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December 02, 2008

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Anyway, one of the goals of modern terrorism (particularly radical Islamic terrorism) is to trigger an overreaction by the victim country

That's not a goal, it's a tactic.

Al Qaeda's goals aren't particularly secret. They've accomplished many of them. The end state was never, "well we triggered an overreaction, we won!".

Similarly, I’d say provoking India to overreaction was way up on the terrorists' list of goals

Nope. Another tactic.

Here's a couple goals a terrorist organization might have: chasing the US military out of Saudi Arabia and overthrowing secular governments in the region. Those are real goals that real terrorists might have.

Here's a tactic they might choose in that fight: crashing planes into buildings in the US.

Sounds crazy doesn't it? But it worked. How could we be so stupid?

Well we don't know the difference between tactics and goals, how are we going to get anything else right?

Their latest tactic? Shooting up hotels in India. There will be an overreaction. Their goal?

Could people be a bit smarter this time?

Even more maddening though, India’s outrage and desire for revenge are absolutely reasonable.

I don't think it is particularly reasonable. Lots of people die every day for stupid ridiculous reasons, but those deaths don't motivate societies to prevent similar deaths through acts of mass violence. Terrorism is successful because people respond irrationally. If Americans reacted rationally to threats, they would have blown off 9/11 and had the Air Force bomb every tobacco factory in the country. Or something. The point is: people dramatically overestimate the threat associated with rare vivid violent incidents. That's not rational and it is not reasonable.

I'm not unconvinced about the poorly termed "celebrity" article.

I also wonder at the difference between bomb attacks that kill as many or more and the current attacks that have transfixed the world- the difference is the brazenness, and the apparent ruthlessness (personally killing someone versus setting a timer).

I wonder about terrorism as being essentially a club for overly invested nihilists. I hesitate to apply rationality to each and every terrorist action. They have particular tactics and goals, and some might even be effective in hindsight, but I can't help but think that the entire nature of amorphous reactionary Islamic terrorism is that it has just been feeding itself. As the stage gets bigger, the goals get bigger. I just don't necessarily see a desired endpoint that can even be expressed as a rational policy. They exist and they will invent situations where they will feel like the can make demands.

Even more maddening though, India’s outrage and desire for revenge are absolutely reasonable.
Ah, so this is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a flamewar. What have we learned about trolls? Never give them what they want.

What universe are you living in, by the way? It seems your argument is that some guys hit you, so you therefore have a right to go and beat up many more unrelated people, even if this might make them think you're a jerk and prompt more people to beat you up. I mean, seriously, are you using a different definition of "reasonable" that means "utterly without reason"?

India’s outrage and desire for revenge are absolutely reasonable.

There's little evidence (so far) of any culpability on the part of the Pakistani government. That government, faced with accusations of complicity from India, replied: "Prove it." But that proof, if it exists, is unlikely to surface. Any government that supports or tolerates terrorism, for the most obvious reasons, would do everything possible to maintain "plausible deniability" and avoid retaliation.

The Indians may well respond as the Israelis do: with clear proof lacking of a particular group's (or government's) involvement, the IDF will inevitably retaliate against a known enemy of the state. For India, the target is obvious: Pakistan. India's response won't be nuclear, but it's likely to be fierce and provocative.

It would have been similarly foolish to expect that Americans would be content to do nothing after terrorists training in Taliban-sheltered camps attacked it.

But foolish or not, Americans were content to do nothing against the terrorists, made happy by waging war on a country that had not itself attacked the US (that had no ability to threaten the US), and then to wage war on a country that they were told had something to do with the terrorist attack on 9/11.

A large part of the reason why American bloodlust after 9/11 expended itself in such foolish, lethal, waste of resources as an attack on Afghanistan was firstly of course that the US is used to being able to bomb the crap out of other countries, and never pay the price for being an aggressor nation. Americans will still defend the attack on Afghanistan as justified, even though it plainly had nothing to do with stopping al-Qaeda or capturing Osama bin Laden. But another reason was that the US had Bush & co at the helm, and they wanted war: they weren't interested in peaceful, workable solutions.

India and Pakistan have been hostile to each other since they became nations: my father was nearly killed at the time of the partition. They are both capable of waging nuclear war on each other: they never have. Neither of them have governments which are as stupidly belligerent as the US government was for the past 8 years. While I agree there is reason to fear, there is also reason to hope.

now_what: The same thing can be a short-term goal when seeking it is a tactic as regards a longer struggle.

Turbulence, McDuff: I'd take publius' use of "reasonable" to mean "these feelings are plausible and understandable, and the acts were evil enough to justify such anger". True, Turbulence, we do react disproportionately to dramatic events without checking or counting. McDuff... publius wasn't asserting a right to all-out unthinking retaliation, or saying that all-out unthinking retaliation was reasonable. He was referring to the feelings "outrage and desire for revenge".

Unfortunately this scorched-earth attention to semantics doesn't do anything about the worry that publius was writing about. Publius, your point is well taken.

"Even though Pakistan itself probably had little to do with this attack, it’s true that their military has (at best) turned a blind eye to the training of these individuals for attacks in Kashmir."

That's a pretty darned big component of having to do with the attack, if you ask me. The truth is that, had Pakistan not been a nuclear power, we'd probably have gone after them post 9-11, so deep was their complicity in creating the Taliban. And even now, giving them shelter. Pakistan isn't really an ally, they're on the other side, and we're forced by circumstances to pretend otherwise.

