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10/16/2004

The same old "new" war

John Kerry's comments in The New York Times Magazine (which I discuss in my Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed "In a time of drastic change") caused me to go back and have another look at Kerry's 1997 screed The New War.

In one of their campaign ads last summer, the Kerry team touted the book as a pre-9/11 blueprint for the war on terror:

He's a husband and a father. A pilot, a hunter, a hockey player. Tough prosecutor, advocate for kids. Nineteen years, Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Author of a strategy to win the war on terror. [Camera shot of book cover.]

In fact, The New War provides much of the logic behind Kerry's contention that terrorism should be treated primarily as a law enforcement problem, not as a geopolitical one. The book spends much of its 208 pages talking about the many parallels between international organized crime and its "fraternal twin" (p. 25) terrorism.

Kerry supporters, of course, regard the book as near-prophecy, pointing to blinding insights like this (p. 111): "It will take only one mega-terrorist event in any of the great cities of the world to change the world in a single day." Such statements, however, were a staple of virtually everything written about terrorism prior to 9/11. As I see it, Kerry's analysis pretty much boils down to: "If those bad guys ever did anything really bad, it would be really, really bad." Even Nostradamus was more specific:

In the City of God there will be a great thunder, two brothers torn apart by Chaos. While the fortress endures, the great leader will succumb. The third big war will begin when the big city is burning.

I wouldn't recommend actually reading the book unless you're an insomniac looking for a sure-fire cure. (Amazon is selling remaindered copies for $3.99, which is exactly $3.99 more than it's worth. A better strategy, I found, is to use Amazon's wonderful "Search Inside This Book" feature and type in words like "terrorism" and "extremist." Don't bother to type in "Osama bin Laden" or "Al Qaeda"; nothing pops up.)

I highly recommend, though, you take a look at Varifrank's summary analysis of The New War, which has the added virtue of being quite amusing. To wit:

Ladies and Gentleman of the Blogosphere, I sacrifice my own eyes to keep each of you from going out to buy and read this book on your own. It's a small book, and with the help of this "Summary" you can glean most of what is needed in about 15 minutes from any bookshelf at any library or bookstore where you can find it. Abbie Hoffman, eat your heart out.

Mark Twain once offered an analysis of another book where he called the it "cholorform in print." I always thought that was a good line, so I will use it here as its best approximates the effect this book has upon large mammals like myself. This is one tough book to read, if you read it with John Kerrys 'Boston Foghorn" voice as your inner dialog, it could probably be used at Guantanamo to break Taliban detainees.

Varifrank's summary give you a pretty good idea of what the "war on terror" would look like under a Kerry administration. Think: "war on drugs."

Posted by Rodger on October 16, 2004 at 12:03 PM | Permalink

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