June 03, 2007

Unreasoning Hysteria as the Default Position: Joan Crawford Does Foreign Policy

With regard to the fearsome plot that might have, maybe, perhaps, in some other world subject to significantly different scientific laws, resulted in the Destruction of All the Universes for All Time Forevermore The End Period (and You and Everyone You Know Will Be Dead, Too!), is it possible to inject just a very small bit of reality into this discussion? From the Los Angeles Times:
The premise is right out of a disaster movie: Ignite the massive fuel tanks required to keep an international airport up and running each day, stand back, and watch a chain reaction of explosions throughout the labyrinth of pipelines running underneath the tarmac.

But aviation experts cautioned Saturday that the alleged plot targeting John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York would have faced many hurdles, not least of which is the fact that jet fuel does not easily explode.

"The level of catastrophe that may be created is much more limited than most people would expect," said Rafi Ron, former head of security at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport. "The fuel that we are talking about is mostly jet fuel, which, unlike the gasoline most people put into their cars, is not that susceptible to explosion."

That difficulty apparently concerned one of the alleged plotters — an engineer who, federal authorities said in their complaint, explained to his associates that the tanks at JFK would probably require two explosions to provide enough oxygen to ignite the fuel.

But even then, aviation security experts said, fire would not have spread through the pressurized pipelines that bring fuel out to airplanes parked at gates.

"The probability that an explosion would travel through the pipeline and destroy targets along the tarmac is almost nil," said Ron, now president of New Age Security Solutions in Rockville, Md. "The exception would be pipelines that are not in use and contain vapor."
And I remind you that "the suspects never got hold of explosive devices."

All this conjecture assumes, of course, that major elements of this plot were not dreamed up and initially suggested by government agents trying to "protect" us, that the "truth" was not tortured out of a suspect and the like, as Scott Horton pointed out has been the case in every similar incident in recent years.

I urge you to keep the above points in mind as you read this remarkably enthusiastic descent into abject, ludicrously disproportionate hysteria, penned by Andrew McCarthy at Hysteria Headquarters, otherwise known as National Review Online:
War is about breaking the enemy's will. Having laid bare the sorry state of our brains and our guts, jihadists are now zeroing in on the will's final piece: our hearts.

That is the central lesson to be gleaned from Saturday's news that four Muslim men have been charged with plotting to blow up John F. Kennedy International Airport, and with it much of Queens.


Defreitas, er, Mohammed is a naturalized United States citizen. He is another splash in that gorgeous mosaic of American Islam — the one over whose purportedly seamless assimilation the mainstream media was cooing just a few days ago, putting smiley-face spin on an alarming Rasmussen poll.

Alas, Defreitas/Mohammed turns out to be the part of the story the press dutifully buried in paragraph 19: He is that nettlesome one of every four American Muslim males who thinks mass-homicide strikes against civilians, like the one he and his cell were scheming, are a perfectly sensible way to settle grievances.


Militant Islam, you see, is mustered in Iraq, where al Qaeda — the inspiration for Defreitas and his cohorts — has called America out. Like Defreitas & Co., Osama bin Laden and his ranks see themselves in a world war between the United States and a vision of Islam shared by tens of millions. (Think one-in-four, writ large). Iraq, they have decided, is their frontline, though very far from their only line. Everywhere, America is their target. Everywhere, terror — the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent men, women, and children — is their weapon of choice.

For the new Democratic Congress and its growing wake of jittery Republicans, that turns out to be a choice worth living with. Oh yes, they'll sputter about how barbaric and unsavory it all is. But, like those one in four Muslim males, they're prepared to let terror rule the day. ...

Naturally, we'll tell ourselves they're not winning at all. They want Iraq? Let 'em have it. Just like — when they killed enough of us — we let 'em have Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1993. Who, after all, needs these hellholes?

Except … militant Islam doesn't just want the hellholes. It wants everything. It will take the hellholes. For now. But don't think for a second they'll be appeased.


They know there's a war out there. Not just Iraq or Afghanistan, but Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb — jihadists versus civilization. Global. For us to win, it will not be enough to stabilize Baghdad, sow democracy and empower moderates. It's about breaking the enemy's will, as they are working feverishly to break ours.

Thanks to excellent police work, this time they were stopped. But there will be a next time, and another. The jihadists know what's at stake. Do we?
This calls to mind nothing so much as the climactic breakdown in a genuinely awful Joan Crawford melodrama, after Crawford has slurped up five quarts of cheap scotch and can now only burble incoherently:
You're all trying to destroy me! You're all against me, you bastards! You broke my heart, and now you want to kill me! But I won't let you, do you hear me? I won't let you! I'm going to live, damn you, I'm going to LIVE!
At which point, the sobbing, screaming, disheveled, thoroughly pathetic Ms. Crawford falls to the floor in a dead faint, completely undone by her own self-willed and self-created histrionics.

It won't play, McCarthy. And what can be entertaining in even a rotten film is not remotely entertaining in life, particularly when lots of people get killed, almost always entirely unnecessarily.