Narrative is everything. Americans didn't know what they wanted to hit, after 9/11, but they wanted to hit something. They willingly went into AFghanistan but exerted no thought or control over the mechanism of punishment/revenge and allowed Bush to pull out the troops and to flunk the conquest and occupation when he dangled a brighter, shinier, object in front of them because 9/11 was fitted neatly into a narrative about overhwelming, protocols of the elder of zion, we have always been at war with...wmd and mad hitler types. By the time Bush and the press got through with the legitimate fears and worries of an easily spooked populace they would have invaded a ham sandwich.

India's already got a narrative about Pakistan and they aren't wrong, even as Pakistan has the opposite narrative about them. This kind of thing goes way back in the subcontinent, with the villain in the northern version of the ramayana being a hero in the southern/Tamil version. Everybody is a victim and no one ever wins decisively.

Open sores like Kashmir are open sores for a reason, both sides would rather destroy the baby than share it. Into such nationalistic, jingoistic, righteous thought no moment of sanity can intrude. If both sides are right to attack because of their fear and their past injuries then both sides will attack, and no negotiations are possible. Only if one side can graciously, supernaturally, with gandhian or buddhist perspectives aforethought, work diplomatically from a position of strength can we begin to stand down from the brink. But its as hard for countries to give up their righteous anger, and it is righteous, and their desire for revenge and for safety as it is for individuals.

aimai

The truth is that, had Pakistan not been a nuclear power, we'd probably have gone after them post 9-11, so deep was their complicity in creating the Taliban.

The Taliban is a homegrown Afghan institution that's been around for a lot longer than Pakistan has existed.

The Taliban could come to power in Afghanistan in the 1990s because there was nothing else - the country was being torn to pieces by warlords. Even Shari'a law looks better than the unfettered whim of whoever's the local hardman.

The single country most responsible for making Afghanistan vulnerable to Taliban takeover, including ensuring that the Taliban were well-armed and trained, was the United States - the country which abandoned Afghanistan after fighting the last land war of the Cold War there in 1980s.

Pakistan and Iran have suffered more than any other country from Afghanistan being a failed state. Sure, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is more wide open than the border between Canada and the US is right now. People who want to can pass back and forth between the two countries and never be found. This has been the case since before Pakistan existed - you will find this documented in the tales of Rudyard Kipling, for crying out loud.

I don't hold any brief for the government of Pakistan. I don't wish to defend the Taliban. But pay a little attention to the historical and geographical realities, Brett!

I agree with Alex Russell that people shouldn't read too much into the "desire for revenge is reasonable" remark. I believe this kind of sentiment is just a byproduct of trying to caution people away from vengeance. You don't want them to escalate matters, cross over to 'the dark side', ultimately to their own detriment. At the same time, you certainly don't want to seem like you are criticizing or blaming them for the way they feel. So you compensate, and couch your argument in expressions of sympathy and understanding.
And then people interpret your post as justifying (disproportional) retaliation.

It's a difficult subject, for sure. I do not have much of a problem with publius' comment, but I do see it as part of an unhealthy trend. It reminded me of an assertion Glenn Greenwald of all people made the other day, much to my bewilderment.
I quote: "Any decent, civilized person (...) is going to feel disgust, fury, and a desire for vengeance"
Now vengeful feelings are not just reasonable and understandable, they're a sign of decency and civilization? That I'll take issue with.
Point is it's understandable, and perhaps necessary, to make it clear you believe that people are entirely within their rights to feel a desire for revenge, but it's easy to overshoot your mark and start suggesting people should feel a desire for revenge, which I don't think is beneficial. And as we've seen, you also run the risk of being seen to justify revenge in whatever form it takes.

As for your larger point, publius, while the situation is highly volatile I don't believe the stakes are quite as high as you suggest (if still entirely too high). For one, I am not worried about their nuclear capability - they won't use it. If anything it will serve as a pacifying factor. And while there is potential for immense tragedy, I don't think anything will happen from which the 21st century will never recover. That said it's a very troubling situation, we can only hope cooler heads will prevail.

you will find this documented in the tales of Rudyard Kipling

Yep. Right. The old imperialist wrote:

By the favor of God ye may cut him off ere he win to the Tongue of Jagai,

But if he be passed the Tongue of Jagai, right swiftly turn ye then,

For the length and the breadth of that grisly plain is sown with Kamal’s men.

There is rock to the left, and rock to the right, and low lean thorn between,

And ye may hear a breech-bolt snick where never a man is seen.”

You are so right. They WANT us to get mad. So our best response is cold and rational. Kill the perps, slowly, deliberately, without malice, and internationally.

"The first person to get angry loses."

Italics begone!

Now vengeful feelings are not just reasonable and understandable, they're a sign of decency and civilization? That I'll take issue with.

I'm still thinking about this. Righteousness is arguably a component of our notion of Western civilization, and wanting things to be right, which means evil is punished and good is rewarded, seems to be a fundamental mythos we have about being civilized. In Buddhist thought, anger (along with greed and ignorance) are the three poisons, but in Western thought, righteous anger can be considered a virtue.

The terrorists' goal is probably to exacerbate tensions between Pakistan and India to block ongoing peace talks over Kashmir. It's similar to the Israeli position of suspending peace talks over each terrorist attack - all it does is give each suicidal extremist veto power over the negotiation process (and give that side's jingoistic extremists an excuse to opt out of a process that they find distasteful).

My guess is that the terrorists want to provoke a low-level war between India and Pakistan so that their struggle can continue.

