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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife

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The Culture Curve
 
Friday, May 17, 2002  
MORE WARNINGS. Bill Gertz, the Washington Times' excellent national security reporter, provides a more complete listing of September 11 warning signs:

" •As early as 1995, the FBI and CIA were notified by police in the Philippines that Abdul Murad, a pilot and al Qaeda terrorist linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, had revealed plans to fly a small plane filled with explosives into CIA headquarters.
•In late 1998, U.S. intelligence reports said Osama bin Laden was planning strikes on Washington or New York to avenge a U.S. missile strike on his headquarters in Afghanistan.
•Beginning in December 2000 and continuing through the spring of 2001 there was an increase in intelligence "traffic" indicating that bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist group was planning an attack.
"Now, there was a clear concern that something was up, that something was coming," she [Condoleezza Rice] said. "But it was principally focused overseas. The areas of most concern were the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula and Europe."
•That "chatter," Miss Rice said, increased in summer 2001.
The Federal Aviation Administration in late July issued a notice stating "there's no specific target, no credible info of attack to U.S. civil-aviation interests, but terror groups are known to be planning and training for hijackings, and we ask you, therefore, to urge — to use caution," she said."

Even when you combine this information with the information noted below, there's no specific warning of any kind. It simply adds up to a message of "watch out, bad things may happen." I fail to see anything new or explosive in the "revelation" that our intelligence services were aware that various terrorist organizations were plotting diverse ways to do us harm.

We now know that, in response to these vague threats, the Bush administration not only directed that appropriate agencies be warned but also prepared an aggressive new campaign against Osama bin Laden. The "options memo" outlining this new campaign was dated September 10, 2001, and was on the National Security Adviser's desk when the hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center.

Again, compare the general warnings Bush received with the specific warnings Roosevelt had before December 7 (see below). Ironically, as the media engages in Monday morning quarterbacking and partisan sniping, a new battle begins in Afghanistan. The more the media hypes this story, the greater the chance of undermining national morale and perhaps even sidetracking attention from where it belongs -- on current operations against Al Qaeda and future assaults on Iraq.

12:30 PM

 
A LITTLE PERSPECTIVE, PLEASE. As the press (and some Democrats) hyperventilate over the recent revelations that Bush had "advance warning" of September 11, I think it's time to inject historical perspective into the debate. Let's take just a moment to compare what Bush (and the FBI) knew before September 11 and what Franklin Roosevelt and the American military knew before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

What Bush and the FBI knew:

-On August 6, 2001, Bush received a warning that Osama bin Laden's organization might attempt a hijacking. The intelligence community believed that any hijacking would be of the traditional sort (dangerous, but manageable) and may involve an attempt to exchange hostages for Islamic terrorist prisoners in U.S. custody.

-Prior to August 6, 2001, the FBI became concerned that terrorists were training or may train at American flight schools. The FBI did not share this concern with the CIA, NSA or other intelligence agencies and in fact did not even share this concern with the FBI agents were were -- at the same time -- attempting to discern whether Zacarias Moussaoui (the "twentieth hijacker") was plotting to hijack a plane and crash it into a building.

As I stated in my post below, the FBI's failures were significant. However, it is ridiculous to argue that Bush should have known that terrorists were on the verge of a literally unprecedented use of civilian aircraft as missiles in the most coordinated hijacking sequence since Black September, 1970 (when Palestinian terrorists executed a series of hijackings and attempted hijackings). Even when you add the FBI's information into the mix, it would have required extremely imaginative dot-connecting to get to the substance of the September 11 plot.

Now, contrast this with the situation leading up to December 7, 1941:

-By the beginning of 1941, our diplomatic relationship with Japan had deteriorated significantly. We were opposed to Japan's ongoing invasion of China and to Japan's other (known) expansionist ambitions in Southeast Asia. We had imposed significant economic sanctions on Japan -- sanctions that we knew were seriously damaging to Japan's war effort. We had long known that -- if Japan were to attack -- Pearl Harbor would be a likely target. In fact, throughout the 1930s, U.S. Naval Academy cadets were asked to plan for such an attack as part of their education.

-In January, 1941, the American Ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew, sent a coded cablegram to the State Department. Grew described a report that “the Japanese military forces planned to attempt a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor.”

