Alarming News

October 30, 2004

The questions raised by bin Laden’s video.

The thing about working on an election, actually in an election, is that you really can’t take the pulse of the electorate. I mean, of people who are not politically obsessed, that you would interact with in your every day life if you weren’t focused like a laser on getting every person with an (R) next to their name to vote. Whenever I need the non-politico opinion, I call my brother and his friends in Brooklyn. They know there is an election on, they’re all going to vote, but they made their decision on or around 9/12/01 and it’s unlikely to change now. So, they follow it, in terms of reinforcing the idea that Kerry is weak and Bush is strong and call it a day at that. My brother went to look at cars today, hoping to purchase one this weekend. I doubt he has bin Laden on his mind. It didn’t come up when we spoke today. I do know he’s chosen a white one with black leather.

My point, is that I don’t know how the bin Laden tape is going to play to ‘regular’ people. I think it can go a couple of different ways.

1. People hear bin Laden say that American security is in American hands and they will be safe so long as they don’t war with Muslim countries. Forget the political implications of this. I’m not worried about John Kerry being elected (much). I’m worried about Americans losing their nerve over Iraq. I can’t sense how Americans are feeling. Are they over the whole terrorism thing? Are they willing, like Dawn Summers, to give the terrorists what they want? Do they just want to pretend the Middle East, and the cesspool it occupies, doesn’t exist? Do we want that ‘return to normalcy’ that Peggy Noonan wrote about? And, will voters like my brother and his friends who want us to ‘win’ this war, see an isolationist retreat as a win? It’s not that I think they will go wobbly, it’s that they were just a few miles away that September day and I know they never, ever want to see anything like that again. What if they got a guarantee that they wouldn’t? What would they give up?


2. Do Americans still want to have bin Laden’s head on a stake? Will they not rest until we do? Do they know that the war on terrorists is going to be long and hard and have setbacks and death? Most importantly, do they understand the war in Iraq was a central part of our larger war? Or, has it gotten muddled in the ‘no war for oil’, ‘he’s just doing this to please his father’, ‘there were no WMD’, ‘1000 dead soldiers since the Mission Accomplished banner’, ‘did you see that soldier tripped and fell in Fallujah, damn that Bush can’t do anything right’ nonsense? Do they know that simply ending Saddam’s reign isn’t enough? That the Democracy that we must establish in that country is the real payment to protect ourselves? Do they know that bin Laden will have other demands if we give in to this one and retreat?

I think option 1 is a lot more likely to happen under a Kerry presidency. I’m not saying that Kerry will necessarily cut and run, but I am saying that if the population runs scared on staying in Iraq to finish the job, I know which of the two men running for the presidency will have the will to complete it anyway.

Posted by Karol at 02:04 AM |

Do they know that bin Laden will have other demands if we give in to this one and retreat?
Here’s the deal. We can reduce our role in the Middle East while not “giving in” to bin Laden. If we continue to actively dismantle al-Qaeda’s leadership while reforming policy unilaterally, we’d be cutting into one of the big perceptions that drives otherwise-normal people to support al-Qaeda and other terrorists.
In fact, I’ve been convinced for three years that this is what we need to do: undercut terrorism on both sides. First on the level of the leaders who establish methodology and strategy (which we’ve been doing). And second, on the level of the psychology and perceptions that provide the ammunition (which we haven’t). This is something that can be done, especially if we move forward with it faster than bin Laden can lay down details.
However, I do respect the “neocon” dream of a pro-American, democratic Iraq finally turning the Middle East into a modern region. And I do recognize that it represents an alternative whose final product might be better. But I don’t know that we can actually pull it off without sacrificing more than its worth. It certainly won’t work as long as we look like an arrogant and oil-hungry ally to Israel. We have an image problem that can be fixed with nothing short of an apology, reparations, and a change of strategy.
But worst of all, I don’t know if either of our president-elect-to-bes will get either method right. Both have decided the public is most interested in hearing “good” vs. “evil” and “they hate us for our freedom”, rather than “they’re really pissed off because they think we’re oppressing them and stealing their oil”. As long as that continues, neither one is going to take a nice moderate stance, and I doubt either one will succeed in stemming terrorism.