On a side note: al Qaeda grew out of a bunch of "freedom fighters" that the US trained and funded to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan - that doesn't mean that George Bush ordered 9/11. It's the B Movie Monster dilemma: just because you create a monster doesn't mean that you control it - but the neighbors will blame you when it runs amok even when it it no longer doing your bidding...

alex - thanks. and yes, by "reasonable," I did mean it more in the sense of "understandable." sorry if my word choices caused confusion

Even more maddening though, India’s outrage and desire for revenge are absolutely reasonable. To be sure, revenge will lead to horrible things, but it’s unrealistic to expect a country to stoically endure attacks like these, particularly from groups with loose affiliations with a hostile state.

And per the WSJ's front page account of the attacks published yesterday, it appears the terrorists were motivated by a desire for revenge. And we enter the never ending cycle of revenge attacks for this or that until either there's a war between India and Pakistan or the combatants exhaust themselves. Awesome.

Pakistan and Iran have suffered more than any other country from Afghanistan being a failed state.

Depends on what you mean by "Pakistan" - there have always been strong forces at the highest levels of the Pakistani government, military and intelligence who have had an interest in Afghanistan being a failed state and they have always done everything in their power to ensure that it continued to be a failed state.

Uncontrolled/independent terrorists are often a sign of a state that is failing (see Somalia + pirates). Nothing like a failed nuclear state to give one nightmares.

"In Buddhist thought, anger (along with greed and ignorance) are the three poisons, but in Western thought, righteous anger can be considered a virtue."

Just to lower the intellectual level around here, I was thinking of this when I was watching Star Wars V and VI the other day--Yoda seems to have an Eastern as opposed to Western attitude towards righteous anger.

To compensate for my previous post, here's a bit more substance. I've linked to a Human Rights article on India's human rights record, which they term abysmal. India, it seems, is like the US--a democracy that preens itself a little too much on being a democracy and doesn't do enough about its own human rights violations. There's also a more recent article from August about the police killing of nonviolent protestors in Kashmir, but I'm too lazy to try to post two links.

Link

Yes, Publius. The effectiveness of terrorism in triggering an over-reaction needs to be talked about more. Exhibit A is all the peace talks between Israel and Palestine that were scuttled by Palestine terrorism. Did anyone ever consider that giving the terrorists exactly what they wanted might just encourage them?

"Exhibit A is all the peace talks between Israel and Palestine that were scuttled by Palestine terrorism"

A timeline, with talks and lists of civilians killed by both sides, detailing exactly when these deaths occurred and explaining how these deaths led to the scuttling of talks, would probably be helpful here. OTOH, if you only talk about the killings conducted by one side it might prove misleading.

Did anyone ever consider that giving the terrorists exactly what they wanted might just encourage them?

The problem is that domestic "hardliners" often want the same outcome (a scuttling of peace initiatives/normalization).

Publius

I share your concern and agree that overreaction by the victim nations was a goal of the terrorists and a likely outcome. Perhaps the best way to head that off is for Pakistan to 'overreact' by taking strong public action against the perceived perpetrators. Maybe squash Laskar-e-taiba, Kashmir camps, the Dahman [sp?] Ibrahim crime network and Waziristan lawlessness.

Unfortunately, the Pakistani regime is probably not politically strong enough to do such a cleanup even if it had the will and means. Further, it would no doubt harm some innocents within Pakistan, as all strong action does.

The bottom line is that it is not the size of the police force that makes a country safe. It is the kindness and gentleness of the citizenry that makes it safe. So, go out and be kind and gentle.

liberal japonicus 8:50a

Indeed. I believe Jesus would endorse the Buddhist view over the other one.

Donald, believe me, I'm not here to proselitise for either side of the Israeli/Palestine conflict, but if you want examples, the bus attacks of early 1996 that helped elect Netanyahu and ground the Oslo process to a halt are a good example of successful terrorism.

"One goal of 9/11 was to trigger a massive invasion of Afghanistan and create a new quagmire."

I don't really believe this is true at all. Evidence from how the Taliban reacted suggests that the people in that circle believed that America was too impotent to attack Afghanistan.
As for the ‘overreaction’ concept, while it has been a strategic focus for some (especially Communist) terrorist groups, I’m not totally convinced that is the best framework to understand terrorism in general or this act specifically. (In fact I’m convinced that terrorism is best seen as a tactic, so trying to peg the same strategic concerns to it again and again is very likely to be misleading).

The overreaction idea seems most appropriate to domestic revolutionary terrorist activity. In those cases, the desire to cause an overreaction in the general population kind of makes internal sense.

I’m not so sure that externally originating terrorists are as likely to have that as one of their major strategic goals. In this case, it appears (at first glance—we don’t know what other revelations might bring) that the terrorists might have had a more limited immediate goal of trying to sow dissension in the Pakistan-India negotiations.

The interesting thing is that the terrorists have highlighted a real problem—Pakistan has indeed turned a blind eye toward terrorist organizations that operate from within Pakistan, against India. The interesting thing is that in theory, Pakistan could turn this to their advantage by acting swiftly against such groups within their borders.

Though on the other hand it may turn out that Pakistan has fallen so far that they are unable to act against such groups within their own borders. In which case, we have a serious problem.

Dave...

Jesus went both ways... he talked about turning the other cheek, but on the other hand, when he drove the money-changers from the temple, that was certainly righteous anger.

"I believe Jesus would endorse the Buddhist view over the other one."

This has evidence going both ways. The example of throwing the moneychangers out of the temple is often used as an example of righteous anger.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this – the situation just really frightens me. I fear we could be on the brink of WWI-style situation where we lose control of events. In the run-up to WWI, even though everyone knew on some level that nationalistic overreaction would lead to even more horrible outcomes, the internal politics drove them all past the point of no return. Events ultimately spiraled out of control, and the 20th Century never fully recovered.