-American forces were usually able to keep track of the location of Japanese warships through the use of radio intercepts. However, in December, 1941, the Japanese fleet went into complete radio silence -- and we lost them. The mystery of the missing ships led to the commander of the United States Pacific Fleet, Husband E. Kimmel, to make the following observation to his intelligence officer, Lt. Cmdr. Edwin T. Layton: Do you mean to say,” Kimmel asked Layton on December 2, “they could be rounding Diamond Head [an Oahu landmark] and you wouldn't know it?”

-At around the same time that we lost track of the Japanese Navy, intelligence officials intercepted a coded Japanese radio broadcast that contained the phrase Higashi no kazeame (East Wind Rain), which we believed to be the "Go" code for an attack.

-The night before the Pearl Harbor attack, Roosevelt himself read a Japanese communication intercept that ordered the Japanese embassy to burn its code books. After reading the intercepts, Roosevelt commented, "this means war." He did not, however, order American forces to prepare for imminent attack.

-On the morning of the attack itself, American destroyers sank at least one Japanese midget submarine that was attempting to infiltrate into Pearl Harbor. The fleet was not ordered to battle stations.

-Later in the morning, American radar operators detected the Japanese attack force on its way to Pearl Harbor. As one historian described: "Early on the morning of December 7, a radar operator in Hawaii spotted the Japanese attack force and sent a message to Lieutenant Kermit Tyler at the Fighter Control Center about unusual activities to the northwest. Believing that this was caused by a flight of B-17s that were arriving in transit to the Philippines, and due from the mainland, Lieutenant Tyler told the radar station to "forget it," and he did not pass the report on to others higher up in command."

Although a small lunatic fringe of Americans believed (and continue to believe) that Roosevelt knew of the specific Japanese Pearl Harbor attack plan in advance and failed to warn the military because he wanted America dragged into war, few historians give those theories any credibility. The historical consensus appears to be that America suffered a devastating and preventable defeat on December 7. However, virtually no one believes that Roosevelt was a poor or incompetent war leader as a result of failures and unheeded intelligence warnings -- warnings much more specific than anything received by Bush or the FBI in the days and weeks before September 11.

If we judge Bush by the same standards we judged (and continue to judge) Roosevelt, then the verdict of history will be a clear and resounding "not guilty." Even if we judge Bush by a higher standard, the verdict is still clear. We did not have advance warning of the 9/11 attack. At most, there was a failure to communicate and a failure of imagination. I won't go quite as far as Andrew Sullivan and argue that this is not a story, but I will say that it is not nearly as significant as the mainstream media hype machine is leading us to believe. Bush simply does not bear responsibility for the success of the September 11 attacks.

7:23 AM

Thursday, May 16, 2002  
AN EXAMPLE OF A HEADLINE BURYING THE REAL STORY. The Washington Post and New York Times (and virtually every other paper in the country) are leading today's news with the headline: "Bush Was Told of Hijacking Danger" (Post) or "Bush Was Warned bin Laden Wanted to Hijack Planes" (Times). Both headlines would logically lead one to believe that Bush had advance warning of the September 11 plot. Not true. As the stories say, he had intelligence that bin Laden's organization might attempt to hijack planes -- but their information was that these would be "traditional" hijackings, not the first step in turning the planes into guided missiles.

It's hardly news that the President was aware that a terrorist organization that everyone knew was bent on attacking the United States might try its hand at hijacking. Terrorists have been hijacking planes for 30 years, at least. However, the real news is buried deep within both the Post and Times stories. From the Times:

"In the past few days, government officials have acknowledged for the first time that an F.B.I. agent in Phoenix had urged the F.B.I. headquarters to investigate Middle Eastern men enrolled in American flight schools. That memorandum also cited Mr. bin Laden by name and suggested that his followers could use the schools to train for terror operations, officials who have seen the memorandum said."

In other words, the FBI had advance knowledge of unusual activity in American flight schools and did nothing about it. They did not inform the President (as the articles make clear), and they did not initiate any kind of intensive investigation. In my mind, this is a colossal failure. While hijackings have long been a common terrorist technique, they have not included (until 9/11) the terrorists actually taking control of the planes and piloting the planes themselves. Even leaving aside hijacking, a terrorist at the controls of a small, private plane (like a cropduster) can cause enormous damage and loss of life.

Coming on the heels of the FBI's botched raid at Ruby Ridge, its disastrous Waco operations, its blunders during the Oklahoma City investigation and the massive security breach caused by David Hanssen, this news merely reinforces the fact that the Bureau is in serious need of a housecleaning. It also demonstrates (once again) that preventative law enforcement alone cannot stop terror attacks. A Bureau staffed by human beings will make mistakes. Though the military makes mistakes as well, its offensive operations against terrorist targets abroad have proven (thus far) to be phenomenally successful, and if the military makes a mistake, its mistake is generally a failure to hit the correct target in Afghanistan or Iraq. If the FBI makes a mistake, its mistake is a failure to prevent an attack on America.

Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense.

5:50 AM

 
EXCELLENT ON-THE-GROUND WAR REPORT from today's Washington Post. Although the article describes the frustration our troops feel while hunting small groups of Al-Qaeda fighters, it was overall immensely comforting and gratifying. Amidst the frustrations of chasing these elusive knots of bandits, it's easy to forget that less than a year ago, Afghanistan was controlled run by a terrorist army of thousands, and Osama bin Laden had an entire country to use to support his terrorist infrastructure. Now, Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is reduced sneaking around in groups of three and trying to launch Chinese rockets with water, aluminum foil and D-size batteries. No doubt these rockets can be dangerous, but it's a far-cry from running an Islamo-Fascist regime and plotting the downfall of Israel and America.

5:25 AM

Wednesday, May 15, 2002  
A STORY SO COMMON IT NO LONGER SHOCKS. The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch reports that a mother who tried to attend a public school program conducted by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Educational Network was escorted from the premises by an armed security guard. The mother has filed suit against the school.

This kind of heavy-handed response of schools and other institutions to individuals who defy (or inquire about) prevailing orthodoxy on gay rights is now so common it's barely even news. Even a casual glance at conservative media reveals countless examples of children being forced to sit through explicitly sexual public school programs, Christian groups kicked off campuses when they uphold Biblical standards of sexual morality, Boy Scout groups embattled and stripped of funding when they don't permit gay scoutmasters, and even employees of politically correct companies harassed and threatened when they don't hang pink triangles from their cubicles (signifying their office as a "safe place" for gays).

These incidents, taken together, reveal a fundamental truth about the cultural left's approach to the culture wars. They are no longer merely asking that certain groups be "left alone," freed to live their private lives as they see fit, they are instead seeking to impose a new morality -- a morality that doesn't merely accept homosexuality and other extra-marital sexual practices, but actually celebrates those practices -- on America. And they are using all of the power at their disposal to punish and silence those individuals that deviate from the new moral orthodoxy.

This, of course, is not news to anyone who pays even the slightest attention to current events. Numerous Christian activists literally make a living decrying this cultural and political trend. However, as we have learned, simply decrying a trend does not stop the trend. We have to present an alternative (and compelling) cultural vision.

I believe that the left's overreaching -- it's heavy-handed use of power to silence dissent -- gives Christians a golden opportunity to not only present an alternative cultural vision but also to literally remake our public and political image. As you well know, Christians (particularly politically active Christians) have long been accused of "imposing their morality" on others. In recent years, far from imposing anything on anyone, we have been fighting for the basic freedom to continue practicing our religious beliefs. During the course of those battles, many of us have gained a new appreciation for a political system that allows all voices to be heard. I am no longer so concerned with creating a Christian government as I am with ensuring that the government gives Christians the freedom they need to transform the culture themselves.

Consequently, as the heavy hand of authority falls on our heads, we can become voices for freedom. We can become the voice that cries out "leave us alone!" -- secure in the knowledge that, if we do have freedom to speak, that the power of the Christian message can remake our nation from the ground up. Throughout American history, Americans have had a tendency to embrace (or at least give a fair hearing to) those groups that simply seek freedom and shun those groups that use the power of the state to force their beliefs on others. In fact, it was the very perception that Christians were trying to use the law to strike at gay individuals that led (I believe) much of America to view gay activists more sympathetically. Gay activists, having gained power through cries for freedom, now use that power to oppress those who disagree with their moral vision. It is now our turn to seek freedom.

However, it is critically important for us not to use the power of the freedom argument (if successful) to commit the same errors as the cultural left. In the see-saw battle of ideas, we must never again make the mistakes of the Eighties and early Nineties -- the mistake of believing that we constitute a "moral majority" and can (or should) impose a particular religious vision on America. As we fight this new culture war against a repressive left, we should limit our political fight to the fight for freedom -- and allow the power of Christ's message to do its work on the millions upon millions of individuals that our freedoms allow us to evangelize and disciple.

If we fight for freedom, we hold the ultimate cultural trump card. Of all the messages that compete for attention in the marketplace of ideas, only one is empowered by the Holy Spirit of the Living God. Secure in that knowledge, we do not need government to remake a culture. We only need the ability to speak.

