Some observers have claimed that terror won the day in Boston because it managed to shut down an entire modern city of the United States. This is a misreading of the entire episode from beginning to end, and a misreading of the age and legacy of President Barack Obama. Let me digress from Boston to what I am calling the Age of Obama and then return to the Boston terror episode.
Although President Obama has proven to be weak in confronting the worst corruptions of the war on terror, such as Guantanamo, and a slew of illiberal laws in place, the fact is that from the beginning of his aspiration to the presidency he made it clear that war reduction was his priority, and he has followed through on that in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The most important shift he has made, however, from the Age of Bush is to replace a spirit of revenge and attack in the war on terror with the commitment to police action, to a focus on crime, defense and the rule of law. His complicated decision to find Bin Laden as the focus of his counter-terrorism, and the moral and political risks he took for this exemplify this shift. This put crime and punishment and policing back at the center of the stage of international security actions, and has fundamentally altered the course of history.
President Obama understands that the key to a less violent future is the enforceable rule of law locally and globally. So that when a country has to defend itself against crimes committed it focuses squarely on the crime, protection of civilians, and strict justice, not revenge, not escalation, not the language of war and not the assertion of dominance and violence for the sake of dominance.
The invasion of Iraq after 9/11 is typical of the reaction of barbarians the world over throughout history: you are angry and hurt and humiliated, so you seek out someone to humiliate in return, someone bad who deserves it. You are not interested in crime and punishment, you are only interested to show your dominance and power, and justice has absolutely nothing to do with your actions. It is a simple assertion of dominance, very violent, and very ancient. It provokes others to do in kind that leads to cycles of violence that are never ending, cycles that made European history and the wild West into a bloodbath.
The Boston response, however, was a product of the Age of Obama, not the Age of 9/11 or the Age of Bush. The response was a massive display of power of a defensive nature, to protect civilians from a clear and present danger, an identifiable set of men, with the end in sight when they were caught. It also involved not civilian intimidation but extensive civilian cooperation, all in the service of one thing, protecting everyone, all civilians regardless of religion, and a massive effort to counter a crime with justice, not revenge, and not escalation. It required enormous participation and patience on the part of civilians, the incarceration of an entire modern city. It required the police admitting, in an anti-macho act, that they needed help, as they went public with the pictures of the criminals. It required a calculated moral risk as those pictures were released that this could provoke more violence, which it did but it also shortened the life of the killing spree, unlike other episodes that went on for a long time, like the Washington sniper. Just like with the choices around the Bin Laden pursuit, the police like Obama had to make complicated moral and strategic decisions of a sophisticated nature, which led to some danger, but also an envisioned end to the violence, not an open-ended war or state sponsored killing spree. The Boston action required civilian and police risk, some casualties and then within days it was over, really over, unlike irrational wars that kill far more innocents on both sides than were ever killed in the original provocation. The response to Boston was not the declaration of Bostonian or American war on Chechnya, for example, or on the Chechnyan American minority, or on mosques, or on some tribal area overseas, because the police action had a beginning, middle and end. It ended and transferred authority to civilian courts. Its purpose was not domination but safety, human security, and definitive justice.
This is the kind of system in place that creates a far less violent world. and it is a product of the age of Obama. Imagine what we would be doing now as a nation if someone else was in charge, imagine that the poor Bangladeshi guy in the Bronx who was beat up as a Muslim bystander for the crimes of this very sad criminal set of American brothers of Chechnyan origin. Imagine how many more would would have been beaten, imagine what war or violent action would be unleashed right now. Welcome to the Age of Obama. Let’s make sure that the Age of 9/11 is dead and buried.
Age of Bush/Age of 9/11
Age of Obama
War on terror , no limits
rule of law, police, courts, absolute limits
Goal: dominance, Therefore killing bad guys is key, not the perpetrators,
hence entire country of Iraq not Bin Laden, to show how dominant you are, not how just
Goal: domestic safety and
prosperity, police action
only related crime, Bin Laden
and Al Qaeda
Response to boston: identify villains and escalate, Muslims, civilians treated as foreigners, no end to
feeding military-industrial complex,
climate of fear, paranoia, racism generated, producing more global animosity and feeding the cycle of violence in a never ending spiral
Response to Boston: civilian defense, crime, punishment, civilians as team of defense, human security, crime, defense, beginning, middle, end, courts, rule of law extended, civilians defended, civilians empowered, civilians of all religions respected, global message that de-escalates the cycle of violence, and sets model of an international city’s response to massive tragedy and danger but governed by complete commitment to human security and the rule of law universally applied.
© Marc Gopin