It is worth noting explicitly that WW1 was triggered by an act of terrorism at the end of an era of globalization and strong interdependancy between nations in many ways very similar in flavor to our own.

I think the only real solution to this conundrum is for us to find ways to tone down the ultra-nationalism in target countries. Invoking the proverbial metaphor about applying a match to a keg of gunpowder, I think it is instructive to think about the physics of what happens – the match contains very little in the way of thermal energy, instead it does damage by releasing latent energy stored in the gunpowder. Terrorists are a match, our nationalistic societies are the gunpowder. Rather than trying to find and destroy all the world’s matches, we should be dosing our gunpowder with cold water, thus depriving the terrorists of the leverage they need.

In many ways that one word: Leverage, is the key to many of the problems at this moment in time, from the financial crisis on Wall St. and in the global markets, to the very high degree of specialization of production which comparative advantage has created across our globalized economy (leading to local vulnerability to swings in global markets in the production of something as essential as food), to the ability of small groups of violent non-state actors to cause larger and powerful nations to become temporarily unhinged and act in ways that are both destructive and self-defeating, to the very physical mechanism of architectonic collapse which on 9-11 multiplied the damage and the number of victims in the Twin Towers far beyond what just a normal plane crash would do by releasing the potential energy stored in the structures of the Towers. Energy which we put there in the course of building them up so high.

Our civilization is overly leveraged – much of our recently constructed wealth and power derives from the use it, and that makes us vulnerable to both systemic instability and to external shocks (both natural and man-made). Now we are entering the age of the unwinding of that leverage, which can be either orderly or chaotic. Our task is to try to make it more orderly and less chaotic insofar as we can do so, and to find a way to share out the reduction in wealth which is the downside of this unwinding process in ways which are fair and promote stability rather than inciting violence and greater instability.

In other words, I think the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9-11 is a broad metaphor for many of the challenges we face – to convert a highly leveraged vertical civilization into a more horizontal and less vulnerable way of living. And finding a way to defuse potentially explosive nationalism is one part of this challenge.

Without engaging too much of the thread - not because I don't want to, but because I am at work, and getting paid to do something, so I don't want to get too caught up -

I have had roughly the same thought as Brett Bellmore:

The truth is that, had Pakistan not been a nuclear power, we'd probably have gone after them post 9-11, so deep was their complicity in creating the Taliban. And even now, giving them shelter. Pakistan isn't really an ally, they're on the other side, and we're forced by circumstances to pretend otherwise.

I don't agree with everything he says there (Pakistan didn't create the Taliban, nor do I think that they are on "The Other Side"™) - but the basic sentiment is one I share.

Every time someone in the Bush Administration talks about the Pakistanis as allies in the War on Terror™ I feel like someone just spit in my soup and I happened to be looking into the kitchen and caught them.

The Pakistani government has been so fabulously unsuccessful at rooting out Taliban influence in the mountain regions bordering Afghanistan that I wonder whether they hired Michael Chertoff to assist their plans for doing so. In what ways are they assisting us, and how are those efforts not outweighed by: their monumental failure to interdict the training camps and outposts of terrorists known to be operating within their country; while simultaneously taking great umbrage at the idea of US incursions into those areas in which they have apparently ceded control to those same terrorists?

I am not unmindful of the fact that the situation en toto is much more complicated than I have laid it out here - for example, the fact that the Pakistanis have apparently maintained security on their nuclear arsenal is a huge plus, and no small achievement in that corner of the globe. I just never seem to see this question fleshed out effectively, and it always flashes across my mind during these discussions.

I can recommend

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

by Steve Coll as a comprehensive, detailed and careful account of the subject matter.

"I'm not here to proselitise for either side of the Israeli/Palestine conflict, but if you want examples, the bus attacks of early 1996 that helped elect Netanyahu and ground the Oslo process to a halt are a good example of successful terrorism."

Okay, that's fair. And that's a good example--I was afraid you were going to talk about events in 2000.

publius:

One goal of 9/11 was to trigger a massive invasion of Afghanistan and create a new quagmire. Fortunately, bin Laden underestimated the world’s outrage, along with the success of the initial military operations. Luckily for him though, we fulfilled his wildest dreams by invading and occupying Iraq, a country with far more sacred sites.

Silly, unsupportable speculation. His short-mid-term goal always has been withdrawal of American military forces from the ME. Now he's got them camped in Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait, SA and Afghanistan for the long haul, Obama or no Obama.

His long-term goal is the restoration of Islamic rule and the caliphate, which are essentially like me wishing for $100 million dollars to magically appear in my checking account.

"His long-term goal is the restoration of Islamic rule and the caliphate, which are essentially like me wishing for $100 million dollars to magically appear in my checking account."

You could win the lotto, or find the winning ticket on the ground. The caliphate is never coming back.

