Bin Laden’s Alchemy
In his op-ed in today’s NYT, Frank Rich gets the tragedy of Bush’s Iraq war exactly right. Rich writes:
“One hideous consequence of the White House’s Big Lie—fusing the war of choice in Iraq with the war of necessity that began on 9/11—is that the public, having [now] rejected one, automatically rejects the other. That’s already happening. The percentage of Americans who now regard fighting terrorism as a top national priority is either in the single or low double digits in every poll. Thus the tragic bottom line of the Bush catastrophe: the administration has at once increased the ranks of jihadists by turning Iraq into a new training ground and recruitment magnet while at the same time exhausting America’s will and resources to confront that expanded threat. We have arrived at ‘the worst of all possible worlds.’
Sadly, Rich is right for two basic reasons. First, according to “Alchemists of Revolution,” (a fantastic historical primer on terrorism written in 1987 by a guy named Richard Rubenstein ), the goal of terrorism is to pull back the curtain on the tyrannical machinery of the “oppressor.” This tactic works by drawing the terrorists’ adversary into attack mode in which that adversary makes the mistake of flexing his muscle for the sake of flexing his muscle: Swinging indiscriminately, taking away rights, busting heads. And so, the tactic works to create widespread antipathy toward the terrorists’ adversary.
Looks like bin Laden played Bush according to Terrorism 101. In other words, bin Laden baited us, we attacked, and revealed ourselves to be an abhorrent presence in the Middle East. Thus all the new jihadists. That’s the context.
But here’s the really maddening part. Bin Laden’s other rationale for baiting the U.S. was this: Once we attacked, he believed we wouldn’t sustain the will to go toe to toe with him, and he would emerge victorious in the ultimate of all PR wars. He predicted this in speech after speech, citing our Black Hawk down defeat in Magadishu. I thought bin Laden was wrong. But, as Rich points out, our will has been exhausted.
It didn’t have to be this way, but thanks to Bush’s stupid decision to go after the wrong guys (Iraq), bin Laden has been proven right. The U.S. is tired of the mess in Iraq. The tragedy is: Had we gone after bin Laden and al Qaeda, it’s likely—due to the true value of that cause—we would have scored some inspiring victories (like toppling the Taliban). So, despite the arduous task, Americans would have stood by it.
As Rich notes: Not so anymore.