Why do our politicians and press react to every terrorist incident as though it was happening for the very first time? Lee Siegel on learning to live in a modern state of siege.
In his comments on homeland security Tuesday, President Obama spoke reassuring technocrat-ese. He declared that he would use the “best science and technology” in order to “correct the failure [of intelligence] so that we can prevent such attacks in the future.” Unfortunately, he is still talking about the war we are engaged in as though it consisted solely of “attacks”—as though these attacks did not arise out of a larger and older context.
The president isn’t the only one caught up in our strange inability to think beyond the instantaneous present. Coverage of the so-called Underwear Bomber is eclipsed by interminable analyses of the “new” threat from Yemen, which is then eclipsed by the Jordanian double agent’s murder of seven CIA agents in Afghanistan. A near-catastrophe, a crisis, and a disaster, all interconnected—yet the media and the legitimate political establishment shift from one to the other while seldom mentioning the larger context, which includes all of them.
But Yemen has been roiling for years, and it is far from the first time that someone we thought was a friend in Afghanistan turned on Americans there, and we have been suffering or thwarting terrorists attacks on American soil for almost two decades. We are in a wholly new type of conflict, neither war nor Cold War, yet we continue to respond to each event as if it were happening for the first time.
There is even something like a perverse type of hopefulness in the way public officials and the media have fastened on Yemen as the new Middle Eastern problem. A fresh, new problem for a new year. Out with the old geopolitical nightmares—in with the new! Worrying about Yemen is a way not to worry about the insoluble problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan. (By this point, the slaughterhouse in Iraq is about as fresh in the collective mind as the War of 1812.) It is bizarre how so many of the current frenzied analyses of Yemen barely even mentioned Afghanistan or Pakistan, even though both were fixtures of official handwringing just a few weeks ago.