December 19, 2005
I rather admired George W. Bush's hard-boiled remarks Saturday about the secret snooping carried out by the National Security Agency. As if we could afford to do otherwise. I just wish he'd quit calling it the War on Terror, which is so imprecise.
The part I liked was his willingness to squarely confront the public's childish lack of seriousness. We want to be safe, but we don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. We want to feel secure within our borders, but we don't want to go beyond vigilance-lite. This is consistent with our new national religion, which is based on the idea that it's possible to get something for nothing.
The public has a short memory. I maintain that, despite a lot of sentimental posturing, for most Americans the World Trade Center knockdown was just another television show, and few people can even remember the plot of an ABC Movie-of-the-Week from a few months ago, so why should they remember the details of 9/11/01? -- namely that a posse of Islamic maniacs flew airplanes into New York's biggest skyscrapers and collapsed them (as well as ramming the Pentagon and almost hitting another target except that the hijacked fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania). And maybe we ought to keep tabs on other potential maniacs of that persuasion.
By the way, I get indignant letters every day from people who are convinced that Dick Cheney headed a plot behind the 9/11 attacks. I regard these conspiracy theories as crazy, but the craziness itself seems to be increasing in breadth and amplitude across the land -- as a subconscious expression of our collective anxiety over a way of life with poor prospects.
Anyway, since no other major act of terrorist violence has occurred in the US since then, Americans seem to have concluded that nothing would have happened since 9/11, or can happen. So call off the dawgs.
But listening in on people's phone conversations is probably pretty mild compared to what else may be going on.
As my friend Peter put it yesterday, "What you wonder is: how many motherfuckers our guys have been secretly whacking in these dark little corners around the world the past few years." His point is a good one. Do you suppose we've really discontinued covert operations out there? And if we didn't have our guys out there whacking dangerous motherfuckers, would the world be a worse place? And what percentage of the public thinks we don't do stuff like that anymore, or don't have to?
The paradoxical thing about all this is that if the President is willing to tell America that we should grow up and get serious about national security, then why doesn't Mr. Bush tell America the cold, hard, grownup truth that we are entering a permanent global energy crisis that will force us to live differently? Or tell America the truth that we are occupying Iraq in order to maintain a foothold in the region where two-thirds of the world's remaining oil is? And that the basic equation is that our current way of life depends utterly on continued access to this oil -- so either change that way of life or get used to the necessity of maintaining a garrison in the Middle East.
If Mr. Bush was consistent with these messages, the public might actually gain a sense of purpose -- that is, of devoting our patriotic spirit to prepare for the great changes we face, instead of just pretending that the funburger fiesta-on-wheels can continue indefinitely?