Evil geniuses

The Atlantic “Ideas” issue is every bit as silly as you would imagine, a predictable combination of truisms (the financial crisis was bad, the Catholic sex scandals are bad), standard conservative clap-trap (shit harder on teachers, return to Hooverism), a 5000 word whine-athon about how women are taking over the world (written by a woman, of course), along with one or two interesting pieces (because they still employ James Fallows). But I have to give the magazine credit for this piece arguing that terrorists are nitwits. It’s an important point and they make it well.

One thing I have never fully understood is why conservatives, who believe that all the smart people in the world will go on strike if we raise the marginal tax rate by 1%, think that there is endless supply of geniuses ready to devote their lives to pointless, low-paying suicide missions. Some of it is that conservatives love of the idea of evil, but I don’t think that explains it all.

I suspect that there’s not that much difference between jihadists and teahadists, that the main difference between the Times Square would-be bomber and the guy who tried to take over the courthouse in Tennessee is that the Times Square has a harder-to-pronounce name, and that makes him see more evil genius and less delusional loser.

Update. On further reflection, the piece about how women are taking over the world isn’t that bad once you come to grips with the ridiculous cowboy sperm guy opening and the silly pop culture ending.






82 replies
  1. 1
    MikeJ says:

    If the terrorists are stupid then it makes hating brown people seem like you’re just a racist.

  2. 2
    Martin says:

    @MikeJ: Funny how that works out.

  3. 3
    D. Mason says:

    The main difference I can see is that the tea-bag turrists don’t have to pass through any TSA checkpoints to carry out their suicide missions. That would send chills up my spine if I had any confidence in the TSA.

  4. 4
    Mark S. says:

    Why 14 3/4? I was also expecting something a little more substantive than 3 paragraph brain farts that wouldn’t even make the grade at Slate.

  5. 5
    Mr Furious says:

    I read an excerpt on the stupid terrorists last night, and thought, “Well you can’t really PRACTICE suicide missions…”

  6. 6
    Josh says:

    I keep The Atlantic lying around when I need some giggles when I take a shit.

    Shits and giggles, see?

  7. 7
    Comrade Jake says:

    I had to laugh at the Taliban dudes blowing themselves up during the group hugs. Sorry, I couldn’t help it, and assume I’m going straight to hell.

  8. 8
    MikeJ says:

    @Mr Furious: You can unit test it. Test all the parts individually (bomb making, car parking, etc). You can test sub-assemblies together. Everything up to the last step is often testable.

  9. 9
    D0n Camillo says:

    @MikeJ:

    Everything up to the last step is often testable.

    Then there’s the all important group hug test. I’m with you, Comrade Jake. It’s not often I laugh out loud at an artcle about terrorism.

  10. 10

    … [T]here’s not that much difference between jihadists and teahadists….

    Speaking of truisms.

  11. 11
    Warren Terra says:

    I decided awhile ago to let my Atlantic subscription run out. This month’s issue started well, and I was having doubts – until I hit a string of truly awful pieces. I didn’t even like T-NC’s article.

  12. 12
    licensed to kill time says:

    @Comrade Jake:

    I guess I’ll be right there in hell with you because that made snort with laughter, too. Oops! Premature detonation is such a bitch.

  13. 13
    JayR says:

    These are “ideas?” “Obama is no liberal” is an “idea?” As a sentiment, it’s terribly derivative (as I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this), but I can’t see how this is an “idea.” Sad when your “ideas” issue can’t even come up with 15 novel or provocative ideas.

  14. 14
    neill says:

    Why are looking at The Atlantic Fucking Monthly now?

    I think I gave it up some time back in the 90s… Or was it the 80s?

    Some Irish guy wrote a shitty screed on Thomas Jefferson, and that was the beginning of the end for me ‘n The Atlantic

  15. 15
    Dee Loralei says:

    Premature impactuation?

  16. 16
    Cat says:

    Terrorists aren’t nitwits, unless you define nitwit to include people of average intelligence as well.

    Building IED and suicide belts is hard and risky even well trained and intelligent people make mistakes occasionally. A random bunch of guys trying stuff they read on the internet with out the ability to train is a non-threat.

    Saying terrorists are a bunch nitwits is reckless. A well trained and disciplined group of nitwits happens to be very dangerous.

