He was gearing up for just another day of hard work in a mundane job – but at least it was a job. And it happened to be at one of the most prestigious and famous restaurants in the world. In fact, it was on top of the world. Never mind that he didn’t have regular access to the spectacular views from the establishment that occupied the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, he could catch a glimpse here and there on his breaks.
On September 11, 2001 the sky was clear and the view was especially breathtaking. But the beauty of that scene would give way to an explosion of horror in a brief and life-shattering moment. Manuel Emilio Mejia – kitchen worker at the Windows on the World restaurant – would become a victim of mind-boggling terror. His friends and family would grieve and the nation would remember.
Then time would go by and, though those closest to him in life would never fade in their passionate memory of him, the nation would move on – not just to life as usual, but even toward an eventual awkward shift as patriotic fervor and a national sense of resolve morphed into ominous forgetfulness. Some even started to want to “reach out” to those who were responsible for Mejia’s tragic death, as well as nearly 2,800 others who died that fateful, but now long-gone-not-likely-to-happen-again-because-better-people-are-in-charge, day.
New York City’s medical examiner recently announced that they have positively identified – via DNA technology – the remains of 54-year old Manuel Emilio Mejia. His name will be in the news for a few days as this announcement cycles through the media. But it will quickly fade into a footnote, because – you see – we are moving on, we are reaching out, we are charting a new course, and we are making the age-old mistake of willfully forgetting the past.
The Greatest Generation never forgot Pearl Harbor. That’s one of the things that made them great.
These days the war on terror is over as a nomenclature as if changing terminology can change reality. But there was a gigantic elephant in that G-20 room in London a few days ago. So many of the nations represented have a persistent and growing “Muslim” problem. And it seems as if the so-called “best and brightest” of the most “progressive” nations simply insist on ignoring it.
Can anyone imagine any leader in, say, late 2001 or early 2002 talking about rapprochement with the radical Muslim world with political impunity? Yet here we are not even eight years out from unspeakable horror – with so many evidences since of foiled plots and sinister plans – ready to engage the enemy in ways suggesting he’s not so bad, after all.
Is anyone noticing that President Obama is much more comfortable talking about his bona fides with the Islamic world as someone who seems to instinctively understand – than he was as Candidate Obama? Sometimes it’s subtle – as when he referred to Iran, in a legitimizing manner, as “The Islamic Republic of Iran” on March 19th – a far cry from the “axis of evil” rhetoric of his oft-ridiculed predecessor. Words are always code; listen carefully.
Of course, the most significant shift in body language, not to mention policy, by the new administration is in the idea of reaching out to the moderate Taliban to make some kind of deal. Or as I am tempted to refer to it: Operation Jumbo Shrimp – An Exercise in Oxymoronic Geopolitics.
Moderate Taliban? Is it possible for a fanatic to be a-little-bit-pregnant with poisonous ideology?
History tells us that fanatical regimes have a field day with naïve adversaries. Neville Chamberlain comes to mind. He thought he could do business with Hitler and in doing so he gave away much of the European store.
Lyndon Johnson often lamented that if only he could sit down one on one with Ho Chi Minh (“Uncle Ho”), they could actualize the president’s favorite Bible passage from the writings of the prophet Isaiah, “Come now let us reason together.” Never mind that he always took that scripture out of context.
Sure, Richard Nixon used diplomacy and détente in his day, but it is important to understand context and nuance. As Nixon put it in his book, Leaders: Profiles and Reminiscences of Men Who Have Shaped the Modern World:
“There are two kinds of détente: hard-headed and soft-headed. Hard-headed détente is based on effective deterrence. This kind of détente encourages the Soviets to negotiate, because it makes the cost of Soviet aggression too high. Soft-headed détente, by contrast, discourages negotiation, because it makes the cost of Soviet expansion so low that the Soviets find the rewards of aggression too tempting.
Hard-headed détente, backed by the force to make deterrence credible, preserves peace. Soft-headed détente invites either war or surrender without war. We need détente, but it must be the right kind of détente.”
The idea of dealing with so-called moderate Taliban reminds me of a story from the 1920s in the immediate aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. In 1921, the Soviet Cheka (predecessor of the KGB and modern day FSB) created a fictitious movement known as The Trust (or Trest) and for more than half a decade this purported neo-monarchist organization wrought havoc on western intelligence operations.
The Cheka was a powerful weapon in the hands of Lenin and his gang as they imposed their will on the population and the military. Under the leadership of the infamous Felix Dzerzhinski, The Trust became a vital and effective counterintelligence operation. Using the name Monarchist Association of Central Russia, they targeted various “counterrevolutionary” elements inside Russia as well as in other countries, convincing them that their organization was a front for an effort to overthrow the Bolsheviks.
People tend to believe just what they want to believe so this initiative was highly successful. As they drew opponents of the regime into their web of deceit – boatloads of money and all - they had their enemies right in the line of fire.
Those pesky Commies sure didn’t play fair. They even lied. Can you imagine? Lying in the service of fanatical ideology? For some reason, the impressive sounding lies of fanatics seem to resonate with those who tend to underestimate the darker side of human nature. Later, under Stalin, the Soviets created a loose confederation of international groups under the banner of the Popular Front. This effort neutralized much opposition to emerging Soviet influence. It was all proven to be a fraud when the Soviets signed a non-aggression pact with the Nazis in August of 1939. Fanatics have a real problem with the truth and they don’t play fair.
By now, many Americans are somewhat aware of the Islamic doctrine of Taqiyya – the idea that deceit is a legitimate weapon when dealing with infidels (read: “We the People”). Grasping the fact that our determined enemies will at times use monumental deceit to further their cause is imperative right now. Yet, too many – especially those in key positions today – are willing to risk our future on better angels that simply don’t exist.
U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently offered Taliban fighters an “honorable form of reconciliation” and waxed philosophical about efforts to “separate the extremists of al Qaeda and the Taliban from those who have joined their ranks not out of conviction, but out of depression.” Apparently, their “depression” is now all better.
But what if – maybe, just maybe some of those who respond to the new Obama olive branch do so, say – deceptively (cue the scary music here)? It would be not only naïve to think this couldn’t happen; it would be downright dumb.
During the past 100 years we have lurched from one war to another, one ideological conflict to another, seldom really learning important lessons. The seeds of World War II were in the aftermath of its numerical predecessor. The Cold War grew out of mistakes and miscalculations from its forerunner. And the war we now fight – against a virulent ideology and determined enemy – though involving new weapons, still sees some of the old plays being run effectively by cynical adversaries.
It’s like we are Charlie Brown and our adversaries are Lucy holding the football just taunting us to kick it – again.