Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Chasing the Gingerbread Man: The GOP, ISIS and National (In)security

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I come to the discussion about terrorism as one who realizes that the world society is a sinking ship that has hit the icebergs of capitalism and political ignorance with all of its occupants now fighting their way to the uppermost deck and many getting thrown overboard into the freezing waters below. My homeless advocacy is more about teaching people what led to this titanic catastrophe than it is about averting disaster at this point.

It was a warm June day in Washington, DC as I stood in the hospital room of homeless advocate Michael Stoops and watched the news about Donald Trump's 2016 presidential bid. Though he wields much influence in my birthplace of Atlantic City (another sinking ship), I've never cared for his show “The Apprentice”. However, when I knew he was running for the highest office in the world, I began paying attention to him and jeering at his outlandish statements; thereby bringing to bear the first two parts of a Gandhi quote: “First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win”. (Let's hope Trump doesn't win.)

That same month the Democrats were able to make extreme poverty and income inequality into platform issues and bring them to the forefront. I was elated. With me still believing that Bill Clinton encouraged Trump to run as a way of ensuring that Hillary would win in November 2016 (as I too hope she does), I've watched Donald Trump steer the political discourse whither soever he chooseth and told my associates that the one good thing about him is that he forces the hard conversations to happen – that being true as long as his assertions only jump start the conversation and the more intelligent masses engage and take it to a better end point. Then the Donald will have done a great service. All to whom I've said that thus far have disagreed with me.

Fast forward to the December 15th,GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas. Various candidates came out against Trump following his xenophobic anti-Muslim remarks. Trump acknowledged that his outrageous antics are driving the conversation and forming the debate's agenda. I believe he's right. Let's hope his correctness and political advance stop there.

It's worth noting that the final GOP debate of 2015 was a debate of extremes. Trump, who is doing best in the polls, is raising the least campaign funds. Bush, who is doing worst in the polls, is raising the most campaign funds. The GOP base is evidently giving Bush their money and Trump their votes. (The presidential candidates aren't the only dysfunctional people in the Republican party.) Taken together, these facts lend themselves to the conclusion that the GOP base is interested in non-establishment candidates – which, in essence, narrows their choices down to Trump, Fiorina and Carson. Then again, maybe they attribute Trump's immense wealth to his awkwardness and hope to one day be like him. Let's hope not. The world doesn't need another Donald Trump. That said, the other seven over card candidates fall somewhere between the extremes of JEB and Trump. Fortunately, most are closer to JEB. The debate was extreme in yet another way: It was about extremism, completely about extremism. So much for pulling the Repubs into a public conversation about extreme poverty and income inequality. Then again, We still have 10 and a half months before the general election and Hillary might just pull it off.

I was able to fully appreciate the hard line of questioning that was put forth in the debate. However, it left much to be said about the ability of ISIS to out-maneuver the administrations of Bush 43 and Obama and to out-think all of the 2016 GOP presidential candidates. It would seem that ISIS is pulling the world society toward an intelligent conclusion to the conversation that was begun by Trump's outrageous remarks.

The unspoken truths of the debate include the fact that Republicans (with the possible exception of Carly Fiorina) want an excuse for endless war, with the resurrection of Al-Qaida in Iraq as ISIS and the weak leadership of Obama giving them the ammo they seek. The attacks in Paris and San Bernadino shortly before the debate are as much reasons for endless GOP war as they are reasons for real concern. It's also true that Republicans would much rather talk about the next foreign war than about domestic poverty in one of the wealthiest nation's on Earth. The unspoken reasons for the topic of the debate notwithstanding, the most apparent but unspoken underpinning of the debate was the fact that ISIS is smarter than the entire U.S. Government put together. They've proven to be that gingerbread man who the U.S. government and military can't catch.

I won't revisit the missteps of theBush 43 and Obama administrations right now. However, I'm impressed by how handily ISIS outdoes the U.S. Government. Let's start with the fact that, following the Paris attacks on Friday, November 13th a phone was found near a deceased assailant and used to track his terror contacts. Nineteen days later, presumptuously after learning about this phone's role in the Paris investigation, the San Bernadino attackers smashed a phone in order to keep it from being used in the same way. (I believe the chip was still readable.) They wiped other electronic devices (possibly not knowing about deep dives that the FBI can do on computers). Nonetheless, it only took 19 days for the lesson learned by terrorists after one attack to bear itself out in another attack. This leaves us to wonder what else future terrorists will learn from the news coverage of various attacks. Terrorists with a good learning curve – a scary thought (which is further intensified in lieu of governmental stupidity).

During the debate, Carly Fiorina (my personal favorite within the GOP field) highlighted the fact that ISIS is keeping up with technology while our government is still using surveillance methods that hearken back to 2001. She pointed out that ISIS uses Facebook, Twitter and encryption to convey its message without timely FBI detection. The former tech exec gave some very good and basic low-tech solutions to problems that the average 10th grader could resolve more quickly than the other GOP candidates and she answered even the dumbest of questions with relative ease.

Wolf Blitzer asked her if tech companies should be forced to cooperate with the federal government in tracking terrorists. The fascistic leanings of the question and the ignorance of asking a woman if anyone should be “forced” to do anything notwithstanding, Ms. Fiorina pointed out that the feds and Congress have yet to do something quite basic: to simply “ask” tech companies to cooperate. (Taken together with her statements about having been told “No” throughout her life, I'm left to assume that it's not hard getting a “Yes” out of her if you just ask.) She went on to tell the story of how she cooperated with the NSA by turning one of her truck drivers around and having him escorted to a federal facility when told that his load might be compromised by terrorist activity.

