I’ve refrained from saying much about Boston because I don’t have any special information, expertise or knowledge, and I’m not particularly interested in yoking that tragedy to my own political hobby-horses (or straining to prevent others from doing same). Our culture’s penchant for gnawing on the bloody bones of tragedy is one of our least-attractive qualities.
I’ve said this before, and the more I say it, the more I like it. (Some might say that is characteristic of my own self-involvement.) I like it because it continues to accrue new meanings.
The nice thing about thinking we’re in “The Battle of Algiers” is that it opens up space for a discussion of policy. Thus, we can debate whether the problem is an imperial foreign policy (or whether the problem is that, like France in the 1960s, we’re inviting in immigrants from the very regions affected by that foreign policy). We can debate whether we are being insufficiently vigilant in the war on terror, or the war on radical Islam, or whether our excessive vigilance is precisely what is fueling radicalism and terrorism.
But I’m increasingly skeptical that this line of thinking has any utility. The Boston bombers were legal immigrants who came as children from Dagestan, a region minimally affected by American foreign policy. The older Tsarnaev, Tamerlan, appears to have been introduced to radicalism by an American citizen who converted to Islam. His own Imam seems to have been among those alarmed by his radical turn. So far, all the evidence suggests that he was inspired by groups like al Qaeda, but not actively recruited by any such group. The brothers appear to have seen themselves and their resort to terrorism as part of something much bigger than themselves. But it’s not clear that this was true anywhere but in their own heads. Regardless of their professed ideology or inspiration, fundamentally they were space monkeys.
There’s probably a policy question to be asked about whether we’re making more space monkeys than we might, whether some cultures or countries are producing them in especially alarming quantities these days. There are undoubtedly things to say about the pace of job creation relative to changes in the size of the labor force, about the fate of masculinity in an era of global deindustrialization, the effect of mass-communications on traditional cultures, etc. But cultures and economies are slow-to-turn ships, so any policy questions thereby implicated are not “solutions” to any near-term security concern.
I guess my point is: the quest for perfect security is just as foolish when it’s pursued under the banner of anti-imperialism as it when it’s pursued under the banner of neoconservatism. We should be advocating a more restrained foreign policy because our current, highly forward defense posture is wastefully expensive in blood and treasure, eroding our constitutional order, and creating more problems overseas than it solves. But even after a hypothetical rethinking of American foreign policy, we’ll still be the richest and most powerful country on earth, a symbol of the order of things as they are. And as such, a potent target for space monkeys everywhere.