Towards A Good Samaritan World

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Francis Fukuyama is right that Americans are unduly pessimistic. But he underestimates bin Laden:

[T]here is good reason to think that we have consistently overestimated threats to stability since 9/11 and that it is our reaction to this overestimation that has created special dangers. At the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, there were probably no more than a few dozen people in the world with the motivation and potential means to cause catastrophic harm to the United States. Once our mighty national security apparatus was turned to focus on this problem, the likelihood of a successful attack dropped dramatically.

Only a few dozen? Millions of people in the Muslim world regarded us (then as now) as the enemy. Bin Laden and the 19 hijackers showed the world that you can "cause catastrophic harm to the United States" with something as simple as box-cutters. Only a few dozen people had box-cutters?

Yes, we have a powerful military, but that's the whole point of terrorism: it's asymmetrical warfare. After 9/11, the men were dead, the myth lived. And bin Laden was, for Muslim radical youths from Pakistan to Palestine, a heroic symbol of defiance to the nefarious superpower of the West-- and of the corrupt and tyrannical rulers of the Muslim world itself. Bin Laden could have been a Che Guevara, a revolutionary hero-symbol, admired both in the Third World and the West.

It was when the Iraqi people welcomed Americans as liberators (yes, they did, we all saw it with our own eyes, and all the media sneers in the world can't change that fact) that bin Laden's mystique was shattered. Two elections and millions of defiant purple fingers showed the world that Iraqis-- who alone were in a position to express their real desires-- wanted, not the caliphate, but democracy. Al-Qaeda's reliance on asymmetrical warfare, waged on Iraqi soil, meant murdering thousands of innocent Muslims and forfeiting all hope of uniting the Muslim world behind their banners.

Yes, Americans' pessimism today is mistaken. But it's not despite Iraq, as Fukuyama would have us believe; rather, because of it. The surgery has been painful, but now the cancer is removed.

UPDATE: Fareed Zakaria makes a similar point, only better:

Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, both Sunnis, created Al Qaeda to be a Pan-Islamic organization, uniting all Muslims as it battled the West, Israel and Western-allied regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Neither Zawahiri nor bin Laden was animated by hatred of Shiites. In its original fatwas and other statements, Al Qaeda makes no mention of them, condemning only the "Crusaders" and "Jews." [...]

The trouble for Al Qaeda is that as a practical matter, loathing Shiites works in only a few places: principally Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and some parts of the gulf. Most of the rest of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims are turned off by attacks on their co-religionists.

So, an organization that had hoped to rally the entire Muslim world to jihad against the West has been dragged instead into a dirty internal war within Islam. Bin Laden began his struggle hoping to topple the Saudi regime. He is now aligned with the Saudi monarchy as it organizes against Shiite domination. This necessarily limits Al Qaeda's broader appeal and complicates its basic anti-Western strategy.

Via Brothers Judd.


  • While I'm glad that Al Qaeda et al have exposed their inhumanity in places closer to home and harder for their constituency to ignore, I would aver that we have neither done our own reputation in the Middle East any favors.

    By Blogger Nato, at 8:27 AM  

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