Saturday, July 30, 2005

Appeasing al Qaeda

An otherwise sensible letter to the New York Times illustrates the effectiveness of the Bush propaganda machine.

The announcement by the Irish Republican Army that it will renounce violence represents a long-overdue realization that terrorism is an ineffective method of producing political change.

Long years of terrorism against Israel have not eliminated Israel. The bombings of American airplanes, embassies and even the destruction of the World Trade Center towers failed to alter American foreign policy. Chechnya was not made independent by the murder of children in Moscow.

To produce political change, you must do so by political means, and it is time that the rest of the world's terrorists realize this.

Fred Levit
Wilmette, Ill., July 29, 2005

The writer's basic thesis is correct; terrorism is generally ineffective in achieving the goals of the terrorists. But I believe that he is wrong about the 9/11 attacks. These achieved two goals of al Qaeda: the overthrow of Iraq's secular government and the removal of American troops from Saudi Arabia.

The first of these achievements is arguable. For propaganda reasons, bin Laden has to portray the overthrow of Saddam as part of a war on Islam. And we don't know what the replacement government will ultimately look like. It seems likely that the new government will be less secular than Saddam's government, but will deviate too much from Sharia to satisfy bin Laden and company. It may be that the only thing bin Laden really likes about the invasion of Iraq is the propaganda boost it provides al Qaeda.

But if we discount the invasion of Iraq as a terrorist succcess, that leaves the withdrawal of American troops from Saudi Arabia. We had troops stationed there since the first Gulf war, and had no thought of removing them. Is there any way other than the 9/11 attacks that bin Laden could have gotten those troops out of Saudi Arabia? I don't think that writing a polite letter to the U.S. State Department would have done the trick.

Under normal circumstances, the 9/11 attacks wouldn't have done the trick either. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, nobody I knew was saying that we should give bin Laden what he wanted and withdraw our troops from Saudi Arabia. A typical American president wouldn't have considered the possibility. And few politicians would have succeeded in withdrawing our troops, at least not without paying a huge political price. Bush is perhaps the only president in American history who, facing the 9/11 attacks, would have had both the desire to grant bin Laden some sort of victory and the political ability to carry it off.

The letter writer's thesis is basicly correct, and would have applied to the 9/11 attacks under normal circumstances. What the writer fails to recognize is that Bush being president is not a normal circumstance.


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