  17. 17
    The next to last samurai says:

    Women are taking over the world? Great! I call dibs on Wall Street.

  18. 18
    cleek says:

    One thing I have never fully understood is why conservatives, who believe that all the smart people in the world will go on strike if we raise the marginal tax rate by 1%, think that there is endless supply of geniuses ready to devote their lives to pointless, low-paying suicide missions.

    the people you’re referring to are vocal, partisan, and often professional, “conservatives”. and they say these things to distinguish themselves and their team from the evil, appeasing, tax-n-spend, gay-abortion-loving, commie Liebruls.

    to assume there’s deep thought behind that shit is not only to give them far more credit than they deserve, but it misses the point: they’re cheerleaders and proselytizers. they aren’t philosophers or political scientists.

  19. 19
    Church Lady says:

    Some terrorists are nitwits. Unfortunately, not all. Hence events like 9-11, the London bombings, market bombings in Iraq, etc. Eventually, a group of non-nitwits will prove to be successful and we’ll all have the crap scared out of us again. It’s only a matter of time.

  20. 20

    I suspect that there’s not that much difference between jihadists and teahadists, that the main difference between the Times Square would-be bomber and the guy who tried to take over the courthouse in Tennessee is that the Times Square has a harder-to-pronounce name, and that makes him see more evil genius and less delusional loser.

    That and consistently running potable water, electricity, modern appliances and a thin veneer of advanced civilization.

  21. 21
    Cat says:

    I had to laugh at the Taliban dudes blowing themselves up during the group hugs.

    All I see are a bunch of insurgents who are so wedded to their beliefs and traditions they’ll hug a man wired with explosives. You and I may not care deeply enough about shaming a comrade or acting without honor to avoid dieing, but they do.

    Insurgencies filled with people like that grind invaders into dust. You can never defeat people who think like this.

  22. 22
    Chad N Freude says:

    @Warren Terra: @neill: At the risk of being called a nitwit, I don’t get the antipathy towards The Atlantic and The New Republic around here. It’s true that they both publish stuff that is wrong-headed or unenlightening or shallow or wrongly opinionated (as opposed to opinionated in a way that we like), but they also both publish a lot of stuff that is thoughtful, analytic, and informative. (Talkin’ to you Fallows, Coates, Beinart, and Chait.) If a mixed bag of good and bad opinion and analysis is a reason to stop reading a magazine, it seems to me that it’s also a reason to stop reading Balloon Juice.

  23. 23
    maus says:

    a 5000 word whine-athon about how women are taking over the world (written by a woman, of course)

    On that note, I hope Camille Paglia stays off Salon for ever and ever and never finishes writing her newest terrible book.@Chad N Freude:

    If a mixed bag of good and bad opinion and analysis is a reason to stop reading a magazine, it seems to me that it’s also a reason to stop reading Balloon Juice.

    I can tolerate it in blog comments because they’re not getting paid wingnut welfare to spout them.

  24. 24

    Calling terrorists nitwits is as shortsighted and detrimental as calling them cowards. They’re neither. Of course, referring to the entire collective group of people who orchestrate a terrorist attack as if they are a singular “terrorist” with a hive mind IQ is equally ignorant.

    Say what you want about Osama bin Laden, but he’s not an idiot. There’s a difference between being obsessed and being stupid, and for that matter crazy.

    Calling terrorists “nitwits” is I guess an adapted form of saying “they hate America.” It’s a way to explain what they do without having to point out that what they do is because of anything we might have had to do with.

  25. 25
    DougJ says:

    @Chad N Freude:

    I don’t have that much antipathy towards the Atlantic these days. But these “Ideas” things that they do are inevitably stupid, a bad hybrid of their blogs and their articles, each of which are largely okay.

    I hate it when the NYT does things like this too and I love the NYT.

    Also too, if we did a series of 15 blog posts as poor as those ideas, I hope you would all trash us.

  26. 26
    Nellcote says:

    I suspect that there’s not that much difference between jihadists and teahadists

    “That’s when Texas Rep. Pete Sessions compared House Republicans to the Taliban, the fundamentalist Muslim terrorist group that has targeted U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Sessions’ staff insists he wasn’t lauding the Taliban’s goals, only their tactics. See what you think:

    Insurgency we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban. And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person’s entire processes. And these Taliban — I’m not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban — no, that’s not what we’re saying. I’m saying an example of how you go about is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their front line message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with. ”

    source

  27. 27
    Michael G says:

    Many laptops seized from the Taliban and al-Qaeda are loaded with smut. U.S. intelligence analysts have devoted considerable time to poring over the terrorists’ favored Web sites, searching for hidden militant messages. “We have terabytes of this stuff,”

    Keep searching the bookmarked porn sites JUST IN CASE.