While we are worrying about the possible consequences, has anybody worked out (and published; I'm sure the Pentagon has someone wargaming it) the worst case scenario? How about,
- India finds out where the terrorists were trained, and drops a (non-nuclear) bomb on the site.
- Pakistan's government, in the hopes of surviving domestic reaction, moves troops from the NorthWest to the Indian border
- When that does not calm the fury in Pakistan, the Pakistani government and/or military conduct rades across the border
- India responds in kind
- Whichever side is losing on the ground resorts to a nuclear weapon (maybe landing on what is actually their own territory, but into the other country's forces)
- Nukes fly back and forth.
- Pakistan gets trashed worse as a country, but India loses a lot more people. The Hindu nationalists drive the government to respond to the Pakistanis as Muslims by tossing a nuke at Mecca as well. (Hey, I said it was a worst-case scenario.)
- In addition to the reactions against India, various Arab countries (maybe with help from Iran) launch all-out attacks on Israel.
- Israel, pushed to the wall, starts using its nukes, too. In addition to the various Arab armies, Mecca gets hit again, and just for good measure, Medina, too. Not to mention Qom and maybe Tehran. Or even Cairo.
- North Korea siezes the moment to sell a couple of nukes to whichever terrorists are still around and buying. They, in turn, manage to smuggle one or two into a US harbor (New York? Los Angeles?)
- The US, having a good idea where the devices came from (not to mention a lack of other good targets to vent at) smashes North Korea - mostly nuclear facilities and the capital. (Not with nukes, which are hardly necessary.)
- The North Korean military, unable to hit back very far, slams into Seoul.
- While all of this is playing out (and it could probably wind others in as well), the world economy nosedives -- making the past year or two look like a mere blip. Think of all the businesses which are critically dependent on facilities in India. Or South Korea. Not to mention the impact of losing LA's port facilities.

WW I indeed. Now I'm getting depressed. Not least because every step seems all to possible.

I don't think people give terrorists enough credit for strategy. Most of the masterminds (not just Al Qaeda but groups all over) tend to be extremely smart and well educated. Most of the Al Qaeda inner circle have PhDs. If anything, we're lucky that the high command are narcissists that care about grand operations that will go down in history, while the operatives are either stupid or have no self control.

Also, you can argue whether this was a plan or just retroactively claiming credit but this tape does have a viewpoint that shows larger strategic goals. I think it's part of a cohesive strategy since bin Laden said very similar things in the late 90s.

as i recall, the 9/11 commission report concluded that he wanted to draw us into afghanistan (and was frustrated that the Cole incident didn't do more to advance that goal).

but others with better memories can hopefully correct or confirm me on that

The caliphate barely existed anyway. The top guys kept murdering each other and then the term 'Caliph' was adopted by whoever was in ascendency at the moment without regard to national origin.

It would be better for Osama to yearn for Arab or Muslim ascendancy than a return of the Caliphate.

//Not to mention the impact of losing LA's port facilities.//

Uh...my brother has a business near the Port of Long Beach. Can you have them put the container with the nuke on a train and set the fuse so it doesn't go off until the train is east of Palm Springs?

I don't really believe this is true at all. Evidence from how the Taliban reacted suggests that the people in that circle believed that America was too impotent to attack Afghanistan.

The Taliban weren't really the ones to watch on this front. They weren't really involved in the decision making process, and certainly wouldn't have been in on discussions detailing the hope of inducing massive US military operations in Afghanistan.

Silly, unsupportable speculation.

Not exactly. May I suggest reading Peter Bergen, Olivier Roy, Marc Sageman, Scheuer and/or Gilles Kepel on the subject? Each cites evidence of such designs. None are silly.

His short-mid-term goal always has been withdrawal of American military forces from the ME. Now he's got them camped in Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait, SA and Afghanistan for the long haul, Obama or no Obama.

Yes, but his goal was not just that. They wanted the US military out, and the cessation of financial/military aid to the apostate regimes.

The thinking is/was that once the US withdrew that support, those nations would be vulnerable to overthrow.

As an adjunct, by getting the US bogged down in Afghanistan, AQ could accomplish a few things:

Drain the US of resources and make them less likely to continue funding those apostate regimes (he doesn't understand that "deficits don't matter"!) and radicalize the Muslim population and convert them to the cause of overthrowing said apostate regimes.

His short-mid-term goal always has been withdrawal of American military forces from the ME.

My understanding is (and has always been) that bin Laden wanted an all-out war between Islam and "the West," which for some deluded reason he believed would be won by Islam. You don't accomplish that by getting American military forces to withdrawal. Now he was originally radicalized by the placement of US troops in Saudi Arabia, but I seriously doubt he'd be content with us simply removing them at this point.

My understanding is (and has always been) that bin Laden wanted an all-out war between Islam and "the West," which for some deluded reason he believed would be won by Islam. You don't accomplish that by getting American military forces to withdraw.

Yes and no. I'd look to clarify. I think Osama was more interested in portraying events in the world as constituting an "all-out war" of the West against Islam than in inducing such a war (at least until the Muslim world was greatly transformed and strengthened).

The "clash of civilizations" worldview had propagandistic value and, like all good propaganda, the purveyors likely believed it themselves to some extent. Above all, it was useful to rally Muslims to the cause of al-Qaeda and other militant causes.

With its ranks thus enlarged (eventually), al-Qaeda hoped to overthrow the Western-puppet apostate regimes in the region. But it's all about overthrowing those regimes and ushering in a purer form of Islamic rule. Once accomplished, Allah would reward such true faith with blessings that would vault the Muslim world ahead of the West.

If you trace back Zawahiri's early activities in Egypt, you will see that preoccupation with apostate rules was the focus of the Qutbist precursors of al-Qaeda as well.

Now he was originally radicalized by the placement of US troops in Saudi Arabia, but I seriously doubt he'd be content with us simply removing them at this point.

His radicalization predates that event. He was already a radicalized veteran of the Afghan/Soviet campaign prior to Gulf War I. Those circumstances certainly inflamed his anger, and further radicalized him, but it was not the origin.

Again, to clarify - without suggesting that you were necessarily saying something different.

