Friday, May 23. 2008
Tom Engelhardt: Welcome to the Age of Homeland Insecurity. Starts with something about Tai Chi, then makes a point I've tried to argue for 5-6 years now:
Terrorism is an act of the desperate as much as the dastardly. The terrorist act itself settles nothing. What really matters is the reaction. Rarely the reaction is to cave in -- like Britain did in surrendering to the Stern Gang, or Reagan backing out of Lebanon after realizing that his provocations had backfired -- but in those cases the underlying power dynamics were already tilted against the targets. Slightly more often terrorism cracks open an existing fissure, but only if it provokes a harsh and unconscionable reaction -- the Boston Tea Party kicked off the American Revolution but only because the British cranked up the repression, outraging hitherto unconcerned colonists. Again, this works only where the latent political power favors the terrorists.
Al Qaeda had no such power base -- not at all in the US, and not really anywhere else, even in Afghanistan where the ruling Taliban was torn between their traditional courtesy of respect for guests and their dislike of Osama Bin Laden's mischief. But Al Qaeda hit the bullseye on 9/11, not only in terms of record numbers of people killed but more importantly in how they pushed George W Bush's button. Since then the US has done all the heavy lifting in its own bankrupt self-destruction. The rest of the piece documents that decline, with the emphasis on bankruptcy.
Al Qaeda is never going to triumph in even their small part of the world, no matter how poorly the US fares. They simply don't have the political appeal to mainstream Muslims, let alone anyone else, and the weaker the US becomes the more their one legitimate calling card fades away. Now the big problem is that Bush and his supporters have painted themselves into a corner by arguing that any US retreat will be seen as a victory for terrorism. The real answer is that both sides have lost, and sheer stubbornness keeps them losing more. Someone needs to come up with a politically palatable explanation for that -- my own is that no one wins at war, so it's always better to reduce conflict.