  28. 28
    Chad N Freude says:

    @DougJ: Thanks. A more reasoned position than “I don’t like some things so I’m cutting off everything.” But I expect no less from DougJ.

  29. 29
    Chad N Freude says:

    @DougJ:

    Also too, if we did a series of 15 blog posts as poor as those ideas, I hope you would all trash us.

    It takes a lot less than 15 to start a trashfest around here. Sometimes one is enough.

  30. 30
    Ross Hershberger says:

    There’s a historical basis for totally misunderstanding the threats to the USA. Back in the Reagan days the justification for the idiotic Star Wars SDI programs was that we needed a Space Shield to protect America from rogue states with nuclear missiles.
    It’s unappreciated just how stupid this was. Nukes are difficult to build, but ICBMs are just about impossible. The threat from missiles was nil, and nobody mentioned this. For the effort to make a single missile, you could make dozens of nukes, pack them in shipping containers and devastate every port in America.
    I said at the time that rogue states wouldn’t build flying contraptions to defeat our space shield, they would put the nuke on a boat and just use existing transportation to have it delivered to New York along with the millions of tons of crap already headed there.
    If I’d said plane rather than boat I’d look like a genius now.

  31. 31
    Hiram Taine says:

    I for one welcome our new female overlords overladies.

  32. 32
    Chad N Freude says:

    @Ross Hershberger: This is one example of a general principle, or rather the merging of two general principles. One is political theater to demonstrate the Government’s resolve and readiness to respond to threats. The other is the establishment of a massive, profitable business interest in supporting the theatrics (manufacturing props).

  33. 33
    Elizabelle says:

    Regarding The Atlantic and people likely to be published in it (and such ideas!): this article from today’s New York Times just breaks one’s heart.

    These DC soiree guests brave the humidity, courageously fortifying themselves with poached tilefish, grilled asparagus, wine, and berry-topped petit-fours, while “continually” pulling the neocon Israeli ambassador aside for “serious tête-à-têtes.”

    Could you expect any less from

    a bunkering of the conservative intellectual elite, a group that domineered its way through the Bush years but is now sidelined, a somewhat baffled shadow of its former blustery self.

    They’re out of favor within their own party, which has gone all mama grizzly and teapartying extremist on them.

    Soldier on, brave conservative braintrust.

    I hope someone will find the courage publish one of you, some fairer day.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06.....wanted=all

  34. 34
    DougJ says:

    @Chad N Freude:

    One should be enough. Feedback helps.

  35. 35
    cleek says:

    @Elizabelle:

    They’re out of favor within their own party, which has gone all mama grizzly and teapartying extremist on them.

    they’re the Braintrust In Exile.

  36. 36
    DougJ says:

    @Elizabelle:

    Actually, the people at that party didn’t sound so bad. Not that much self-pity and they are doing the right thing by opposing Palinism.

    Also, the food doesn’t sound that fancy.

  37. 37
    Quaker in a Basement says:

    there is endless supply of geniuses ready to devote their lives to pointless, low-paying suicide missions

    The food here is terrible. And such small portions.

  38. 38
    HE Pennypacker, Wealthy Industrialist says:

    I love this bit from the article:

    In the years after 9/11, the images we were shown of terrorists were largely the same: shadowy jihadists who, even when they were foiled, seemed always to have come terrifyingly close to pulling off a horrific attack.

    Of course, such images and narratives were cultivated by the Bush administration but should have been obvious as blatant propaganda. It didn’t take a whole lot of critical thinking to realize that your chances of dying by terrorist attack are vanishingly small. So the writer of this Atlantic article is admitting he was played, 100%.

  39. 39
    Leisureguy says:

    Interesting how differently we read things. I didn’t find the article on the changing role of women to be whining at all, and in fact I found it quite interesting.

  40. 40
    Elizabelle says:

    @DougJ:

    Yeah, have to agree. Laura Ingraham sounded like the outlier on that guest list.

