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Critique of pure Reasoner

Essays and commentary related to topics in Tom Reasoner's "Truth and Beauty" blog

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Usama bin Laden's Intentions

Lancelot Finn makes a post about the intent of UBL's newly released video. I posted the following as a comment:

Capturing and imprisoning Usama would be the fastest way to abrade his currency, as executing him would just make him a martyr. Second to that is him being killed in a factional battle that muddies the meaning of his death. Last would be for him to die naturally of something like sudden heart failure or falling off a rock. Here's to any of those possibilities.

I've also been thinking about the importance of the identity of the PotUS in UBL's mind, and I tend to wonder if he has any sort of real grasp of American politics at all. He seems to have taken the wrong lessons from Somalia because he didn't realize that the US resolve to aid those who shoot at us is highly limited. Note the swift-declining popularity of the Iraq war now that it's clear it presented no real threat to the US - a huge percentage of people just dont' care much for the humanitarian dimensions of the war, or don't understand them. We left Somalia in a hurry because no one wanted to spend American lives helping people who didn't appreciate it*.

UBL, on the other hand, thought that the US was cowed by the public casualties. He doesn’t understand the pride of a people like ours, who count ourselves worth more because we’re well aware of the fact that when there’s aid or an attempt to help, it’s always from us to others, not the reverse. Strike at us, of course, and you find out that our instinct is to, as a Marine friend of mine says, “Rip sh*t up.” That we merely retract our troops is generally a measure of restraint rather than retreat.

Our response in Afghanistan, I think, surprised him a great deal. I, on the other hand, being the liberal interventionist that I am, had wanted an excuse for us to invade that abandoned and forgotten country since 1996 and saw it as an inevitable beneficial result of the 9/11 attacks. Essentially, by attacking us on our own soil without (what is internationally accepted as sufficient) provocation, he achieved the worst setback for his movement he possibly could have effected. Not only did he make us very, very angry, he convinced the world (for a while) to lend legitimacy to whatever we did. We crushed his Afghan operations almost without backlash**. If we had stopped there, I think UBL would have been marginalized for many years, or perhaps permanently.

Iraq, of course, has been another thing entirely, but even now, UBL does not seem particularly involved there except as a symbol. Zarqawi is, while not quite apostate, regarded as somewhat outside the Al Qaeda hierarchy because of his (even more) indiscriminate tactics. Since Iraq has to some extent supplanted Palestine as the beacon of jihad, Zarqawi’s star is rising over UBL’s somewhat tattered flag.

So what does the US election mean to UBL? Does he need Bush’s crusader fervor as a foil to lend him meaning and importance as many on the left like to say? Perhaps, but I don’t know if UBL can navigate the shades of difference between Kerry and Bush that seem like gaping chasms to people raised within American culture and traditions. If Bush is a Christian crusader, at least he is a Man of the Book who believes in the primacy of faith in public life. Kerry’s secular humanist positions constitute an even greater anathema to the Islamic fundamentalist, worthy of outright execution. Meanwhile, Bush is the incumbent and the election of Kerry might look attractively like the populace capitulating. There’s no real way of telling how someone like Usama would view them.

However, it’s easy to see what threat of schism and loss of hegemony Zarqawi’s ascendance presents to UBL. By releasing a video right now to focus the eye of the world back on himself might serve his personal goals within the community of terrorists much more directly and reliably.

P.S. You’d probably prefer to transliterate is as “Al Quds” because “holy” in Arabic begins with a voiceless uvular stop as opposed to the velar stop for which the Latin letter “k” is usually used.

*The fact that most people there *did* appreciate it was largely lost on the electorate.

**Afghanistan was always an embarrassment to Islamic nations, and it seemed to me in conversations with Muslims from around the world that they were mostly upset that it took US intervention to clear that huge skeleton out of the Islamic closet.

Friday, October 01, 2004

North Korea ad nauseum

Ohay, I still haven't offered a 'solution' to the North Korea thing, but Nathanael has responded to my own commentary, saying "It seems that Nato was thinking of “hitting” North Korea, or at any rate, of being able to."

About which he is fully correct. Being able to cast doubt on North Korea's ability to deliver its nukes gives a great deal more leverage in negotiations, and of course, gives us some in hope of preventing unthinkable in case negotiations fail catastrophically. It still leaves them with a lot of leverage, but you do the best you can with what you have.

Something else he said is also important to note:

Nato suggests that Kim Jong Il would “respond” with his “gigantic army.” Why? If we did take out his nukes, North Korea would be in no better position to invade South Korea than at any time in the past fifty years. And why punish South Korea, or even Japan, for what the US did?

North Korea is a good bit more desperate than they've ever been before. Millions of people are starving, their electrical infrastructure is breaking down, and so on. South Korea has food, resources, and offers a distraction from internal dissent. Meanwhile, by striking North Korea we are, technically, committing an act of war. South Korea is our close ally. While I doubt much of the world would be on North Korea's side, I don't think the rest of the world would admit that our moral position is exactly flawless. And in Kim Jong Il's mind, that might well be enough.