The United States now spends more on defense than almost the entire rest of the world combined. We have military power of a kind never before seen in history. We maintain approximately 1,000 bases in more than 130 countries around the globe. The idea that plots of this kind spring from a movement that constitutes some kind of "existential threat" to the United States is utterly asinine. In addition, none of these plots amounted to a damned thing and, as the above makes clear, even if this latest plot had gotten beyond the most primitive planning stage -- if, you know, the Terrorists Who Would Eat Our Raw, Still Beating Hearts had actually managed to get some explosives, among other things -- the damage would still have been fairly limited.

McCarthy's article and all similar ones, of which there will undoubtedly be many in the coming week, do not represent political commentary or foreign policy analysis. They are the incoherent, deeply disturbed babblings that emanate from a profoundly damaged psychology. They are, as I have discussed at length before, the voice of Cho Seung-Hui:
I underscore the centrality of feelings of shame and humiliation in this kind of psychology, combined with a desperately felt need to prove one's "masculine" self-worth, in a culture where masculinity is equated with dominance over one's enemies to be achieved by physical violence, thus rendering those enemies either entirely submissive -- or dead.
Fundamentalism of any kind results in the identical type of psychological disturbance, so it is no wonder that McCarthy feels he understands those genuine enemies we have so well. He does -- for he exhibits exactly the same pathology.

Remember this passage from Robert Jay Lifton, excerpted in the earlier essay:
More than mere domination, the American superpower now seeks to control history. Such cosmic ambition is accompanied by an equally vast sense of entitlement--of special dispensation to pursue its aims. That entitlement stems partly from historic claims to special democratic virtue, but has much to do with an embrace of technological power translated into military terms. That is, a superpower--the world's only superpower--is entitled to dominate and control precisely because it is a superpower.

The murderous events of 9/11 hardened that sense of entitlement as nothing else could have. Superpower syndrome did not require 9/11, but the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon rendered us an aggrieved superpower, a giant violated and made vulnerable, which no superpower can permit.

Indeed, at the core of superpower syndrome lies a powerful fear of vulnerability. A superpower's victimization brings on both a sense of humiliation and an angry determination to restore, or even extend, the boundaries of a superpower-dominated world. Integral to superpower syndrome are its menacing nuclear stockpiles and their world-destroying capacity.

In important ways, the "war on terrorism" has represented an impulse to undo violently precisely the humiliation of 9/11.


The war on terrorism is apocalyptic, then, exactly because it is militarized and yet amorphous, without limits of time or place, and has no clear end. It therefore enters the realm of the infinite. Implied in its approach is that every last terrorist everywhere on the earth is to be hunted down until there are no more terrorists anywhere to threaten us, and in that way the world will be rid of evil.


The war on terrorism, then, took amorphous impulses toward combating terror and used them as a pretext for realizing a prior mission aimed at American global hegemony.
I am discussing the roots and disastrous consequences of that "prior mission aimed at American global hegemony" in my ongoing series, "Dominion Over the World." I emphasize that it is a mission fully embraced by our entire governing class, and by all of the foreign policy establishment: with only a few exceptions, all Republicans and Democrats alike subscribe to this goal.

As I put the issue in the earlier article:
The similarities between Cho's psychology and the forces that drive United States foreign policy ought to be startling, and profoundly disturbing: the feelings of vulnerability, victimization, humiliation and rage are the same -- as is the determination to restore one's own dominance through violence and murder. But be sure you appreciate the the chronology and the causal chain that Lifton correctly identifies: just as Cho did not suddenly become a murderer on the morning of April 16, but only reached that awful destination after years of inexorable psychological development along one particular path, so too the United States was not instantaneously transformed into an unfocused, rage-filled international murderer after 9/11. As Lifton states, "The war on terrorism, then, took amorphous impulses toward combating terror and used them as a pretext for realizing a prior mission aimed at American global hegemony."
I have no doubt that people like McCarthy feel as if this conflict is "jihadists versus civilization. Global," but the fact that they feel that way does not mean it's true. It only indicates how deep the psychological damage goes, and the extreme degree of distortion that has already resulted. (I also note, without additional commentary here, that McCarthy brings equal enthusiasm to the task of demonizing Muslim-Americans as an undifferentiated group. I am certain that, if and when there is another domestic attack, he, Malkin and all other similar types will be demanding internment camps for all those who might, perhaps, some day, if 10,000 intervening events all occurred in precisely the required manner, represent some kind of threat to "normal, good" Americans. They will doubtless insist that if we had only listened to their sage advice, we would have rounded up all "those people" years before.)

It is the perspective and the policies offered by people with views like McCarthy's that have brought us to where we are today, just as they were a crucial part of what led to 9/11. Now, as the solution which will save the United States, the world, and all the universes unto eternity, they demand that we eliminate every conceivable enemy for all time, that we rearrange other countries around the globe as we determine is required on the basis of our sole unappealable judgment, and that we impose our will on all of creation.

As I have said before, their belief system reduces very simply to this:
America is God. God's Will be done.
But that is not the solution, McCarthy. That, and you, are the problem, and a very terrible one it is -- and not just for us, but for the entire world.