Posted by: Andrew at October 30, 2004 at 11:07 am

I think Andrew is — forgive me — spot on.
What you — like so many Republicans — fail to acknowledge in your post, Karol, is that Iraq has nothing to do with Osama bin Laden. We could have continued to “hunt down” Osama and put his head on a pike without invading Iraq. Could have done it much more effectively, in fact.
But that is old news. We’re in Iraq, and Osama’s still out there (with more supporters, more volunteers, more weapons, and more fronts on which to attack Americans, thanks to the Iraq invasion). We have a moral obligation to finish what we started in Iraq, and that is going to create HUGE problems for us in the “war on terror”. Why? First, our presence there alone is going to continue to anger a whole lot of Middle Eastern people. Second, a truly free Iraq will almost certainly choose to be a fundamentalist Muslim country — something we don’t equate with “freedom”. If we try to change that, we are going to further enrage the Muslims. Third, Iraq continues to drain valuable resources from both the fight against al Qaeda and the effort to secure ourselves at home. Much as Bush seems to think so, we are not a country of unlimited resources.
But the bottom line is — and Bush slipped and admitted this once — we will never win the fictional “War on Terror”. The best we can hope for is something like what Andrew describes above:
(1) Preparing ourselves for the next terrorist attack, whether it comes from outside or inside our borders. This means greater security, greater awareness (not “alerts”, but education and training), and fully-funded, fully-trained, fully-equipped first-responders.
(2)A change of policy in the Middle East that is aimed not at “liberating” people who don’t particularly want to be “liberated”, but at — forgive me again — winning over the hearts and minds of the Muslim world by convincing them through words and deeds that we are not interested in colonizing, controlling, or destroying them. I am reminded of your complaints about “white-liberal racialism”, Karol. The nations and people of the Middle East are not our pets. They didn’t ask us to “liberate” them, and it is pretty clear we are not wanted there by the vast majority. So we need to clean up in Iraq as best we can, while leaving as much up to the Iraqis themselves as possible. I think a change in leadership here at home will do a lot to further that. The guys we have now are crusaders, and that just won’t work.
(3) Israel. This is the thorn in the Middle East’s side, and the key to our “problems” in the region. See, the people like Osama and his folowers who hate us, hate us in large part because we have for half a century propped up a democratic society they see as wholly antagonistic to them and their interests, in the middle of what they consider to be their own land. I see the dangerous possiblity of us turning Iraq into a second Israel. You all like to talk about how 9/11 changed everything, well, maybe we should think about changing how we approach our relationship with Israel.
The better our political relations with the Muslim world, the more support we are likely to get against the terrorists. Terrorism is a global problem that has existed for a long, long time. The only thing 9/11 changed was American’s sleepy sense of immunity from it. Yes, there are countries who support terrorists. But most do not. We had an opportunity after 9/11 to lead the world in a global effort to go after terrorism. We attacked Afghanistan and went after bin Laden and his sources of money. THen we went into Iraq and lost all the momentum we had and then some. It will take us years to get back to square one, if we ever can. But we need a plan — something other than “stay the course”, because that shit don’t play.

Posted by: Rick Blaine at October 30, 2004 at 12:27 pm

Before 9/11 I think we tried it your way Rick. The problem is it did not work. You talk about psychology but you do not understand the Islamic terrorists we are dealing with. Our problems with these Islamic Fundamentalists goes back to the 70’s when airplanes were highjacked every other day. Reagan responded falsely by pulling out of Lebanon after 200 marines were killed terrorists. We failed to respond to the first WTC attack in 1993 or the embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, or the Kobar towers, or the USS Cole. How long were we supposed sit back and say ,”please like us, we feel your pain”. The fundamental Islamic world saw this as weakness and we ended up with 9/11.
Now we are finally taking the fight to them. I find it very sad that you do not see any connection between Saddam’s regime and terroism. No their is no direct link between Saddam and 9/11. That does not matter. Saddam was harborer of terroism just like the Taliban. Who encouraged suicide bombers in Isreal with his money. Who gave safe harbour to known terroists of the Achille Laurel and Zachari. OBL attempted to purchase the world’s largest pearl as a reward to Saddam for his efforts fund Palastinian Terrorists.
The Bush Doctrine was never limited to Al Qaeda. If you think Al Qaeda is our only threat I beg you to open your eyes.
Arafat has always been the hurdle to peace in Isreal. President Clinton and Barrack gave Arafat and the Palastinians 90% of what they wanted, including their own state and Arafat walked away. Arafat wanted all of Jeruselam. He wouldn’t share it.
History of the Middle East involves both Isreal and Muslims. How can you say that muslims deserve the land because it is in the middle of what they consider to be their own land? Isreal thinks the same thing and they have some legitimate claims on the land but the diffrence is that muslims are not willing to share it.
What I hear from you is a pre 9/11 way of thinking that if we folow that same path will lead to more attacks. Do you remember the celebrations in the summer of 2003? Do you remember the jubilation on the face of the Iraqi people when the Statues of Saddam came down? That sentiment is still a part of these people. They want to be free. Free from a tyrant, free from fundamentalists regimes, free from insurgents, and free from American occupation. the differencee being they know we are eventualy going to leave them to their own devices.
What we are doing is working to bring the Middle East and the Islamic world around to our side. Look at Libya and Pakistan. Each were former enemies. Pakistan is even helping us by actively fighting terroism. More of therse countries will come into the fold as Iraq proves to be a success.

