Monday, August 28, 2006

Who do you trust on the war on terror?

I had the opportunity to meet with the Standard Examiner’s editorial board on August 25th, and that resulted in a nice little write up in the paper the next day. Reporter Scott Schwebke did a pretty good job with the difficult task of condensing a forty minute conversation into a few columns in the newspaper. There was one significant error, however. Although I supported President Bush in getting tough with Saddam, sufficient to get the UN inspectors back in, I did not and do not feel sending the troops was a good idea. Here’s why.

The question in wartime that is always most crucial is understanding of the enemy’s objective. In this case, that fundamental question is: What was bin Laden’s objective in launching the 9/11 attacks? And no, the correct answer is not, “because he hates us and our way of life”. Thinking our enemy is stupid is a dangerous error we cannot afford, and only an idiot would launch something of that magnitude only to express hatred. Al-Qaeda had a strategic objective. To understand what that might be you have to understand their long term goals. Osama bin Laden’s long term objective is to establish an Islamic theocracy in the Middle East. To accomplish this goal, they have a few key strategies.

First, it is accurate to portray bin Laden as a fascist. Like all fascists, an important key to gaining power is to create a scapegoat, a people who the target population can be convinced to hate and blame for all their problems. Then the fascist can come in and “save” the population from the “bad guys”. It’s clear that bin Laden intends the scapegoats to be America and Israel.

Second, al-Qaeda’s long term objective requires the overthrow of the secular governments in the Middle East. This is a crucial point. Osama bin Laden hates America only through association; his real enemies have always been Saddam Hussein, the Saudi royal family, the king of Jordan, President Mubarak of Egypt etc. This is why it has always been patently ridiculous to suggest that Saddam was in league with al-Qaeda. The two are mortal enemies. It would be suicide for either to help the other.

Finally, bin Laden seeks to create chaos and instability in the Middle East. These ingredients are crucial to revolutionaries.

These facts clarify bin Laden’s strategic objective for 9/11. Although it was a huge gamble that the brutal nature of the attacks would galvanize the world to seek out and destroy his organization, bin Laden was counting on America reacting in a way that would do the opposite; galvanize hatred towards America in the Islamic world, creating an environment where the secular governments of the Middle East could be overthrown and his vision of a modern Islamic empire based on the model of the Taliban could be brought to pass.

With this understanding, it’s very clear why bin Laden must have offered up a fervent prayer of thanksgiving to Allah for his munificence when the Republicans sent the troops into Iraq. To al-Qaeda, our actions would have been seen as a miracle. Not only did the Iraq War fan the flames of intense hatred toward America in the Islamic world that bin Laden’s plan so desperately relies on, it also took out one of his worst enemies, caused America to divert crucial resources away from the war on al-Qaeda, seriously wounded the world coalition that will be required to bring international terrorists like bin Laden to justice, and created tremendous instability in the region.

This is an uncomfortable theory; that the Iraq War actually played into Osama bin Laden’s hands and has strengthened his cause. It would be much more comforting to believe Orrin Hatch’s story: that the Iraq War has dealt a mortal blow to the terrorists and that all we have to do to keep safe is prevent those pesky Democrats from taking over.

Facts are often uncomfortable, however. Ron Suskind reported in his book, The One Percent Solution, that the release of bin Laden’s video tape just before the 2004 election was deemed by CIA officials to be an attempt by al-Qaeda to aid Republican re-election. And an al-Qaeda Web site published a cyberbook just before the Iraq invasion entitled The Future of Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula After the Fall of Bagdad that claimed an American invasion of Iraq would be the best possible outcome for al Qaeda, stoking extremism throughout the Muslim world and involving America in a radicalizing quagmire. Bin Laden is a homicidal maniac, but he is not stupid. President Bush is the perfect scapegoat for him, and the actions of the Republican party, especially the Iraq invasion, were exactly what he had been hoping for.

Unlike many Democrats, I don’t think it is useful or accurate to portray Republicans as mean-spirited liars. I think they honestly believed that taking out Saddam was in America’s best interest. The problem here is with the “resolute” thing the Republicans love to brag about. The simple truth is that they were so convinced that removing Saddam was the right thing to do, their minds refused to assimilate or consider evidence to the contrary. Because of this, we came to a fork in the road, took the wrong turn, and have traveled an agonizingly long distance down that road.

Where does this leave us? In the words of Paul Waldman, “If you think the Iraq War has made us safer, then you don’t understand terrorism, you don’t understand al-Qaeda, you don’t understand what has happened over the last five years – and you can’t be trusted with America’s security.”

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