War with Iran (15): From the Annals of American Military Invincibility

So this isn’t a story specifically about Iran, but close enough:

WASHINGTON — Armed with rifles and explosives, about a dozen Shabab fighters destroyed an American surveillance plane as it was taking off and ignited an hours long gunfight earlier this month on a sprawling military base in Kenya that houses United States troops. By the time the Shabab were done, portions of the airfield were burning and three Americans were dead.

Surprised by the attack, American commandos took around an hour to respond. Many of the local Kenyan forces, assigned to defend the base, hid in the grass while other American troops and support staff were corralled into tents, with little protection, to wait out the battle. It would require hours to evacuate one of the wounded to a military hospital in Djibouti, roughly 1,500 miles away.

The brazen assault at Manda Bay, a sleepy seaside base near the Somali border, on Jan. 5, was largely overshadowed by the crisis with Iran after the killing of that country’s most important general two days earlier, and is only now drawing closer scrutiny from Congress and Pentagon officials.

What scrutiny? Continue reading

War with Iran (4): The Target Package

Donald Trump has famously and idiotically tried to assuage fears of a war with Iran with the assertion that he had Qasem Suleimani killed not to start a war but to prevent one. Putting aside the ad hoc quality of his reliance on the distinction between the intended and the foreseen, this happens to be a classic case of its total irrelevance: it doesn’t much matter in this context whether Trump intended to start a war, or merely foresaw that he might start one, or just recklessly took his action without thinking too hard about what he was doing. Yes, there’s a distinction to be drawn between a war brought about by intention and a war brought about through extreme recklessness. But it’s a distinction without a difference in a case where the action leading to war initiates force and violates any plausible conception of prudential rationality to boot. It doesn’t help that the rationalization for it comes from a pathological liar. Continue reading

Notes on the Jersey City Shooting (2)

In an earlier post, I took issue with the widespread but premature tendency to “link” the recent Jersey City shooting to the Black Hebrew Israelite (or Black Israelite) movement. From what I’ve read, the tendency takes the form of inflating the shooters’ interest in the group into a “link to” the group (suggesting something like membership), the implication being that the group’s ideology helps explain the shooters’ motivations, hence explains the shooting (suggesting something like complicity by the group itself).

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Reason Papers Vol. 41:1 Is Out

The latest issue of Reason Papers–the first issue edited by Shawn Klein (Arizona State University)–is now out. This issue contains (among other things) the long-awaited symposium on Vicente’s Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified, based on an Author-Meets-Critics session held at Felician University in April 2018. Thanks to everyone who worked on the issue, and especially to Shawn, for the work they put into it. Incidentally, though there isn’t one in this issue, the journal often runs a “Discussion Notes” section for responses to material in previous issues. So if you feel inclined to respond to anything you read here, send something along to Shawn via the journal.

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“Terrorism” as Toxic Term: A Reply to Irfan Khawaja

I am grateful to my friend and professional colleague Irfan Khawaja for his incisive critique of my short piece, Terrorism as a Toxic Term: Why Definition Matters, and for generously allowing me to post my reply on his website. As Irfan underscores, our main difference regarding the definition of the term “terrorism” is a difference in “focus,” but perhaps there is also a difference in kind. That is, the kind of definition that one might find morally adequate for describing terrorist violence. I argue that the disposition of the perpetrators and the objective innocence of the victims should be the focus of an adequate and fair definition of terrorism.

Irfan, however, argues that one “should focus on the reasons that terrorists cite to justify their actions.” He contests “the idea that a definition of terrorism should describe it merely as a use of violence rather than an “initiatory” [my italics] use of violence and a response to one.” Irfan’s suggestion is well taken. I agree with him that there is a relevant distinction “between purely initiatory aggression on the one hand, and disproportionality or indiscriminateness in an otherwise justified response to aggression on the other.” Continue reading

“Twin Towers, Twin Memories”

For the last eighteen years, Chris Sciabarra has been writing up a kind of blog-based micro-history of 9/11 as seen from the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, where he lives. Here’s a link to the whole archive, from September 2001 to September 2019, which I highly recommend.

I happened to be at Casa Sciabarra as Chris was putting the final touches on the most recent installment in the series, “Zack Fletcher: Twin Towers, Twin Memories“– about fraternal twins, Zackary and Andre Fletcher, both members of the FDNY, the New York City Fire Department. Sadly, Andre perished on duty as a result of the attack. The post consists of an interview with Zack, reflecting on the meaning of the day and the loss of his brother. If you read one thing about 9/11 today, I’d suggest reading this.

“Terrorism” Revisited

My friend Vicente Medina (Philosophy, Seton Hall University) has a short piece out on the semantics of “terrorism” in Government Europa Quarterly, an online journal.  We had a few discussions of Medina’s views on terrorism here at PoT in advance of the symposium on his book, Terrorism Unjustified, that took place at Felician about a year and a half ago (see here and here). A published version of the Felician symposium is about to come out soon at Reason Papers, consisting of three critical responses (by Graham Parsons, Theresa Fanelli, and myself), and a response by Medina. Continue reading

Droning On

I’m teaching the issue of drone warfare and targeted killing in one of my ethics classes, the fifth or sixth semester in a row I’ve taught this material, via Kenneth Himes’s 2016 book, Drones and the Ethics of Targeted Killing. It’s been a frustrating, even despair-inducing experience: Of the 90 or so students enrolled, only half attend. Of the 45 of who attend, 40 are utterly indifferent to the material, unmoved even by the most shocking finding, revelation, or video I can throw at them.

My students–whether rich or poor, urban or suburban, black or white–simply do not care whether drones increase or decrease the incidence of terrorist attacks, much less whether their use is in any sense morally justified. Whether drones kill innocents or kill “bad guys,” whether the targets are justified in resisting U.S. policy or obliged to lie down and take it: none of this is nearly as important as whatever they’re doing on their phones. Continue reading

9/11 + 17: Lessons

I post this every year around 9/11, so here it is again. Though it isn’t up yet, Chris Sciabarra’s annual 9/11 series is always worth reading and should be up soon. And feel free to take a look at my recent apologetic essay here in defense of terrorism, eventually slated for publication in Reason Papers as part of a symposium on Vicente Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified. 

We’re just a few days away from the seventeenth anniversary of 9/11. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from the last decade and a half of perpetual warfare. I offer them somewhat dogmatically, as a mere laundry list (mostly) minus examples, but I have a feeling that the lessons will ring true enough for many people, and that most readers can supply appropriate examples of their own.  Continue reading

“An Enmity to One’s Being”: A Murder in Palestine

Put in mere prose, the event sounds so humdrum and everyday that the reader is apt to let it in through one ear, and let it out the other:

AFTER A TRIAL that lasted nearly four years, Ben Deri, a former member of Israel’s paramilitary border police force, was sentenced to nine months in jail on Wednesday for firing live ammunition through the chest of an unarmed Palestinian protester without having been ordered to do so.

But sometimes, seeing is believing, and sticks with you awhile:

People sometimes complain, justifiably, that video footage of a crime or atrocity distorts the event by truncation: you miss what preceded the footage, and what came after, to fixate unfairly on the slice in between. Harder to make that claim here. Continue reading