Despite being 61 at the time, Ms. Fiorina exhibited her ability to pull the U.S. Government forward technologically and to make our terror surveillance techniques more viable – even if she didn't fully address the moral aspect of such ideas. It would seem that we should juxtapose the words of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates who was reluctant to invest in greater technology for the military and those of Carly Fiorina. Mr. Gates said, in essence, that we didn't need more F-16's and higher tech equipment to fight terrorists using sling shots and IED's. Maybe the technology that needs to be upgraded is that which prevents attacks, not that which responds to them. Then again, no technology can outdo the power of the human foot or a cigarette lighter – both of which can be used to destroy phones used by terrorists before and during attacks.

Let's face it. Terrorists have begun to buy single-use cell phones right before their attacks so as to ensure that they might only be used to track a singular operative who was called during the actual execution of the attack – but not to track other operatives who were communicated with in the weeks and months leading up to the attack. To prevent an attack by ISIS, the government must develop methods whereby to carry out effective surveillance and then they must get the legal authority to use it. To prevent the U.S. from foiling a terror plot, ISIS just needs to do like Mikhail Gorbachev and watch CNN to see how other terror plots were foiled. It's also been said that, while the government needs to get it right every time, the terrorists only need to get it right once.

That brings us to the issue which the candidates referred to as “political correctness” which, given the context in which the phrase was used, came off as a substitute for the act of obeying international laws such as the Geneva Convention. Several candidates spoke out against the “political correctness” of obeying laws that restrict surveillance and forbid the killing of innocent civilians – casting such laws as impediments to efforts to stop ISIS. Candidates suggested that we carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion and that we kill the families of terrorists – the latter of which would make the U.S. as brutal as the enemy they seek to destroy.

That shouldn't surprise anyone, given the fact that our nation has been involved in war somewhere in the world for all but 22 of its 239 years of existence thus far. It is also important to recognize that all three Abrahamic religions either have or have had their share of brutes and Christianity even goes so far as to encourage martyrdom. God, in the Old Testament, commanded the Hebrews to conquer various lands – many of whom had done nothing to the Hebrews. God, being almighty, decided He would take from the Amorites and Hittites and give to His chosen people. (Farbeit from me to oppose God.) God empowered Samson to become the first-ever suicide bomber and kill 10,000 people in the temple of Dagon. The Torah is relatively parallel to the Old Testament. Emperor Constantine brought Christianity at the edge of a sword, effectively turning the enemy's other cheek instead of his own. I don't think I need to describe the brutality of Muslim terrorists. That said:

The war encouraged by the Old Testament and the Torah plus the martyrdom encouraged by the New Testament equals ISIS.

Maybe what we need is a religious summit in which the leaders of various religions and denominations compare notes so as to find where their ethos overlap and where they differ. The objective of such a summit should be to objectively determine what religion, if any, is correct (or most accurate). All belief systems that prove to be grossly irrational should then be outlawed. Even if we stop short of outlawing religious ignorance, the results of this religious summit might give us a better way of measuring the rational abilities of our presidential candidates (from any party). In the meantime, ISIS seems to have a better idea of where it stands that the U.S. Government has of where IT stands.

The entire GOP field failed to address the gravity of the situation created by ISIS' ability to inspire attacks anywhere in the world. Candidates discussed the fact that ISIS is expanding its geographical holdings. However, the San Bernadino attack (which was being planned before ISIS' 2014 rise to dominance) was inspired by terrorists thousands of miles away. All of the surveillance in the world won't catch every lone wolf who is inspired by ISIS to carry out attacks. Maybe that's why the terror ORGANIZATION named its magazine “Inspire”. They understand that inspiration will work even more quickly than organization and a geographically contiguous caliphate to increase their power and spread their influence.

The terrorists successful propaganda campaign flies in the face of Bush 43's assertion that we must go after all who preach hatred. Even if we were to start now, it would be too little and too late. ISIS has already shown itself to be smarter than the U.S. Government (which is not a very high bar) and to have well-defined goals. The GOP candidates were more capable of describing the goals of ISIS than they were of describing their own goals and stances on the issues. That's not to speak of the fact that the terrorists are as willing to die for what they believe in as a soldier is to die for what he or she believes in. ISIS holds the belief that three Muslim armies will fight the forces of the infidels in the Middle East and that most of their Muslim fighters will die, leaving a tiny remnant to carry out the goals of Allah. After all, ISIS was formed from the remnants of Al-Qaida in Iraq – proving its ability to rise like the Phoenix from the ashes.

The objective of this post is to disparage the GOP presidential candidates, Bush 43 and Obama for their inability to adequately think through their approach to terrorism. It is not to laud ISIS or any terror ORGANIZATION. That said, I'm “afraid” that ISIS will soon develop the technology to create a two-way detonator switch with a pull string and a pulse-sensing electrode so that if the suicide bomber is shot before pulling the chord, the bomb will still explode once the electrode no longer senses a pulse. Quite honestly, given their apparent intelligence, I'm a little surprised that I haven't already heard or read such reports. How else will ISIS outsmart U.S. presidents and candidates?????

ISIS seems to be that ever-elusive gingerbread man. Maybe, before the U.S. Government chases the gingerbread man, they should sit, think and develop a better strategy that incorporates the lessons that ISIS taught them. If they ever defeat ISIS, their victory will be indicative of their increased intelligence. Don't hold your breath waiting.



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