Posted by: Michael C at October 30, 2004 at 3:08 pm

Michael C,
The WTC bombers in 1993 were tried and convicted.
When our embassies were bombed, Clinton wanted to bomb Afghanistan, go after bin Laden, and the Republicans said he was just trying to distract from the Lewinsky scandal. Remember “wag the dog”?
I understand that Saddam supported Palestinian terrorism. I also understand that Saddam and OBL are very different people with very different views and goals. I understand that before the war, Iraq was less of a threat to us than North Korea or Iran, and that after the war Iraq is a free-for-all where al Qaeda and anyone else who wants to can come in and take weapons and kill Americans. Saddam was a bad guy. Nobody denies that. But attacking Iraq when we did and how we did was a dumb move.
As for Israel, I never said “muslims deserve the land”. I don’t care who thinks they “deserve the land” or why. There is a situation there involving two groups of people, the majority of both of whom just want to be able to go about their lives without fear of violence. I agree that the key to that is for the Palestinian people to find a leader who is not a terrorist who has credibility and authority to negotiate on their behalf.
But the fact that the PLO and Hamas attack Israelis does not put the United States at imminent risk, and certainly did not justify invading Iraq. There are a lot of problems in the world, and a lot of dangers. It is a huge mistake to lump them all together. The invasion of Iraq has not made us safer, and has only strengthened al Qaeda. I sincerely hope that the Iraqi people will find freedom and self-government as a result of the toppling of Saddam, but frankly I think it is unlikely.
You say “they know we are eventualy going to leave them to their own devices,” but I don’t think they think that at all. I think they think that we want their oil, and that we want another military foothold in the region. I think they think we want to turn Iraq into an American colony, and a stepping-off point for invading Iran, Syria, etc. I think they think we want to turn Iraq into another Israel. I think they think we will only allow them enough freedom to form the kind of government we think they should form. I think they think we will never let them establish a theocracy governed by the Shar’ia. I think they think we will never let them be anything but what we want them to be.
And I think they’re probably right.
“What we are doing is working to bring the Middle East and the Islamic world around to our side. Look at Libya and Pakistan. Each were former enemies. Pakistan is even helping us by actively fighting terroism. More of therse countries will come into the fold as Iraq proves to be a success.”
What we are doing is turning the Islamic world and the Iraqis themselves against us. Who do you think we’ve been fighting since “Mission Accomplished”? Pakistan would be helping us whether or not we invaded Iraq. And Lybia caved due to successful international pressure. The same combination of sanctions, inspections, etc. that would have worked in Iraq if we had let them run their course.
You want to bring more countries into the fold? Show them you mean them no harm. Show them you know the difference between terrorists like al Qaeda and despotic rulers like Saddam Hussein. Show them you know the difference between terrorists and countries, for God’s sake. What do you think the Islamic world thinks when in response to an attack by Saudi terrorists we invade Iraq, a country that has no link to those terrorists or that attack, and say we are “bringing the fight to the terrorists”? It says we view the entire Middle East as a hotbed of terrorism, and that our policy is “kill them all, let God sort them out”.
And it says to the terrorists, keep attacking us, and we’ll keep invading countries, making it easier for you to get weapons, and harder for us to defend ourselves.

