When al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11, the country discovered to its complete shock that it was at war and ill-prepared to do much about it. Once again, the U.S. is waking up to the fact that it’s under attack and not yet up to fighting back. This enemy, like the last one, is nontraditional in nature, and the battle is asymmetrical.
Just as we’d been practiced in fighting other countries when we were attacked by a network of transnational Islamists, we’ve mostly considered the possibility of cyber-attack as coming from another nation, whereas it has come (and continues to come) from loosely connected global networks. After WikiLeaks exposed hundreds of thousands of national security secrets and put untold lives at risk, WikiLeaks’s cyber-allies are now attacking the websites (and, thus, the functional capabilities) of perceived corporate, organizational, and governmental enemies. An expansion of these kinds of breaches and attacks has the potential to bring our hi-tech world to a standstill. The fecklessness being displayed by American officials, the insistent downplaying of the disaster, and the pervasive sense of confusion all point to the likelihood that we are in for yet another long, controversial, and little-understood war.
Once again, we are not only unprepared in terms of legal frameworks and battle strategies; we find ourselves essentially weak of character. In the New York Times, Robert Wright writes that WikiLeaks “is doing God’s work.” Regarding the revelations about secret American actions taken against terrorists in the Middle East, he notes, “I’d put this stuff on the positive side of the ledger.” Meanwhile, civil libertarians go on television to rail against the mistreatment of WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange and liberal journalists, such as the Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, decry Assange’s “demonization.”
The facts around Assange’s arrest provide a stick-figure sketch of the perplexing cultural battle now underway in the West. On the one side we have a hip techno-nihilism, utilizing the infinite resources of the Internet and finding support in a warped libertarianism. And on the other, the only thing going up against it with enough conviction to bring Assange to justice is the politically correct junior-high sex-ed police, who managed to collar him in Britain on an unsafe-sex rap. Perhaps Colin Powell used the wrong props at the UN back in 2003. Forget WMD. If he just held up some defective birth control nabbed from Saddam’s bedroom, the sanctioned social workers of Europe might have gone to Baghdad and toppled him for us.
Real threats are no longer taken seriously, while small antagonisms and inconveniences are elevated to capital crimes. This holds true across the political spectrum and in government and among the public. We’ve just had a record year in attempted jihadist attacks against America, but if you’re on the right, chances are you’re fighting the War on Airport Pat-Downs. The Obama administration made prisoner transfer from Guantanamo Bay its very first order of business. Never mind that one out of every four prisoners released from Gitmo in the last two years is “confirmed or suspected” of having returned to terrorism. We’re too busy with cheap self-righteousness and cheaper “outreach” to address the previous enemy, let alone the new one.
In accordance with the new doctrine of Western war, we’ve taken the first step in response to attack: apology. After 9/11, we apologized to Muslims. Today Hillary Clinton is traveling the world apologizing to foreign governments for leaked State Department cables. That’s fine as far as it goes, but saying, “Sorry, we’re weak” doesn’t do much to stop the attacks still underway. As someone recently put it, “The war is on. And everyone ought to spend some time thinking about it, discussing it with others, preparing yourselves so you know how to act if something compels you to make a decision. Be very careful not to err on the side of inaction.” Those are the words of a contributor to a cyber-anarchist site called whyweprotest.net. Once again, the enemy has a better handle on the war than we do. We’re sure to busy ourselves finding out more about why they “protest” than reaffirming our conviction to stop them.