In an increasingly phantasmagorical world, here’s my present fantasy of choice: someone from General Keith Alexander’s outfit, the National Security Agency, tracks down H.G. Wells’s time machine in the attic of an old house in London. Britain’s subservient Government Communications Headquarters, its version of the NSA, is paid off and the contraption is flown to Fort Meade, Maryland, where it’s put back in working order. Alexander then revs it up and heads not into the future like Wells to see how our world ends, but into the past to offer a warning to Americans about what’s to come.
He arrives in Washington on October 23, 1962, in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a day after President Kennedy has addressed the American people on national television to tell them that this planet might not be theirs -- or anyone else’s -- for long. ("We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth, but neither will we shrink from the risk at any time it must be faced.") Greeted with amazement by the Washington elite, Alexander, too, goes on television and informs the same public that, in 2013, the major enemy of the United States will no longer be the Soviet Union, but an outfit called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and that the headquarters of our country’s preeminent foe will be found somewhere in the rural backlands of... Yemen.
Yes, Yemen, a place most Americans, then and now, would be challenged to find on a world map. I guarantee you one thing: had such an announcement actually been made that day, most Americans would undoubtedly have dropped to their knees and thanked God for His blessings on the American nation. Though even then a nonbeliever, I would undoubtedly have been among them. After all, the 18-year-old Tom Engelhardt, on hearing Kennedy’s address, genuinely feared that he and the few pathetic dreams of a future he had been able to conjure up were toast.
Had Alexander added that, in the face of AQAP and similar minor jihadist enemies scattered in the back lands of parts of the planet, the U.S. had built up its military, intelligence, and surveillance powers beyond anything ever conceived of in the Cold War or possibly in the history of the planet, Americans of that time would undoubtedly have considered him delusional and committed him to an asylum.
Such, however, is our world more than two decades after Eastern Europe was liberated, the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War definitively ended, and the Soviet Union disappeared.
~ from And Then There Was One by Tom Engelhardt ~
It amazes me that, no matter how frequently we're told that al-Qaeda has been seriously wounded, it continues to be such a supposedly feared enemy. It is like the cat with nine lives. No matter how many higher ups we neutralize, the threat never diminishes.
Think about the number of reports within the last decade. We took out the head -- one bin Laden -- and several operational commanders and yet the War on Terror hasn't skipped a beat. This represents a weird paradox for the US Commander-in-Chief (Bush or Obama). To prove that our military might is needed and capable, the president must announce successes in our continuous war against the Axis of Evil. He must show that we are wounding our supposed adversary. But he can't tell us that we've crippled them...because if al-Qaeda was said to be crippled, then the rationale for our continued militarization and increased mass surveillance would be greatly lessened.
Accordingly, he must straddle the line between saying that we are winning this war, BUT the war itself is far from over. Yes, we hold the upper hand, but our hand must remain on the throttle, lest we lose our superior position.
So, we continue to build the largest military and mass surveillance system the world has ever known in order to combat ragtag outfits skulking around in caves and other out of the way locales. It seems a bit surreal, doesn't it?