Posted by: Rick Blaine at October 30, 2004 at 3:41 pm

Rick they were attacking us before we invaded Iraq. Al Qaeda is weaker not stronger now. We are rooting them out all around the world. Indonesia, Phillipeans to name a few.
I find it interesting that sanctions only worked after we showed we were willing to use force. Libya gave up its nuclear ambitions as a result of our invasion of Iraq. They feared they were next. Pakistan decided to support us instead of going against us because it saw our resolve.
Sanctions were not working in Iraq. They never would have. 2 memebers of the UN Security council (France and Russia) were working to undermine them. The Oil for Food program made a lot of people rich but failed to get food to those who needed it. How long were we supposed to wait before we used force against Saddam? What good is the threat of force if you ever plan to use it.
Bush Doctrine 101: We will go after the terrorists and the nations that harbor them.
John Kerry said it himself right after 9/11. He said that Saddam posed a major threat to America and that his regime should be taken out.
Iraq supported terrorists and harbored terrorists. What you are saying is that you do not have the resolve or the will to fight terrorists and the nations that harbor them.

Posted by: Michael C at October 30, 2004 at 4:35 pm

No, Michael C., what I am saying is that we should have the sense to go after the biggest and most immediate threats first. Also, when going after any threat, we should go in with sufficient force, and an exit strategy.
As for what you believe about Libya, Pakistan, and Iraq, its nice that you believe what Republican party machine has told you to believe, but ask yourself whether there is proof.
BTW, quoting John Kerry ain’t going to convice me I’m wrong, and I doubt you find him very persuasive either.

Posted by: Rick Blaine at October 30, 2004 at 4:41 pm

The day the 93 WTC bombers were sentenced was 9/11/2001.
So yeah, their conviction was obviously a huge deterrant of subsequent terrorist attacks.

Posted by: Oschisms at October 30, 2004 at 7:13 pm

I don’t know what effect, if any, their conviction had on the architects of 9/11. I do know that it shows that we are capable of capturing and bringing to justice the perpertrators of such acts without attacking unrelated countries.

Posted by: Rick Blaine at October 30, 2004 at 8:06 pm

I just want to mention that half of the debate between Rick and Michael is irrelevant. Michael suggests that there were pressing and valid reasons to invade Iraq. Rick disagrees. But at bottom, that whole debate is useless.
On the one hand, as Rick noted, we just need to look at it pragmatically. Whether or not we should have gone in, we are in. That means that we need to see it through to some level of completion. Everybody agrees that the ideal solution would be to establish it as a modern and successful democracy that appreciates the role America took in shaping it. And this gives us one point of reasonable debate: can that actually happen, and if it can, what limits do we apply to our own investment in seeing it through? We’ve only got so many people, so many soldiers, and so much money. There’s got to be some limit and while we don’t need to spell it out specifically, we should start looking at what other exit strategies we can prepare along the way.
The second way in which justifying Iraq to ourselves is pointless is because of one simple thing: our (Americans) opinion doesn’t matter. What matters is whether we can sell the invasion/occupation to a large plurality of Arabs, and we haven’t been able to so far. Everyting indicates that the people of the both the Middle East and the world at large are convinced that this war was unjust. Whether or not it actually was just is irrelevant if we can’t convince these people.
So we need to do two things:
1) start planning for contingencies (just in case), and
2) take a new approach to defending our intentions to the Arab public. This may invole a drastic change in foreign policy, and some unilateral concessions that are in the Arab people’s conscious interests, and not just the interests that we know they should have. Ultimately, this blatant disregard for what they think they want, in favor of what we think they really want is one of our biggest mistakes. It pushes the Arab populace away from us and towards dangerous groups that do appeal to their conscious interests.
We need to become as effective at both acheiving our aims and appealing to the Arab public as bin Laden has been. He’s a megalomaniacal zealot, but he also bothers to tell them what they want to hear, and that’s why they like him. If we bothered to learn that one single lesson from him, and worked to purue our interests while also telling the Arab people what they want to hear, we’d be in a much better position than we are now.

Posted by: Andrew at October 30, 2004 at 11:36 pm

It seems to me pretty obvious that any plan or strategy vis a vis terror attacks on America ought to, at a bare minimum, have the purpose of preventing terrorist attacks on America.
Call me crazy. It’s just logical to me.

Posted by: Oschisms at November 1, 2004 at 12:05 am

Oschisms: Exactly.

Posted by: Rick Blaine at November 1, 2004 at 11:54 am
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