    Think there’s some self-congratulating going on, though.

    Berry-covered petit-fours?

  41. 41

    […] by Hanna Rosin in the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly seemed quite interesting to me, but DougJ of Balloon Juice characterizes it as "a 5000 word whine-athon about how women are taking over the world (written by a woman, of […]

  42. 42
    Sportello says:

    Luck does seem to play significant role with certain kinds of attacks. If memory serves, one of the New Yorker 9/11 pieces by William Langenamegoestolong noted that 747s aren’t supposed to be able fly as fast at such low attitudes as they were that day. But Boeing over-builds the planes, which is why they didn’t disintegrate over the Hudson.

    But William Clarke pointed out — in the Atlantic — that pretty much anybody can buy an assault rifle in America, modify it to make it fully automatic, and walk into a shopping mall and open up. Not as glamorous as a bomb, but very effective.

  43. 43
    Sportello says:

    Oops. Richard Clarke.

  44. 44
    Warren Terra says:

    @Chad
    I’ve paid to have it delivered, on glossy paper yet, so expect better. Time was, each issue had a fair bit of good stuff. I can maybe find 12 good pages of 132 this month, and dozens of dross.

  45. 45
    va says:

    The case for calling them nitwits hardly needs to be made in more than 5 sentences. Or three words: “so many fails.” The rest of the article just smells like Pentagon propaganda: “Look at those freaks, doing funny things with cows. Every bomb we’ve dropped has been a tiny moral victory.”

  46. 46
    PeakVT says:

    … but I don’t think that explains it all.

    They overstate the capacities of the enemy so they can puff out their chests and promise to be big tough daddy.

    Also, defense pork, too.

  47. 47
    QuaintIrene says:

    a 5000 word whine-athon about how women are taking over the world

    And about time too, in my vagina-based opinion.

    All the conservative clap-trap arguments against, well, shall we see? Women in strong political positions, birth control, the equal rights amendment. Hell, women going out to work in general.
    It’s the same, exact crap similar groups used to oppose women’s suffrage back in the early 20 C.

  48. 48
    Warren Terra says:

    QuaintIrene
    I don’t disagree with anything in your comment – but remember that this article is written by Hanna Rosin, with all the glibness, shallowness, and nonsense her track record would predict.

  49. 49
    Mumphrey says:

    I read some of the comments at the Terrorists Are Nitwits piece; some are pretty good, but others are dumb (“A nitwit with a nuclear bomb still has a nuclear bomb,” read one).

    The thrust of most of the dumb comments seemed to be that even idiots can get lucky sometimes. And, surely enough, they can. But the unspoken implication of these comments is, as I read it, that the writer is saying that if these guys are idiots, we don’t need to do anything to stop them.

    I don’t think that’s the point at all, though. I don’t think anybody is saying we don’t need to just stop looking for these guys, but that we just need to have a sense of proportion. That’s what’s been missing for 10 years, now.

  50. 50
    Chad N Freude says:

    I just read the NYT article @Elizabelle and I was amused by the fact that David Frum’s daughter is named “Bea Frum”. Does that mean I’m attacking the families of Conservatives?

  51. 51
    jeffreyw says:

    …it seems to me that it’s also a reason to stop reading Balloon Juice.

    And miss out on the kitties?

  52. 52
    Chad N Freude says:

    @jeffreyw: I think you’re proving my point.

  53. 53
    jeffreyw says:

    @Chad N Freude:

    @jeffreyw: I think you’re proving my point.

    Point? tl:dr Can you strip the flesh from it and just give me the bare bones?

  54. 54
    The Main Gauche of Mild Reason says:

    I think the right way to read the “terrorists are nitwits” thing is that they are people without much common sense.

    It’s not terribly surprising to me that people with wacky religious beliefs will also lack common sense. I think it also stresses the fact that, when you’re willing to throw away your life for a cause, the chance of you sticking around long enough to develop great explosive expertise is also relatively low.

  55. 55

    @Elizabelle:
    What an odd read. And it leads to the question: What the Fuck is the NYT Fashion and Style section doing writing a political column?

  56. 56

    OT -sort of

    This one’s for you Dougj. Amidst Modo’s usual swill, I came across a little blurb that struck me as a distillation of the Village culture, and their tiny wants and demands, complete with slightly veiled threats if they are not met concerning Obama. Or, fellate us, or else.

