Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Assumptions and the 9/11 Hearings 

Contrary to the old canard ("when you assume ..."), assumptions are a normal part of the daily human experience. Without assumptions, the whole world degenerates into an incoherent string of isolated incidents absent of any cause or effect. The crux of wisdom, rather, lies in making astute and sensical assumptions in order to better understand and predict what is happening and in recognizing the assumptions that are implicit in one's line of thinking.

The blatant attempts to take what ostensibly should be a inquiry into facts in order to judge the validity of assumptions in the pursuit of national security and turn it, instead, into a blame game for partisan political points is, as Jeff Jarvis notes, not only disgusting but a real disservice to Americans. It also conveniently ignores many of the most important assumptions under which all administrations were operating pre-9/11. Chief among these are:
1. Al Queda and other terrorist organizations are not capable of harming the United States on a whole.
2. Threats from AQ and other terrorist organizations are hyperbole used to rally their own and supporters.

These two assumptions caused everyone to underestimate the threat posed and ignore potentially telling signs of impending doom. While there are certainly things in the intelligence community, both regarding collection and analysis, which can be improved upon, the major failure that made 9/11 possible was in the implicit assumptions we held.

For years we treated the threat from terrorists and rogue nations like that obnoxious third grader on the bus that calls you names, threatens you and occasionally punches you in the arm. You largely ignore the kid, keep an eye on him and, from time to time, push him back into his seat. But the threat we faced was not from a child, and it had carried a gun onto the bus.

I believe our national policy should treats terrorists and rouge nations more as equals and gives them the respect they, as adults responsible for their actions, deserve. When Al Queda or Hebolah or the DPRK or anyone else says "U.S., you are an evil Satan and we declare war on you" we should allow them to clarify their statements and then afford them the dignity of respecting their beliefs. For when an enemy openly and clearly declares themselves to you, you have but two choices: accept them as your enemy or ignore their stated beliefs and act as if they were a petulant child. Once you recognize an enemy, the only reasonable thing to do is to try and remove their ability or will to fight. There are many ways to do this, ranging from full-scale unrestricted war to even humanitarian assistance to "win hearts and minds", but we should never flinch from openly recognizing those that have declared themselves our enemies and doing what we can to make them otherwise.

In the pursuit of national security, two main assumptions that would be prudent to clearly understand are:
1. There are no children in world politics.
2. Everyone has a gun.

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