“Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” — George Bernard Shaw.
I thought of this quote while reading recent dispatches from the “war on terror.”
Even during our holidays, the horror of people dying and being terrorized (often at the hands of our own government) continued. It can be extremely difficult to bear sometimes.
And yet, at the same time, if you can detach from that terrible reality for just a moment, our so-called war also has all the sublime absurdity of a Keystone Cops movie.
Take for example Tuesday’s Washington Post headline on the attack that killed seven CIA employees at a forward base in Afghanistan: “Bomber of CIA post was trusted informant.”
Yes, even though the man, Humam Balawi, had a history of supporting jihadist causes, was an administrator of a prominent online jihadist forum, and once told a magazine – a publication associated with al-Qaeda, according to the Post – that he “had a predisposition for love of jihad and martyrdom since [he] was little,” THIS is the guy the CIA trusted. Right up until he blew himself up in their midst.
The rest of Afghanistan has been a regular dark comedy of errors as well. There were several U.S. military strikes over the holidays that allegedly killed civilians, including children, and which prompted significant public protests in Afghanistan. (You don’t read about them in our ever-shrinking mainstream newspapers, but they’re happening). And then, just this past weekend, the Afghan Parliament rejected 17 out of 24 of President Hamid Karzai’s Cabinet nominees. Which means that our guy in Kabul, the one we are counting on to form a stable government and nation in just 18 months so our additional troops can march in and then turn around to march out, is not only massively corrupt and intimately connected to war lords and drug lords (including his own brother), he won’t even have a functioning administration for – who knows? – maybe months to come.
Of course, the most prominent recent event in what The Colbert Report is calling “the Crapification of the American Pants – scape,” was the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner above Detroit. And instead of a shoe bomber, this time we were attacked, literally, by an underwear bomber. A tighty whitey al-Qaedy. The jokes practically write themselves.
And how did our vaunted homeland security perform during this attack? Could they possibly manage to single out and detain a passenger who was a) a young man traveling alone from Africa, b) paying for his ticket with cash, c) carrying no luggage, d) possessing only a one way ticket, and e) flying to Detroit… in f) the winter? Apparently not. (“Did they think he was going to Detroit because he heard there were jobs there?” was one Jon Stewart’s better lines.)
Better yet, how about the fact that the bomber was actually already on our terrorist watch list – because his own father repeatedly warned U.S. agencies that his son was becoming dangerously radical?
Nope, that’s still not quite enough information to go on. Luckily, though, there was an alert passenger to tackle the guy when he tried to ignite his drawers. Mission accomplished!
Here are a few more fun facts about the effort to secure our airports since the September 11 attacks: Most new screening equipment has been years late in arriving at airports. Virtually every time the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been tested, undercover agents manage to get bomb making materials on board more than 50% of the time. And the TSA screeners working our airports, who start at a slightly-better-than-french-fry-maker salary of $25,000 a year, are, as House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) stated just four months ago, suffering from “high attrition, low morale and severe workplace injury rates… since [the agency's] creation in 2001.”
Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up! Can you blame the comics for having a good time with it? And can you blame the rest of us if watching comedians like Stewart and Colbert is pretty much the only way we can stomach the news anymore?
Finally, and naturally, our leadership is at its best at times like these.
Regarding the narrowly averted Christmas Day bombing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano remarked that “the system worked” – an observation so ludicrous she had to retract it the next day. (Shades of Katrina and “way to go, Brownie?”)
Republicans are inanely attacking Obama for not saying the phrase “war on terror,” as if using these words would somehow change the situation, while Joe Lieberman, the Asshole Pro Tem of the Senate, (I’m only allowed to say it because it’s true!), is already talking about Yemen, the likely origin of the Christmas Day plot, as “the war of tomorrow.” That is, he says, unless we “act pre-emptively” – which is, I guess, to make it the war of today instead. There’s Joe-mentum for you!
And a CIA spokesperson, using the thoughtfully calibrated language of international relations and diplomacy, said that the attack on their base “will be avenged.” He continued: “Some very bad people will eventually have a very bad day.”
Woo-hoo! Let the cyclical blood-letting continue!
Of course, there is nothing remotely amusing about the whole damnable war on terror. People are dying and suffering in large numbers, countless lives are being disrupted, and the change we voted for in 2008 is turning out to be more of the same. Those of us committed to stopping this insanity will just have to slog on.
But sometimes, if only to get through a day, you just gotta laugh. Lord knows they’re giving us enough material.