E-Mart:

Thanks for the clarifications, on both counts. It's important history, and I think too few of us (myself included) have too poor an understanding of it. You can't fix problems that you haven't properly identified, after all.

> the group was most likely a rogue splinter group

This is utter crap. The LeT is implicated in a long string of attacks ranging from the Parliament attack in '01 to the Bombay train blasts of '06 to the Bangalore attack in the last year -- and that's not including their core area of m-f-s committing attacks in Kashmir. 11/26 is completely in line with their M.O.

Where ya been the past 20 years? Star Wars is a Buddhist story!!! I believe George Lucas is a longtime Zen practitioner.

Another thing -- anger is indeed one of the three poisons and post haste should be eradicated from all of our minds if we want to develop the good qualities of, say, Jesus. However, sometimes one must show anger to others -- wrath, my teachers call it --if the situation calls for it after dispassionate analysis.

The problem is, most of us are not buddhas yet. So we get angry at stuff. This impairs our thinking clearly about solutions.

It is fair to say that we in this country know very little about the Jammu and Kashmir situation. There is no way reports in the western press that derive from suspect sources are not biased and probably are 90% false.

India itself is a strange country and Muslims there are treated quite poorly by the Hindu majority. There have been many incidents, including massacres. We here don't know the half of it. Most anglos wouldn't care if they did. And, given western attitudes, probably wouldn't be able to get our heads around the issues at all.

It is therefor very hard to draw any conclusion about who actually perpetrated the most recent attacks on Mumbai, and whether Pakistani tribal or internal Indian factions had any involvement. All that can really be noted is that they were well planned and executed, with almost military precision. Quite scary.

Say what you will about the US, we can talk about things here and speculate about stuff. India is not the US. Its dangerous to even think differently there. So who knows what will happen? Not me. And probably not any of you either, because none of us have access to the real agenda.

As a side comment, the Taj Mahal Hotel, like the Gate to India across the street, symbolizes the British Empire. Colaba itself is like a small Imperial outpost. The war for independence still rages....

The problem is, most of us are not buddhas yet.

Or even buddhists...

Luckily for him though, we fulfilled his wildest dreams by invading and occupying Iraq, a country with far more sacred sites. And we’ll be dealing with the blowback from this war for decades to come.

I don't see this at all. Iran and Saudi Arabia will be dealing with the democratic influence of Iraq for decades to come.

I would like to recommend that people read "Descent in Chaos" by a Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. I think many will find it very informative and provide an insight into a part of the world that our media has failed to provide.

How possible is it that one of the terrorists' strategic goals could have been to radicalise Indian Muslims?

The logic in that case would go like this:
1.--big attention-getting attack
2.--Indian gov't overreacts but stops short of using nukes
3.--Indian civilians begin to treat Indian Muslims like suspects
4.--maybe a retaliatory attack from Hindu extremists on Indian Muslims civilian target

...goal: More of the millions of Indian Muslims see their future with the Muslim-aligned Pakistani elements; they agitate within India, threaten its prosperity and government.

Plausible? I don't really know.

I don't see this at all.

Look closer. Yemen and Lebanon are already suffering blowback. Amman Jordan got an eye-opener too.

Iran and Saudi Arabia will be dealing with the democratic influence of Iraq for decades to come.

Iran seems to have found many ways to "deal" with the democratic influence, and is steering it to friendly destinations. Much easier for Iran than "dealing" with Baathist Iraq.

As for Saudi Arabia, I think the Shiite government in Iraq is doing more to raise ire than inspire.

Anyway, one of the goals of modern terrorism (particularly radical Islamic terrorism) is to trigger an overreaction by the victim country.

And, in the case of radical Islamic terrorism (redundant?) to kill Jews, as Mumbai shows.

redundant?

No, but saying so is rank bigotry.

And, in the case of radical Islamic terrorism (redundant?) to kill Jews, as Mumbai shows.

Funny, such terrorism has succeeded in killing more Muslims than any other religion.

I know that it isn't always about us, but I'd like to think that the attacks came, in small part, because it was perceived that an Obama administration would have been game changing, so it was important to set patterns in concrete.

And a big warm hello to Jackmormon.

now_what:

"Here's a couple goals a terrorist organization might have: chasing the US military out of Saudi Arabia and overthrowing secular governments in the region. Those are real goals that real terrorists might have.

Here's a tactic they might choose in that fight: crashing planes into buildings in the US.

Sounds crazy doesn't it? But it worked. How could we be so stupid?"

"But it worked." Huh?

Are you saying that 9-11 chased the U.S. from Saudi Arabia and led to the overthrow of secular governments?

In what reality did this happen?

The U.S. military left Saudi Arabia by agreement with the Saudis. Al-Qaeda has not called this a win, it still calls Saudi Arabia infidel-occupied because of its other ties to the US and the west. The fact that AQ did not stop for a victory lap and found the next thing to be provoked about is also some partial validation of pinko punko's point.

What secular government has AQ overthrown since 9-11? None. What Talibanic governments have they restored? None.

The U.S. gave people with AQ ideologies an opportunity in Iraq, not through any process AQ can genuinely claim to control. And I'll bet you $300.00 the people with AQ ideologies have lost their chance to make a state in Iraq anyway and will not do so in the future.

You know, we can agree that U.S. reactions or overreactions to 9-11 have had some large costs, but geez louise there's no need to go crediting the terrorists with achievements they didn't make.

Here's a novel idea: how about we credit them with exactly what they've achieved, and nothing more?

