Saturday, August 06, 2005

Instapundit points out Michael Totten's photo-fisking of Juan Cole. Totten responds to Cole's assertion that "We are not at war" with a series of photographs of the awful deeds of the terrorists. But I think this misses the point. Cole was commenting not on the magnitude of the threat we face, but the kind of threat.

Cole writes:

You have to think about terrorists as units of hardware, on which software has
been installed. The software is a world-view, a set of premises about the world,
which then make sense of the terrorist's actions. How does the software get
installed? The potential terrorist meets the installer socially and falls under
his spell. The terrorists don't have a social background in common. They aren't
lumpen proletariat or working class or middle class or bourgeois. Or rather,
they have in their ranks persons from all these backgrounds.The terrorists don't
have an ethnicity in common. Richard Reid and Lindsey Germaine were Caribbean.
Others are Arabs. Some have been Somali or Eritrean or Tanzanian. Others have
been South Asia (India/Pakistan/Bangladesh). Still others have been
African-American or white Americans. They don't even have to start out Muslim.
Ayman al-Zawahiri was particularly proud of an al-Qaeda operative in Afghanistan
who had been an American Jew in a previous life. Ziad Jarrah, one of the
September 11 hijackers, appears to have been a relatively secular young man
right to the end. It isn't about religion, except insofar as religion is a basis
on which the recruiter can approach his victim. Islam as a religion forbids
terrorism. But then so does Christianity, and that doesn't stop there being
Christian terrorists. They are a fringe in both religions.If you try to
"profile" the terrorist using such social markers as class or ethnicity, maybe
even religious background, you will go badly astray.What then do they have in
common? They got the software installed in their minds. Why? Because they met
the installer, and were susceptible to his worldview. That's all they have in
common.


In other words, the threat is too amorphous to fight by war. After describing an allegedly typical situation in which a young Muslim man might be lured into the ideology of radical Islamist terrorism, Cole concludes:

So how do you fight this form of terror? You disrupt the installation of the
software in more and more minds. You adopt policies that make the story the
software tells implausible. And you reach out to make sure people hear the
implausibility.


The error he makes is not an error of degree. It is far more obvious than that, and I'm surprised that this wasn't Totten's primary objection as well. The fact is, the terrorists, in international organizations such as Al Qaeda, operate training camps -- they did in Afghanistan -- and coordinate their support activities under the protection of large nations, such as Iran and Syria.

The reason we are struggling to democratize the Middle East is not jsut a direct attempt to alleviate poverty and hopelessness; these aren't identical with terrorism. Rather, it stems from the realization that terrorism will always be in the interests of tyranny, and never in the interests of liberal democracy. To eliminate safe harbors for terrorists, we must eliminate the regimes that naturally wish to encourage or tolerate terrorism, and replace them with regimes that by nature oppose it.

Ah, but you see, those places of safe harbor and institutions of international coordination don't exist to Cole:

I can't figure out who they think they are fighting a war against. It sure
isn't the Muslim world. Morocco as a country couldn't be more friendly and
cooperative, and we have good trade relations with it. Algeria likewise.
Tunisia? A topflight relationship. Even Libya is coming around. Egypt? A
non-NATO ally. Palestine? We give them hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Jordan? A closer friend you couldn't find. Lebanon? Very friendly except for
Hizbullah and even they haven't hit American targets any time in the past
decade. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Turkey, Uzbekistan,
Afghanistan.

It is incredible how good the relations are between the United States and
almost all the countries of the Muslim world. They provide us with a NATO ally
(Turkey) and 4 of our five non-NATO allies! The only sour notes are Bashar
al-Asad in Syria (who hasn't done anything to us as far as I know) and Iran,
with which our relationship needn't be different from that with Venezuela under
Chavez (leaders of both countries badmouth the US, but don't seem actively to
harm us in ways that are visible to me). It will be argued that Iran is trying
to get a nuclear weapon. But a) we don't know that for sure; and b) even if it
were to succeed in doing so, how would it be different from the Soviet Union,
which hated us much more than Iran does and which had thousands of warheads
pointed at us? So far no two countries, both of which have nuclear weapons, have
fought a major war with one another, and the reason is clear. This is not to say
it could not happen, but it is unlikely. As for the Mad Cheney scenario whereby
a state gives nuclear weapons to terrorists to use on the US, puh- lease. Even
my five year old niece wouldn't believe that whopper. States don't share nuclear
bombs with terrorists; and it is not as if a bomb's provenance could not easily
be traced.


That we have acted as if friends to the Palestinian Authority in no way necessitates their acting in a friendly way towards us. To talk about Libya "coming around" without acknowledging the role the Iraq campaign had in that seems to me disingenuous. The idea that the Saudis are our friends -- which ones? How many? Certainly not all. Saudi Arabia does not have a unified government; it is clearly split between the terrorists' side and ours.

And as for the alleged reluctance of states to give terrorists nukes, it bears repeating that we are not fighting entirely sane and rational people right now.

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