    “But he doesn’t take his own advice when it comes to the media. Obama refuses to deal with the media world as it is. He’s holding out for the media world that he wants. But that will never be. That disdainful attitude toward 24-hour cable culture is slowing his political reflexes. We’re seeing that in the oil spill. I don’t think it’s personal with him. It’s not that he despises reporters as human beings, like Nixon. He does scores of interviews and he doesn’t rage behind closed doors. But if he doesn’t make more concessions to Washington as it is, he’s going to hurt his presidency.”

    You go O.

  57. 57
    Ross Hershberger says:

    Well, if ‘terrorists’ intend on harming us with bombs, they’re not being very serious about the attempts. The underpants bomber and the Times Square bomber were both miserable failures.
    Maybe they’ve learned that just the gesture alone is sufficient to make Americans wet themselves in fear and want to cower behind our borders. That’s certainly what our media have been telling them.
    They don’t actually have to kill us any more. Just jump out wearing a turban and yell “BOO!” and we’ll run out into traffic and get hit by a bus all on our own.

  58. 58
  59. 59
    Chad N Freude says:

    @jeffreyw: “I don’t like some of the postings/comments here so even if I like the kitties I’m never reading this blog again.” Sorry if I wasn’t clear, but then I seldom am.

  60. 60
    Chad N Freude says:

    @arguingwithsignposts: Seems to happen frequently. I’ve never understood why some of the stuff with political content is categorized as Fashion and Style. In this case, I assume it’s because the political stuff is in the context of an upscale insider social event.

  61. 61
    Chad N Freude says:

    @The Main Gauche of Mild Reason: Irony Alert!

    when you’re willing to throw away your life for a cause

    Isn’t this the same as a US soldier willing to sacrifice his/her life for America/Democracy/Freedom?

  62. 62
    Mark S. says:

    @General Egali Tarian Stuck:

    I don’t think cable news is anywhere near as influential as these idiots would have us believe. They like to think they are creating the debate, but the truth is their audience is like a million or two in a nation of 300 million.

  63. 63
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @aws #55: IIRC the NYT did this just a couple of weeks ago. I’ve repressed the actual content, but I’m pretty sure their Style section ran a largel-political piece quite recently, and several of us discussed it here and how odd it was.

    Did Smudge ever get out of the box? :-)

  64. 64
    Chad N Freude says:

    @General Egali Tarian Stuck:

    But if he doesn’t make more concessions to Washington as it is, he’s going to hurt his presidency.

    That’s an interesting thing to say. It implies that actual accomplishment isn’t as important to a Presidency as pandering to “Washington as it is” (whatever that means).

  65. 65
    Chad N Freude says:

    @Ross Hershberger: Think what our behavior would be like if the terrorists won!

    In case the cynicism in that remark isn’t apparent, consider that the terrorists win something every time we collectively wet our pants.

    Edit: Add – or institute a new TSA protocol (shoes, anyone?) or other ineffectual theatrical action to disrupt normal activity.

  66. 66
    Mumphrey says:

    @Chad N Freude:

    I can’t say I know for sure, but I’d bet most of the people who go to war for the U.S. are hoping to make it back home alive. I know I would. And I’ll bet they work hard to stay alive. That’s hardly what I’d call throwing their lives away. Guys wearing bombs, though, well, they’re looking to the next life, not this one.

  67. 67

    @Mark S.: @Chad N Freude: Obama polling has remained remarkably stable the past year or so, with a few small dips and bumps, even through all the HCR nonsense. I do believe Fox news changed the equation and the culture on cable news a lot, but now it’s reaching somewhat of a stasis and doesn’t move the needle much either way anymore. IOW”s people who watch it have joined one team or the other and few minds are changed, and others not obsessed with politics, watch it for a few seconds, shake their heads and turn it off.

    And news reporters elsewhere have suffered the consequences of the descent of cable news into 24 hour nothingness taking them all down, even the good ones. The public rates them all a notch up from used car salesmen in believability, if that.

  68. 68

    @Chad N Freude:

    That’s an interesting thing to say. It implies that actual accomplishment isn’t as important to a Presidency as pandering to “Washington as it is” (whatever that means).

    It’s straight out of the Book of Broder 1:31.

