear, the loss of security. We cannot control what such people do. But we can control our reaction thereto. So let it be finally understood: From time to time, we will face the desperate evil of impotent men. But the only power they have is the power we give them.

I propose we give them none.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, May 27, 2013

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Terrorism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Ill-Conceived Strategy”: Romney Needed A Foreign Policy Vision Before Going Abroad

Travel abroad for a presidential candidate during the height of campaign season is designed to demonstrate foreign policy wherewithal and a chance to sharpen the candidate’s “presidential” voice.

This strategy strikes me as a mistake in general for prospective presidential candidates. Yet, this strategy is especially problematic absent a distinct foreign policy vision. Traveling abroad gets the candidate outside of the intense focus of the domestic media, allows the campaign to control the story for a few days, and allows for fundraising opportunities. But, these visits are no substitute for definitive foreign policy convictions and a concrete plan of action on the world stage. Instead of making isolated comments in particular countries without a unifying theme, presidential campaigns should describe to international leaders and the American (and world) public how they would handle a crisis, develop trade ties, punish violations of international norms or laws, the threshold for foreign conflicts, and under what conditions they would engage in diplomacy (or not). Foreign policy is, after all, one of the few direct avenues of presidential power where they are less likely to witness resistance from Congress or the public. It is also the issue where most of the president’s time is spent, whether they want it that way or not.

Even without the misinterpretations, missteps, gaffes committed by former Gov. Mitt Romney and the Romney campaign staff, the trip abroad was ill-conceived. The Romney campaign needs to focus their attention and hone a consistent foreign policy message before road testing it.

In contrast, in 2008 as a candidate, then Sen. Barack Obama visited Germany with an agenda: demonstrate that the United States would be, during an Obama administration, an active and cooperative partner in world affairs. Although isolated, the candidate had a goal that went beyond simply reaffirming relations. In a speech in Tiergarten Park, he promoted a new orientation of American international life, putatively as distinct from the Bush administration.

The old saw in politics is that there are no votes in foreign policy. But, given conflicts on two foreign soils, hundreds of thousands of troops stationed overseas, questions about moral uses of military technology, international threats from hostile neighbors, battles over copyright piracy, and the constant threat of terrorism, presidential candidates should make foreign policy an important component of their electoral strategy. Here, words need to speak louder than images.


By: Brandon Rottinghaus, Washington Whispers Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, August 1, 2012

August 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitt’s Olympic Meddle”: Romney Just Can’t Run Away From Fate

So the Republican presidential contender, eager to show off more than gubernatorial experience, travels overseas to bolster his foreign policy credentials. Then, in a TV interview, he blurts out a shockingly ill-considered, if undeniably true, observation that snowballs until the poor guy collapses into an international punch line.

It was a vertiginous fall for George Romney, who, while running for president in 1967, asserted that generals and diplomats had given him “the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get” when he toured Vietnam two years earlier.

And it was painful for Mitt, who had to watch his father’s epic gaffe from afar, while he was over in France struggling to drum up a few Mormon converts.

In their book “The Real Romney,” Michael Kranish and Scott Helman quoted Mitt’s sister Jane as saying the episode deeply affected Mitt: “He’s not going to put himself out on a limb. He’s more cautious, more scripted.”

That’s when Mitt began to build his own sterile biosphere, shaping his temperament and political career to make sure he never stumbled into such a costly moment of candor.

Even though the Mormon doesn’t drink coffee, he has measured out his life in coffee spoons, limiting access to reporters, giving interviews mostly to Fox News, hiding personal data, resisting putting out concrete policy proposals, refusing to release tax returns, trimming his conscience to match the moment, avoiding spontaneity. But somehow he ended up making the same unforced error that his dad did.

It’s like the epigraph in John O’Hara’s “Appointment at Samarra.” You can run from fate, but fate will be waiting in the next town, at the next marketplace.

Even as he angled to appear Anglo-Saxon and obsequiously vowed to restore the bust of Churchill to the Oval Office, Mitt condescended to the nation that invented condescension. The Brits swiftly boxed his ears for his insolence and foul calumny.