"Well we don't know the difference between tactics and goals, how are we going to get anything else right?"

Wow, you think you're just the cleverest don't you. That tactics and goals critique is legitimate point to bring up if you're worried about imprecise government rhetoric, but what on earth made you think Publius was such a shallow thinker that he needed to be lectured about it?

E-mart said:
"Yes, but his goal was not just that. They wanted the US military out, and the cessation of financial/military aid to the apostate regimes.
The thinking is/was that once the US withdrew that support, those nations would be vulnerable to overthrow.
As an adjunct, by getting the US bogged down in Afghanistan, AQ could accomplish a few things:
Drain the US of resources and make them less likely to continue funding those apostate regimes (he doesn't understand that "deficits don't matter"!) and radicalize the Muslim population and convert them to the cause of overthrowing said apostate regimes.
Posted by: Eric Martin | December 02, 2008 at 02:51 PM"

Isn't the theory intellectually contemptible though. I believe it's a cartoony, ridiculous view of how power works in the Middle East that commits the common sin of over-crediting western influence on local outcomes and denying that local actors are important.

It's a doctrine that failed Ho Chi Minh's use to make themselves feel better.

Saudi Arabia is western supported for sure, but even without special U.S. ties, the regime would be supported *involuntarily* by every oil-consuming country in the world.

Zawahiri's got no business thinking the countries in his region as banana republics. Egypt and many other regions survived switching cold war patrons. The innate risk-averion, the lack of cohesion by dissatsified masses, and local elites will to power and unwillingness to fall and be massacred contribute far more to the persistence of "apostate" regimes than U.S. support does.

Publius said:

"as i recall, the 9/11 commission report concluded that he wanted to draw us into afghanistan (and was frustrated that the Cole incident didn't do more to advance that goal).
but others with better memories can hopefully correct or confirm me on that
Posted by: publius | December 02, 2008 at 02:03 PM "

You know, this is actually an argument against the "outsmart them by not reacting" strategy that is popular with many critics of U.S. foreign policy. Sometimes when somebody really wants a fight it might cost you more to not give him a fight.

Not that it would have been supported internationally or domestically, but what if we had started an Afghan front after the Cole or the Embassy bombings? Could the flypaper effect in Afghanistan, and greater alertness at home, have headed off 9-11, and, while we might have lost 1,000 soldiers in Afghanistan over the last decade, we would not have lost the 2,000 plus civilians we lost by not giving OBL the fight he wanted earlier?

Jesurgislac:

"- the country which abandoned Afghanistan after fighting the last land war of the Cold War there in 1980s.
Posted by: Jesurgislac | December 02, 2008 at 07:52 AM "

I somehow think that if the U.S. had tried to stay engaged, you sir, and much more importantly, the Afghans, would have been critical of the meddling. IE, I'm not sure that your comment here or your posts in general indicate you're making a good-faith argument or really describing a U.S. policy that would have made you happier.

If the U.S. had not "abandoned" Afghanistan it would have meant a) having an unarmed humanitarian presence that would have gotten in the way of someone's power and profit resulting in the caregivers becoming hostages or pawns, b) the US playing power politics in Afghanistan, which you of all people would agree has moral costs or c) some combination or a) and b).


Also, this statement is a little bit less than disapassionate:

"A large part of the reason why American bloodlust after 9/11 expended itself in such foolish, lethal, waste of resources as an attack on Afghanistan was firstly of course that the US is used to being able to bomb the crap out of other countries, and never pay the price for being an aggressor nation. Americans will still defend the attack on Afghanistan as justified, even though it plainly had nothing to do with stopping al-Qaeda or capturing Osama bin Laden. But another reason was that the US had Bush & co at the helm, and they wanted war: they weren't interested in peaceful, workable solutions.
India and Pakistan have been hostile to each other since they became nations: my father was nearly killed at the time of the partition. They are both capable of waging nuclear war on each other: they never have. Neither of them have governments which are as stupidly belligerent as the US government was for the past 8 years. While I agree there is reason to fear, there is also reason to hope.
Posted by: Jesurgislac | December 02, 2008 at 05:43 AM "

This is the old canard that says countries, in this case, America, has been more aggressive precisely because it has not suffered enough in war. So the corrollary to this theory is that countries who've suffered in war are deserving and become more peaceful, while lucky countries are aggressive and cause trouble for everybody else.

The problem is that the theory does not work. Plenty of countries that have not been bombed, that have been lucky in modern history, like Sweden, Switzerland, Costa Rica, etc., have not gone and had aggressive foreign policies. Others have had more aggressive policies or thrown their weight around a little more like the U.S.

Some countries that have suffered in modern wars, like Germany and Japan and Italy, have become borderline pacifist and very concerned to not cause violence. But others like Israeli Jews, Palestinians, Indians, Pakistanis, Chechens and Russians, have reacted to violence with violence. In some cases, like the BinLadenists and Pakistanis, they've done alot to widen their particular wars, even though they've lived through tough fighting or repression themselves.

I think your post is just the rage of someone from the global south bitter about the overall power and luck of the United States rather than any valid analysis.

"As a side comment, the Taj Mahal Hotel, like the Gate to India across the street, symbolizes the British Empire. Colaba itself is like a small Imperial outpost. The war for independence still rages....
Posted by: Funcity | December 03, 2008 at 10:31 AM "

Ugh - just one more cheap excuse for nihilists or those fighting for their own political agenda. No one should any longer indulge them in thinking that there's some moral value served by "sticking it" to symbols of imperial regimes that passed over half a century ago. Really, there's very few places where anticolonialism is a compelling cause anymore.