7:54 AM

 
WARS CAN BE WON. The always-sensible Charles Krauthammer makes the obvious point that sometimes there are military solutions to long-term conflicts. Otherwise, of course, we would still be haunted by the specter of Nazi Germany, the slave trade would flourish in America, and Imperial Japan would rule the Far East. However, some have had difficulty applying that established truth to the Middle East -- often implying that killing terrorists, degrading the terrorist infrastructure and capturing thousands of weapons will somehow actually increase terrorist violence.

Israel's experience since it embarked on Operation Defensive Shield -- decreasing terrorist attacks from once per day to once per month -- shows, once again, that force can sometimes work. Krauthammer says that Arafat gambled on Israel's weakness . . . and lost:

"Arafat assumed that Israel was losing the will to fight back with anything more than pinpricks -- and more important, that even if Israel did strike back, the world (i.e., the United States) would stop it.

"He was wrong. He has now suffered a serious defeat.

"Just days ago, it was conventional wisdom that the Israeli operation had backfired because it had dramatically boosted Arafat's popularity. This was nonsense from the beginning, the usual mistaking of victimhood for power. In fact, Arafat was practically scorned by his people when he ventured out for what he thought would be his triumphal post-Ramallah tour. The crowds were sparse, the people indifferent and he did not even venture into the Jenin camp, knowing that he would be heckled, jeered and possibly worse.

"Why? Because he lost. His security services have been shattered. He can no longer protect the terrorist shock troops. He is shorn and he knows it.

"Why do you think the United States is now talking about "reforming" Arafat out of the leadership of the Palestinian Authority? Why are Arab leaders privately endorsing such reform? A sudden conversion to constitutionalism? Operation Defensive Shield left Arafat gravely weakened. Arab leaders are not sentimental."

7:16 AM

Tuesday, May 14, 2002  
THE CHRISTIAN/JEWISH ALLIANCE. To me, one of the most heartening developments of the past nine months has been the growing bond between the American evangelical Christian and American Jewish communities. As Israel has been assaulted by terrorists bent on genocide -- and as the American and European left have responded with vacuous moral equivalence and (on the far left) vicious anti-Semitism -- American Jews have discovered that some of Israel's strongest supporters are Christian conservatives. Recently, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) republished a column by their former enemy, Christian conservative Ralph Reed. In that piece, Reed declared: "For many, there is no greater proof of God's sovereignty in the world today than the survival of the Jews and the existence of Israel."

Christian conservatives and American Jews have long been at odds over various cultural issues -- with Jews viewing the "religious right" as a threat to their religious freedom. However, as Christian conservatives have recognized that they too represent an embattled minority (rather than a latent "moral majority") and have shifted their own emphasis toward religious freedom and away from cultural control, many of the political divides between Christian and Jew have eased. Combine this cultural/political detente with Christians' unqualified support of Israel's life-and-death struggle against Islamo-Fascism, and you have the real ingredients for a political, cultural and spiritual realignment.

Democrats -- who once counted on the Jewish vote -- have noticed the shift and are worried. Two liberal journals (The New Republic and Salon.com) contain significant pieces explaining the new bond between Christian and Jew and describing its implications for Jews and the Democratic Party.

The New Republic piece -- by TNR editor Peter Beinart -- argues, in part, that embracing the Christian Right is a "bad move" for American Jews because the Christians are more extreme than Jews about defending Israel. Citing some (admittedly silly) statements by Christian political leaders that one solution to the Palestinian problem would be simply deporting several million people from the West Bank to other Arab countries, Beinart attempts to argue that Israelis ought to view such statements as "monstrous" and incompatible with the true moral vision of Zionism. Beinart then weaves in a complete misunderstanding of dispensationalist theology to conclude with the ominous warning that, if Israel does withdraw from the West Bank, Christians will withdraw their support for Israel.

I have never heard a single Christian (especially a dispensationalist Christian) state: "If Israel withdraws from the West Bank, it is disobeying the will of God, and the Palestinians can blow them all up for all I care." Ludicrous. Instead, I have heard numerous Christians state that they pray for Israel every day, that they support Israel's right to self-defense, and that they believe it is their divinely-ordained duty to support God's people in their hour of need. That support is not contingent on the political outlines of any peace agreement. As one pastor told me, "Genesis 12:3 is an unconditional statement of God's intent and purpose."