Conservatives in London oozed scorn. Mayor Boris Johnson mocked “a guy called Mitt Romney,” and Prime Minister David Cameron suggested it was easier to run an Olympics “in the middle of nowhere.” Fleet Street spanked “Nowhere Man” and “Mitt the Twit.”

Conservatives on Fox News were dumbfounded. “You have to shake your head,” Karl Rove said. Charles Krauthammer pronounced the faux pas “unbelievable, it’s beyond human understanding, it’s incomprehensible. I’m out of adjectives.”

The alarming thing about Romney is that he has been running for president for years, but he still doesn’t know how to read a room. He doesn’t take anything in, he just puts it out. He doesn’t hear himself the way the rest of us hear him.

In the Mitt-sphere, populated by his shiny white family, the Mormon Church and a narrow, homogenous inner circle, Romney’s image of himself as wise, caring, smart and capable is relentlessly reinforced. That leaves him constantly surprised that other people don’t love what he is saying.

We may wince when the blithering toff, or want-wit, as Shakespeare would say, arrives at the Brits’ home and throws his Cherry Coke Zero can in the prize rose bushes. But what drives his gaffes is his desire to preen over accomplishments.

As a candidate, he’s expected to stoop to conquer, to play a man of the people. But he really wants voters to know that he earned $250 million, and not even in the same business where his dad made a name for himself.

So he keeps blurting out hoity-toity stuff to make sure we know he’s not hoi polloi — about his friends who are Nascar owners, his wife’s Cadillacs, how he likes to fire people and how he, too, is unemployed. And he builds a car elevator in the middle of an economic slough.

In his interview with Brian Williams in London, Romney couldn’t resist giving himself the laurels for saving the Salt Lake City Games by analyzing whether the British ones were off by a hair, or a hire.

Then he tried to scamper back to the obligatory common-man script and ended up looking clumsy and the one thing he most certainly is not: unuxorious.

After going all the way to London to see the Olympics, he decides he won’t watch his wife’s mare, Rafalca, compete in horse ballet? He tries to win the political horse race by going to the Games, which are literally a race in which he has a horse, and then feigns disengagement?

“This is Ann’s sport,” Romney told Williams dismissively. “I’m not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it. I will not be watching the event.”

He came across like a wazzock, as The Daily Telegraph called him, using a British insult for a daft know-it-all.

Romney programmed himself into a robot, so he wouldn’t boil over with opinions and convictions, like his more genuine dad.

But if we’re going to have someone who’s removed, always struggling to connect and emote, why not stick with the president we already have?

Better the android you know than the android you don’t know.


By: Maureen Dowd, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 28, 2012

July 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Not About The Gaffes”: It’s What Mitt Romney Says When He’s Thinking

Mitt Romney’s slips of the tongue aren’t the problem: It’s what he says when he’s thinking.

Mitt Romney is getting a lot of grief for the not-so-auspicious beginning to his first overseas trip as leader of the Republican party. In case you’ve been trapped in a well for the last two days, when he was asked by Brian Williams how, in his expert opinion, he thought London was doing in preparing for the start of the Olympics, instead of offering the expected polite banality (“I’m sure it’s going to be terrific”), Romney said something a bit more honest, saying that there were “a few things that were disconcerting” about the preparations. The Brits were not amused, and he got very public pushback from both Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson. It’s all well and good to enjoy Romney’s misfortune on this score. But let’s not forget: The real problem with Romney isn’t what he blurts out by accident, it’s what he says when he has plenty of time to consider his words.

As I’ve written a zillion times, running for president is very difficult, and one of the hardest things is having every word that comes out of your mouth recorded, analyzed, and often twisted around and taken out of context. No one, and I mean no one, can go through that process without saying something that gets them in trouble on a fairly regular basis. Even the most talented politicians had their share of “gaffes.” Barack Obama has. Bill Clinton did. Ronald Reagan did. No matter how good you are, it’ll happen. And if you’re not very good (and even Mitt Romney’s admirers won’t say he’s a natural politician) it’s going to happen even more.