"The overreaction idea seems most appropriate to domestic revolutionary terrorist activity. In those cases, the desire to cause an overreaction in the general population kind of makes internal sense.

Posted by: Sebastian | December 02, 2008 at 12:01 PM "

Smart comment - we need to cite our sources if we claim to read their minds. And every terrorist has his own book.


As for these last comments:

"Could people be a bit smarter this time?
Posted by: now_what | December 02, 2008 at 03:03 AM


The point is: people dramatically overestimate the threat associated with rare vivid violent incidents. That's not rational and it is not reasonable.
Posted by: Turbulence | December 02, 2008 at 03:26 AM

I mean, seriously, are you using a different definition of "reasonable" that means "utterly without reason"?
Posted by: McDuff | December 02, 2008 at 04:19 AM"


How nice it is to be satisfied you know what is right and how people should act. Publius's post expressed an understanding of how humans tend to behave. The rest of you I just quoted are expressing outrage that people tend to react to provocation with violence, instead of acting like Vulcans from Star Trek, or angels.

No, but saying so is rank bigotry.

I was referring to the "radical." I think all terrorism is radical and doesn't reflect the general beliefs of most religions. That's all I meant.

Funny, such terrorism has succeeded in killing more Muslims than any other religion.

And not funny is the fact that there was absolutely no strategic importance vis-a-vis Kashmir to dispatch 20% of the "strike force" to go after Jews in Mumbai.

I somehow think that if the U.S. had tried to stay engaged, you sir, and much more importantly, the Afghans, would have been critical of the meddling.

Yeah, and probably the US's continued involvement with Afghanistan into the 1990s would have merited criticism, with the American habit of supporting the government most loyal to US interests regardless of the will of the people the government rules. Quite possibly, given that the US was supporting the Islamists against the Communists in Afghanistan, the US would have been trying to keep in place a government that would very much have resembled the Taliban, and might well eventually have been chased out of Afghanistan by the same kind of revolution as took place in Iran against a hated oppressor supported by the US. American involvement usually means a lot of anti-democratic meddling with a country. We can't say.

But the US did originally promise to stand by Afghanistan, and did then break that promise... leading directly to the years of lawlessness and the advent of the Taliban.

This is the old canard that says countries, in this case, America, has been more aggressive precisely because it has not suffered enough in war.

mmmm, well, no. How much is "suffered enough"? It's true the US has never suffered greatly by any war of the 20th or the 21st century, whether one the US started or either of the world wars.

But what I meant was: the US can start wars in another part of the world, confident that whatever happens, the US will not suffer for it - lose a few tens of thousands of soldiers lives at worst, but not the millions, civilians and soldiers, who die in the country where the US is fighting the war. This has been true so far for ever.

"In the run-up to WWI, even though everyone knew on some level that nationalistic overreaction would lead to even more horrible outcomes"

I don't think this is at all a defensible claim. Not even remotely.

Most people on both sides thought the war would be over by Christmas. That was exactly why they went to war, enthusiastically. Very few foresaw years of war. What are you talking about?

Jesurgislac:

"- the country which abandoned Afghanistan after fighting the last land war of the Cold War there in 1980s.
Posted by: Jesurgislac | December 02, 2008 at 07:52 AM "

I somehow think that if the U.S. had tried to stay engaged, you sir,

Nice presumption.

"I think your post is just the rage of someone from the global south"

Britain?

Jes: "But the US did originally promise to stand by Afghanistan,"

Um, what? I wouldn't disagree with any assertion that the U.S. should have made such promises, but that the U.S. governmend did? Can you give a cite to that declaration, please?

"The single country most responsible for making Afghanistan vulnerable to Taliban takeover, including ensuring that the Taliban were well-armed and trained, was the United States - the country which abandoned Afghanistan after fighting the last land war of the Cold War there in 1980s."

It's not clear to me that the Soviet Union wouldn't come first, Pakistan second, and the U.S. and Saudi Arabia tied for third, myself. Makes for a bit of a more complicated narrative, though.

"His short-mid-term goal always has been withdrawal of American military forces from the ME."

No, that was (one of) his casus belli.

Now he's got them camped in Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait, SA and Afghanistan for the long haul, Obama or no Obama."

His mid-term goal is to financially destroy the U.S. by forcing it to over-reach militarily and domestically by over-reacting to Islamic threats. He's written and spoken about this at considerable length. We've been cooperating nicely under President Bush, particularly with the trillion dollar war in Iraq. (Thus CIA's analysis of Bin Laden's attempt to help Bush's re-election in 2004.)

What were the realistic chances of making Afghanistan a better place from the beginning of the Soviet withdrawal onward?

ISTM that the most likely that coercive measures to try to impose a solution just would have led to a quagmire and been morally problematic. At the same time, attempts to coax a solution through pure diplomacy, persuasion and incentive would likely have been spoiled by one or several or the local factions prepared to use more than pure diplomacy, persuasion or incentive to enhance its own position.

"But what I meant was: the US can start wars in another part of the world, confident that whatever happens, the US will not suffer for it - lose a few tens of thousands of soldiers lives at worst, but not the millions, civilians and soldiers, who die in the country where the US is fighting the war. This has been true so far for ever. "


I'm not sure this is a defensible statement.
The U.S. lost a couple thousand civilians because merely making an agreement with a foreign country (Saudi) to keep troops there sequestered on compounds prepared to counter potential aggression by that country's neighbors without killing or even mixing with locals was so offensive to some Saudi citizens that they decided all American taxpayers were killable until that stopped.

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