    Shorter Modo: They’re trashing the place, and it’s not even their place.

  69. 69
    Chad N Freude says:

    @Mumphrey: Yeah, but I get sick of hearing that dead US soldiers gave their lives for whatever cause was being fought for. They didn’t give their lives, their lives were forcibly taken away from them. Don’t think for a moment that I equate suicidal insanity with risking one’s life in a real war, but the Official American Narrative makes them awfully similar.

  70. 70
    DougJ says:

    @General Egali Tarian Stuck:

    Yeah, that was perfect. The whole article was so stupid.

  71. 71
    DougJ says:

    @Leisureguy:

    I thought it made generalizations about typical gender behavior that were completely unfounded.

  72. 72
    Brachiator says:

    @Chad N Freude:

    I just read the NYT article @Elizabelle and I was amused by the fact that David Frum’s daughter is named “Bea Frum”.

    Could be worse. Her name might have been “Wherya.”

  73. 73
    Chad N Freude says:

    @Brachiator: I thought that was the name of Orson Bean’s daughter.

  74. 74
    Brachiator says:

    @Mumphrey:

    The thrust of most of the dumb comments seemed to be that even idiots can get lucky sometimes. And, surely enough, they can. But the unspoken implication of these comments is, as I read it, that the writer is saying that if these guys are idiots, we don’t need to do anything to stop them.

    Yep. As much as I appreciate the statistics of failure in the article, I was put off by its condescension and stupidity. And I do think that it is trying to counter a false sense of superhardened terrorists everywhere out to get us with an equally false notion that these are just a bunch of hapless sad sacks that no one needs to worry about.

    The plain fact is that it is often hard work to kill somebody, and harder still when you are working with improvised or volatile devices. This should not be reduced into incompetence or ineptitude. And yeah, failures to intercept a terrorist who is able to succeed with his or her mission counts as a hit, no matter how stupid the terrorist might be.

    The recounting of terrorist failures reminds me of a recent PBS Frontline documentary, “Behind Taliban Lines.” One gripping sequence involved watching a group of fighters try to ambush a convoy.

    The segment’s centerpiece is an attack on a main highway in which a bomb is planted by the roadside to kill Afghan Army troops and destroy American equipment. It’s a long, spiraling comedy of errors, as gruesomely entertaining as any Hollywood black comedy, featuring incompetence, miscommunication, resentment, foolhardy bravery and bad luck.

    In the crowning touch, after the targets are long gone, a bomb maker stabs at the buttons on his remote control while arguing with another fighter about why the bomb didn’t go off. “I pressed it,” he says. “It doesn’t work.” He hits the button again. Down the road, the bomb explodes.

    But these are more than just a bunch of stooges who believe some wacky religion and can’t get their act together.

    In a grim epilogue, Mr. Quraishi [the reporter traveling with the Taliban fighters] returns to the site of the aborted bombing and is reassured by Afghan police officers that the area is safe. Later he learns that the nearby police outpost has been overrun and all eight officers inside killed — by the hospitable and previously bumbling insurgents he had lived with.

    I was also put off by the nonsense in the Atlantic piece about how “If our terrorist enemies have been successful at cultivating a false notion of expertise, they’ve done an equally convincing job of casting themselves as pious warriors of God,” juxtaposing this supposed trenchant analysis with descriptions of Talib fighters pleasuring themselves with goats and cows. I don’t assume that these fighters are all disciplined or even that they believe their own propaganda; but this is absolutely irrelevant to their effectiveness as fighters.

    But most of all, I found the bland statement at the end of the article to be stunningly empty:

    The difference between a sophisticated killer like Mohamed Atta and so many of his hapless successors lies in training and inherent aptitude. Atta spent months learning his trade in Afghanistan and had the help of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership—a fact that underscores the importance of rooting out al-Qaeda havens in Pakistan.

    I don’t think that anyone has a clue about how to root out terrorist havens in Pakistan, certainly not without either destabilizing the country or engendering huge resentment against the US. And whatever we try to do in Pakistan is made much more difficult if recent charges that the Pakistani intelligence services are still supporting terrorist groups:

    Pakistan’s main spy agency continues to arm and train the Taliban and is even represented on the group’s leadership council despite U.S. pressure to sever ties and billions in aid to combat the militants, said a research report released Sunday.