Many of Romney’s gaffes can be pretty easily forgiven. When he said “Corporations are people, my friend,” for instance, he was trying to say that corporate profits eventually find their way to humans. In the case of the Olympic gaffe, other than being undiplomatic, there wasn’t anything inherently horrible about what he said. But if you look broadly at Romney’s rhetoric, what you see is not only that he tells extemporaneous lies quite frequently, but more important, he repeats lies long after it has become clear that they are in fact wrong.

There are plenty of examples; one of my favorites is how for years, Romney has been saying that Barack Obama “went around the world apologizing for America,” a claim that is just false. And the latest example is how Romney has dishonestly ripped from context an Obama quote about how businesses benefit from the collective effort of other citizens and from government. It would be one thing if Romney used his distortion of Obama’s words to needle him in a couple of speeches. But Romney has practically decided to base his entire campaign on it, from making ads about it to printing signs about it, to organizing events around it. And I promise you, neither Mitt Romney nor any sane person who works for him actually believes that what Obama meant to say was that people who own businesses didn’t actually build their businesses. They know what he said and they know what he meant, but they decided that they don’t really give a crap.

And this tendency, far more than all of Romney’s “gaffes,” is what really gives us insight into who he is. Perhaps as president Romney would only lie about unimportant things, and to no greater degree than the average president. But his performance so far suggests otherwise.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 27, 2012

July 29, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Bumpkin-In-Chief”: Romney Promises Libor-Scandal Banksters He’ll Score For Them

Of course Mitt Romney’s arrival in London was awkward. Mitt Romney’s arrival anywhere is awkward.

But don’t think that Romney’s jaunt across the pond has been a complete disaster.

Aside from some public relations missteps, he has accomplished precisely what he set out to do.

Admittedly, the missteps have been serious.

Romney’s bumpkin-in-chief beginning in London was epic: he suggested the Brits had done a poor job organizing the Olympics, violated international security protocols and struggled to keep the names of his hosts straight. Britain’s Sun, a particularly conservative tabloid, went so far as to dub him “Mitt the Twit” on a frontpage that the Brits—and plenty of American Democrats—will dub a “keeper.”

What with an aide making cryptic comments about how Romney has a better understanding than President Obama of “Anglo-Saxon heritage,” nothing about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s step onto the global stage seemed to go right.

Except, of course, for the real purpose of the trip, which was to collect cash from the most scandal-plagued of London’s financial insiders— and to assure the embattled banksters that he would, if elected, use the power of the presidency to protect them from regulation and oversight.

That task Romney managed with the agility of the “vulture capitalist” described by his Republican primary foes.

Within the well-guarded confines of London’s posh Mandarin Oriental hotel Thursday night, Romney met with at least 250 of the top bankers, speculators and financial manipulators in the world—including representatives of Barclays, the bank that recently paid almost $500 million in fines after its officials were charged with providing false information to interest-rate regulators.

Most candidates would have shied away from bankers who were, and are, at the center of the Libor-rigging scandal. But Romney embraced them.

Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond had to withdraw as a co-chair of Romney’s London fundraiser festivities—after Diamond was forced out of his position and then dragged before a Parliamentary select committee for a round of “what did you know and when did you know it” questioning about the filing of false reports and the manipulation of global markets. Embarrassing? Not really. The no-shame-when-it-comes-to-money-grabbing Romney campaign just made another Barclays insider a co-chair, along with representatives of of Bank of Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, Blackstone and Wells Fargo Securities—and, of course, Bain Capital Europe.

What was Romney thinking?

First and foremost, he wanted the estimated $2 million in campaign contributions that the global financiers ponied up Thursday night.

But the Republican presidential candidate came to London to offer the the scandal-plagued bankers something in return for the checks that were delivered in increments of as much as $75,000: reassurance that he really is one of them. And that a Romney presidency would serve their interests.

Referring to the signature Wall Street regulatory reform of the Obama presidency, Romney reassured the bankers that “I’d like to get rid of Dodd Frank and go back and look at regulation piece by piece.”

While he couldn’t quite get the hang of international diplomacy, Mitt Romney was entirely comfortable standing on foreign soil and promising international bankers that, as president, he would take care of them.


By: John Nichols, The Nation, July 27, 2012

July 29, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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