The dream is over…

Wednesday, April 7th, 2004, 3:36 pm

I have another long-winded poker essay coming along, but it isn’t done yet and I’m in a mind to post SOMETHING. Iggy is back so my readership is probably down 64%, but I still need to keep my content fresh. So, here goes.

First the bad news–as you can see, I’ve removed the “Gene Bromberg for President” link on this page, because I’ve decided to withdraw from the race. I know, I know, so many of you had high hopes for cushy jobs in a Bromberg Administration, and I too had big plans for this country and, indeed, the world. But I really don’t have time to write, work, play poker, socialize, AND run for Prez. It came down to either ditch the poker or leave the race. It was not a difficult decision.

The good news–the other day I got an email from two-time WPT finalist Andy Bloch. I posted an item about Andy awhile ago and he read it and, surprisingly, liked it. If you’ve been reading about Richard Brodie’s WPT adventures (of course you are) you know that Andy has yet to make a return to the TV table this year. This may be in part because Andy was arrested last year protesting the war and will be arguing his case to the DC Court of Appeals. He also gave a speech at Harvard Law School this past Wednesday and said he might mention a few things I wrote in my post. So I may not be elected President, but at least some of my wisdom will trickle down to the Future Leaders of America. Unless they all decide poker sounds like a better career than the law and follow Andy’s lead. Let’s hope they do.

Before I get to the poker content, let me comment on the recent testimony before the 9/11 commission by both Richard Clarke and Condoleezza Rice. I listened to what they had to say and what we did and didn’t do in the days leading up to 9/11, and I’m reminded of the very end of Franco Zeffarelli’s movie of Romeo and Juliet. The two lovers lie in their caskets, their grieving families gathered in the square, and the Prince, sorrowful but obviously furious that the Capulet-Montague strife has resulted in this tragedy, shouts, “All are punished!”, an admonision that everyone there, every heavy heart, bears some responsiblity for what happened. Including himself, for not having ended the feud.

There is more than enough blame to go around for 9/11. Ignoring the obvious point that the terrorists on board those planes and al-Qaeda in general are ultimately responsible, neither the Bush Administration nor the Clinton, Bush I, Reagan, or Carter Administrations can say their policies did much to prevent the desire or ability of Islamic extremists to attack the US. Rice had an interesting line in her opening remarks, that “the terrorists were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them”. In the past 25 years, the United States was been the target of many horrible attacks–the seizure of the US embassy in Iran, the Achille Lauro hijacking, the bombing of the Marine headquarters in Beirut, the bombing of the airliner over Lockerbie, the Khobar Towers attacks, the attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the attack on the USS Cole–which leads me to wonder, why did it take the deaths of 3,000 people and $100 billion in economic losses to take this seriously.

The answer is that we as a nation didn’t take it seriously. Oh, we got in high dudgeon every few years, over the Ayatollah Khomeni or Gaddafi or Saddam Hussain, but the idea of an actual long-term military response to the problem wasn’t even on the table. We didn’t invade Iraq in 1991 to root out terrorism, and when the Marine barracks got hit we pulled out of Lebanon. The attacks came overseas, against people and targets who, in our collective unconscious, had put themselves in harm’s way. It was terrible, it demanded a response…but go to war?

I agree with what Christopher Hitchens has said, that the attacks on 9/11 were absolutely the dumbest thing that al-Qaeda could have done. Just as with Pearl Harbor, the sleeping giant has awoken, and no longer will terrorists have the luxury of patience. People with guns are coming for them with a vigor they’ve never experienced before, and even if they manage to pull off attacks like the ones in Bali, Riyadh, and Madrid, the battle will not be abandoned. If you’ll allow a poker metaphor, the attacks on 9/11 was an all-in bet by the dark forces who prefer chaos and slavery to freedom and dignity, and the bet was called.

And must continue to be called. The situation in Iraq is fluid and dangerous, and will continue to be that way for years. The Bush Administration should be called to task for it’s handling of the war and its aftermath, because through arrogance and an astonishing lack of intellectual flexibility the problems in Iraq are far worse than they might otherwise have been. There’s also the tiny issue of whether we attacked Iraq because of legitimate security concerns or because Bush had a bee in his bonnet about Iraq from the get-go. Whether our national security would have been better served by letting Iraq sit a bit while we chewed up al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and beyond is a question deserving a Commission of its own. If al-Qaeda pulls off another spectacular attack on American soil while our troops are stuck in Iraq fighing Sunni and Shiite militias and foreign fighters and God knows who else, the question of why we’re in Iraq in the first place will become as serious a question as what we did or didn’t do before 9/11.

But I’ve also been disgusted by many Democatic criticisms of the war, which have been at times so idiotic you’d think they were quotes planted by Karl Rove. Ted Kennedy calling the war in Iraq “Bush’s Vietnam” was appalling. Don’t they want to defeat Bush? There are ways of criticizing the Administration’s conduct that don’t pander to the most pea-brained among us, but you don’t hear arguments like that.

And that fact, ultimately, is a big reason why I wanted to run for President in the first place. Partisan politics have become so poisonous they’ve compromised the national security of the United States. When Bill Clinton ordered the Tomahawk missile strike against al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan all you heard were Republicans saying that Clinton was trying to deflect attention from the breaking Monica Lewinsky scandal. “Wag the Dog” was the perjorative term used to denigrate the attacks, based on the recent movie. The attacks were ultimately unsuccessful. An ground assault by Special Forces backed up by air strikes may have been more effective, but that option probably wasn’t even considered because of the political backlash that would have followed.

In his blog today Gregg Easterbrook describes what may have happened had George Bush actually taken the steps required to prevent 9/11 and decaptiate al-Qaeda. There would have been screaming, frothing at the mouth, and rending of garments. An unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation, the rounding up of 20 young Muslims who came to this country to learn how to fly? Yet another right-wing assault on personal freedom, a nascent police state making it’s first move, the opening steps toward a new Imperial America. Would anyone have believed that a catastrophe had just been averted? I doubt it.

We’re fighting the war Bush described when he addressed the nation after the attacks. It’s gonna be a long, messy slog. It won’t be over in a year. Or two years. It might not be over for a generation. Or two. Until the Middle East and Africa and other parts of the world where poverty and oppression are the rule become more prosperous and free there will always be the danger of some radicalized and amoral group showing the world they exist the only way they know how–by killing people. The current Administration has learned that the military part of the War on Terror is the easy part. No force on earth can resist the armed forces of the United States. The hard part, the part that may prove to be the biggest challenge this nation has ever faced, is bringing the ideals of freedom and liberty to people who, in large part, hate our guts, either because of what we did in the past or what we’re doing to them right now. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to take a very, very, very long time. And we have to do it.

OK…I think I’ll hold off on the poker stuff till later. Go get some fish, maybe have a beer, play some cards. I’ll solve the rest of the world’s problems after dessert.

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