    U.S. officials have suggested in the past that current or former members of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, have maintained links to the Taliban despite the government’s decision to denounce the group in 2001 under U.S. pressure.

    But the report issued Sunday by the London School of Economics offered one of the strongest cases that assistance to the group is official ISI policy, and even extends to the highest levels of the Pakistani government.

    If this is the best that the Atlantic has to offer, then not even an excellent James Fallows column will be able to save them.

  75. 75
    Keith G says:

    @Cat:

    Saying terrorists are a bunch nitwits is reckless. A well trained and disciplined group of nitwits happens to be very dangerous.

    They will be nitwits until one takes out a line waiting for Santa or a high school gymnasium during a pep rally. It’s the way our media rolls.

  76. 76
    Hob says:

    “A sophisticated killer like Mohammed Atta”? He did manage to kill a lot of people, but he did it exactly once, by hijacking a plane in a pretty straightforward way with four other guys. He was never in combat, and he wasn’t James fucking Bond.

  77. 77
    Cheryl from Maryland says:

    The latest issue, being Caitlin Flanagan free, was vastly superior to the June issue, even with the drooping male organ cover and a Megan McAddled article. Still, the Atlantic is a pale reflection of its earlier 21st century days when it had the data/statistics columns — nothing will ever top “Kansas really is flatter than a pancake.”

  78. 78
    Hob says:

    On the same note: I’ve never seen a good explanation of what kind of super-deadly skills people are supposed to be learning in these training camps. How to shoot guns? How to make a bomb? You don’t need a big paramilitary stronghold for those things, you just need a little space in any part of the world where there aren’t cops looking over your shoulder. Or, you just do what angry political young men have always done: you go find one of the world’s many wars and fight in it.

    Is there even one example, out of all the terror plots we’ve heard of in the last 20 years– successful, unsuccessful, or ludicrous– where any kind of rigorous paramilitary training was at all relevant? Or any reason to think that it would be, given that the definition of terrorism involves attacking victims who aren’t soldiers in places that aren’t well defended? (I mean, leaving aside the current weird notion that guerrilla warfare against soldiers in a war zone is also “terrorism.”)

    Atta did learn a skill that he needed for his murder plot, but he learned it in an American flight school.

  79. 79
    Warren Terra says:

    @Cheryl
    I’m pretty sure they stole “Kansas is flatter” from Marc Abraham’s Annals Of Improbable Research (his successor journal after the publishers took away his Journal Of Irreproducible Results).

  80. 80
    BC says:

    Anything that debunks the Bush line that the enemy we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is more of a threat to the United States than WWII Japan and Germany and Cold War Soviet Union (the latter was less of a threat than we knew at the time, by the way) combined has to be good. I wouldn’t want us to become complacent that it’s just idiots who become suicide bombers or terrorists, but I think we need some proportionality to the threat that terrorism poses to us. Otherwise, we are sparring with the guy who is using his hands and a bright light to frighten us.

  81. 81
    maus says:

    @Hob:

    On the same note: I’ve never seen a good explanation of what kind of super-deadly skills people are supposed to be learning in these training camps

    The same AMAZING skills militia and paraterrorist groups like Alpha 66 are learning on our soil.

  82. 82
    DPirate says:

    What is with you guys today, with all the “Gee I wonder why… there’s just no telling is there… la di da…” ?
    Terrorists are stupid people propagandized into stupid beliefs. Conservatives are stupid people propagandized into stupid beliefs.

    Both terrorist and conservative are complete misnomers, btw. Suicide bombers do not seek to foment terror. They seek to kill. Lucky for us they are stupid about it. Tea-partiers do not wish to reign in government. They seek to expand the oligarchy by any means.

    Both types are working directly against their own interests, of course; the bombers a little less so than the politicos.

    We have unprotected power grids and food processing plants all over the country and what do they do? Make a car bomb in Times Square! Like anyone really gives a shit about Times Square… Have to add these fool acts make me suspicious of the whole phenomenon. Likewise, the abject ignorance of the tea-party is unbelievable.

    EDIT: Another edit – I have problems today as well. These are just methods of control, meant not just for the subjects but for the rest of us, as well. Mark my words: Soon the terrorist threat will cease to be such a fear for even the most frightened of us. Authority is hampered by the fact they need to show themselves as capable, after all, hence foiling terrorist plots. Next comes the alien scare.

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