RANDOM TERROR TALK
Some tasteful, some almost tasteful
"President Anzar, I mean, Aznar? This is Dubya. Hey, that's so terrible what happened yesterday, Laura and I are just devastated. But hey, Jose, I know that y'all have an election coming up this weekend. And guess what, I have a great
idea for something you can put in your party's last set of campaign ads..."
(prophylactic for any who try to drag me over the coals because of this: I am sickened and angered by what happened yesterday)
Now that I've dispensed with the edgy portion of my commentary, how's about a little perspective: The Madrid attacks occurred nine days short of the nine-year anniversary of the sarin gas attack on the subways of Tokyo, conducted by the Aum Shinrikyo cult. The Japanese government caught, tried, convicted and sentenced essentially all of the people involved in the attack. (I was in Japan when Shoko Asahara was arrested) What's more, they did so without declaring a rhetorical "war" on their terrorists. And this was a country that experienced the largest one-day attack on its own soil in the history of war!
Differences, of course, are that the Tokyo attack caused fewer fatalities, but more injuries and long-term illnesses. And while the people who carried out the Tokyo attack were quickly identified, the situation in Spain is somewhat ambiguous at the moment.
Moving on, a couple of random paragraphs on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: The issue at hand is "lumping", and it happens on both sides of the "war on terrah". Some critics of the Bush and Blair administrations make a rhetorical argument against the Iraq war, saying that by attacking Iraq, Bush/Blair are lumping all Arab Muslims together. The larger extension of this argument is that it plays into the argument that Bush sees the world in excessively black-and-white terms; Bin Laden is "evil", Saddam is "evil" so they must
be in cahootz.
The trouble with this argument is that I don't think it's quite right; the Bushies know there are differences between these people, they're not the stupid buffoons some people make them out to be. However, they have an interest in other Americans
not knowing the difference. The more the line is blurred between Bin Laden and Saddam, the more easily they can fade out one face from the telescreen for the Two Minutes Hate, and fade in another. The Iraq war was sold, partially, because of a suggestion
of a link between the two men, and this existed in a world separate from the intelligence: Using the same rhetoric, putting the two men together in campaign ads in 2002, and so on.
But Bin Laden lumps too, and it's just as disingenuous. And just as with the Bush administration, it serves a political end. One of the results desired by people who carry out attacks like those of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda is to incite the population of the attacked country to move to the right politically, or to make it act in unpopular ways (unilaterally invade countries tangential to the pertinent issue, clamp down on civil liberties, etc). Bin Laden knows that there's a significant difference between, say, international public opinion on Bush (generally bad) and his immediate predecessor (generally very good). He thinks that because of this, he might be able to mobilize international public opinion against the leadership of the attacked nation, and by extension, towards him. Whether or not this strategy achieves his desired end is a more complicated matter.
It's hard to know exactly what would have happened if 9/11 had occurred during an Al Gore presidency in an alternate universe where votes are counted. Would there have been an Iraq invasion? Probably not, no matter what Saint Ralph says. Would there have been an Afghanistan invasion? You betcha, and no, conservatives, we didn't "dodge a bullet" when Bush became president.
But let's get back to Bin Laden and his example of lumping. While he surely can identify a political difference between the leadership of different Western countries -- and is prone to try and exploit it from time to time -- this recognition of distinction does not seem to trickle down to the actual people his organization attacks. Case in point, Spain (if the attack truly was carried out by a splinter of Al Qaeda as some reports suggest), where the Aznar government strongly supported the Iraq war, but the Spanish people themselves opposed it by a very large margin (hence, no troops took part in the invasion). This would suggest that the while Bin Laden is mindful of the political stances of world leaders, he is possibly indifferent to those of the general populations of countries, regardless of their leadership. So in theory, Northern California would be just as vulnerable to a potential attack as Dallas.*
There were very few voices in the two years after 9/11 who looked at the course of action taken by Bush's America after the attacks and wondered aloud, "Are we doing precisely
what Osama wants us to do?" I'm not even talking about this question being asked politically
(as in, "Are we sure we should trade our freedoms for more security?"), but rather about the question being asked existentially
, as in "Are we moving the chessboard, or are we the pawns?" One of my problems with America's/Bush's response to 9/11 in the past couple years on the whole
is that there was never any stopping to smell the roses. In this case I'm not talking about our rush to war in Iraq, but more broadly, I'm talking about the administration's near-automatic desire to fill the role that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda begged
us to fill. I'm not saying we should have turned around 180 degrees. I'm just saying we could have followed a similar course with a dual, from-the-sidelines perspective on our role.
This concludes an early afternoon's worth of rambling, now on to studying for finals...
* - extra prophylactic: I am not
suggesting an outright moral equivalence between Bush and Bin Laden. I am, however, identifying an interesting aspect shared by the decision-making processes of each.