My entire adult life, I have believed that God still has a special regard for the Jewish people. I agree with Ralph Reed that the present existence of Israel -- reborn almost 2,000 years after the Romans crushed the last significant Jewish rebellion and left the Jews scattered around the Roman Empire -- is evidence of "God's sovereignty in the world today." So now, as Israel faces those who are attempting a Second Holocaust, I stand with her, and I will stand with her regardless of any past or present political differences with the American Jewish community.

As far as I'm concerned, if we remain silent now, as synagogues burn in Europe and children are mutilated in Jerusalem, we would be virtual accomplices in the murder of God's own people. We often ask, "What would Jesus do?" I want to ask, "What does Jesus think?" What does Jesus think when he watches the descendants of his own mother blown up at Passover Seders, mowed down in restaurants and shot to death from olive groves? The answer to that questions is obvious -- as is the necessary response. Frankly, I am not concerned about the long-term political implications of evangelical support for Israel. We support Israel because we must -- because we have no other moral choice.

7:08 AM

Monday, May 13, 2002  
FLIGHT 93. I spent some time last night reading the Washington Post's extended look at Flight 93 and its impact on the tiny Pennsylvania community where the plane crashed. Although the story mentioned several of the heroes of Flight 93 and interviewed many of the locals impacted by the plane's crash, the Post writers focused on two individuals -- Todd Beamer, the Christian who uttered the now-legendary "Let's Roll," and Wally Miller, Somerset County Coroner.

Miller, like Beamer, is a man of deep Christian faith. As I read the article, I was once again struck by how many faithful Christians have been central players in America's most recent soul-shaking traumas -- from the Paducah, Kentucky, prayer group that was gunned down in '98, to Cassie Bernall and her simple (and fatal) declaration of faith at Columbine, to Todd Beamer leading his seatmates in the Lord's Prayer before charging the hijackers, to George Bush publicly and humbly seeking comfort and courage from God as he led us into war, and now to Wally Miller, County Coroner, on a simple, yet profoundly meaningful, mission to bring healing and closure to the suffering families of Flight 93.

As we see these Christians answering the call, I am reminded once again how God is ultimately in control of His message. At a time in history when Christians are battered in the media, when we destroy ourselves with sexual sin, and even when our most trusted leaders stumble in their public response to scandal and to tragedy, we see that God intervenes and sets before us individuals who display the humility, the courage, the compassion and the purpose that remind all of us of the heart and essence of the true Christian walk.

At the end of the day, I would rather read the following paragraphs -- the following description of God's sovereignty, encouragement and love -- than a thousand fawning profiles of ministers, evangelists or church leaders. The Post's article ends, as it begins, with Wally Miller:

"Wally Miller looks decidedly uncomfortable standing in a dark gray suit in front of a church audience. He is hugely popular in Somerset, reelected as county coroner last year with more than 80 percent of the vote -- without campaigning. Since September 11, he has been in great demand as a speaker, not just locally, but at gatherings of coroners, emergency rescue workers and law enforcement groups from New Orleans to Toronto. He'll talk about his work, he says, but not too much about himself.

For months, he tells the church group, he's been conscious of "the burden I carried" as coroner, but reluctant to discuss it in public. He did not plan to attend this service at Somerset Alliance Church on March 11, the night of the six-month anniversary, he says, but has done so at the urging of friends who convinced him that "this is the time and place to talk about the spiritual aspect of what happened out there."

First, though, he wants to make clear that he has no special qualifications for the discussion or for what he's done since September 11. "I am a Christian," he says. "I'm not an exemplary Christian. For some reason, which remains unknown to him, Miller says, "God put me in charge of the site."

"I knew when I stood in that crater that it was going to be a long road ahead. But I knew we would make it through. I never dreamed it would go the way it has. My phone never stops ringing" and the demands seem endless, he says, "but it was okay . . . I was put here for this." He says he looks forward to the end of his role in Flight 93. "This is not something I want to be remembered for. It was part of my journey . . ."

Miller says he is often asked how he copes emotionally with the work he must do. He says he is not sure. Then he tells the church audience that, remarkably, two heavily damaged Bibles were found in the wreckage of the flight; a white one at the crash site that belonged to a passenger who was a practicing Buddhist; and a second one, black, of uncertain ownership. Miller says he ran across the second one on the floor of the warehouse where victims' belongings were being kept. The second Bible was scrunched up and was lying open, he says, to the 121st Psalm, which is customarily read at funerals. He says he has no idea who left the Bible in that position.

Then Miller opens the Bible he is holding and starts to read that Old Testament psalm to the church audience: "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help . . ."

9:00 AM

 
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