The Smart Candidate
I just finished the second part of Suskind’s book (I’m a slow reader) and it’s overwhelming: the places he takes us, the people he interviews, the analysis he comes up with. All of these different forces clashing in an attempt to either stabilize or destabilize the world. Destabilizing is the easy part, of course — any fool can knock over a sand castle — which is why the process of stabilization is so fraught. The way it's been politicized hasn’t helped.
Here's the bad news: the experts agree that you can’t patrol it all. They live in fear of the nightmare scenario, “The Armageddon Test,” for which the second part of the book is named: Terrorists exploding a nuke in a large western city. The Brits have their experts trying to prevent this, the U.S. has theirs. One gets the feeling that an undue burden has been placed on these men while the rest of us dick around. Never have so few done so much for so many watching “American Idol.”
At one point, Suskind interviews Saad al-Faqih, a surgeon from Saudi Arabia, who is on the U.S.’s list of those who have provided material support to al Qaeda, and who says that the goal of 9/11 was “always to create deep polarization between America and the Muslim world,” and that 9/11 mastermind Ayman Zawahiri “understood precisely the cowboy passions of the American establishment.” Another money graph:
Of course, not everything went as planned. The swift fall of the Taliban and the elimination of nearly 80 percent of al Qaeda’s manpower in Afghanistan surprised both bin Laden and Zawahiri, who expected America to fall into a quagmire as the Russians had in the 1980s. By the middle of 2002, they were both dispirited, on the run, living in caves, with their top lieutenants scattered. “Which is why Iraq was the greatest gift,” Saad says. “It proved to the world that it was, in fact, always America’s mission to get Muslims, especially when your stated reasons for that invasion were shown to be hollow.”
As for the future? Al Qaeda’s goals include what Zawahiri calls “the pacification stage,” where the U.S., disconsolate, withdraws from the world. Suskind doesn’t really buy the possibility of this, although the U.S. has always had its isolationist elements; then he asks himself this key question: “I wonder what bin Laden and Zawahiri are hoping the United States won’t do?”
Exactly. What is the smart response? So far, our response hasn’t been smart at all.
Which leads me to the “60 Minutes” broadcast last night. Steve Kroft interviewed Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Kroft came at them, and specifically at Barack, with a lot of frivolous questions — beer and bowling — and then he came at him with some frivolous but volatile questions. Was he tough enough for the job? Why didn’t he mention that he was black during his acceptance speech? Shouldn’t he be further ahead in the polls than he is? For this last, Obama said:
This is gonna be a rough, tough battle. The Republicans don't govern very well but they know how to campaign. And, you know, what I would expect is that it's gonna take-mid-October before a whole lot of people start making up their minds. And there's nothing wrong with that. This notion that somehow this should be a cakewalk and I should just walk into the election with a 10, 15 point lead, I think doesn't give the American people enough credit. They wanna get this thing right.
To the black question:
Yeah, I think people noticed that.
As for tough enough?:
The fact that I don't go out of my way to call people names, or try to take cheap shots, and that I try not to throw the first punch, but to see if I can find a way to work together with people, sometimes leads people to underestimate what I've got. I think it's fair to say that if I couldn't not only take a punch, but occasionally throw one, I wouldn't be sitting here.
And I came away thinking: This man is so smart. No matter what Steve Kroft threw at him, he turned it into a smart response. Which is exactly what we need. During the next four years, when the worst elements of the world throw what they can at us, we need the smart response, instead of the response, full of cowboy passions, that plays right into al Qaeda’s hands.