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August 01, 2010

Violent Moron Mad Libs

As far as I know, I'm the only person on earth who genuinely enjoys reading Islamist propaganda. What's great about it is is how pungently it demonstrates that All Mankind is One, including the ways in which we are violent morons.

I've just been looking through "The Exoneration," a long 2008 screed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's second-in-command. He wrote it in response to "Dr. Fadl," a prominent hardline Islamist thinker who'd started saying that maybe slaughtering giant numbers of people wasn't such a hot idea after all.

What's wonderful about what Zawahiri says is that all you'd have to do is change a few words and Sean Hannity would read it on Fox tonight:

This is a question that we address to the brothers who use the term "terrorism" to describe what happened in America. I would like an answer to it. This is the question:

When the United States fired missiles on the medicine factory in Sudan, destroying it over the heads of the employees and workers who were inside, what do you call this? What America did against the Sudanese factory, does it not constitute terrorism but what those men did against the American buildings is terrorism? Why did they condemn what happened in America but we heard no one condemn what America did to the Sudanese factory?

I see no difference between the two operations except that the money used to build the factory was Muslim money and the workers who died in the factory's rubble were Muslims while the money that was spent on the buildings that those hijackers destroyed was infidel money and the people who died in the explosion were infidels. Was this the difference that made some of our brothers call what happened in America terrorism? They did not condemn what happened in Sudan and do not call it terrorism. What about starving the Libyan people? What about the almost daily starving of the Iraqi people and the attacks on them? What about the sieges and attacks on the Muslim state of Afghanistan? What do you call all this? Is it or is it not terrorism?

There's the exact same nationalistic bullying you get from Hannity, the exact same insinuations that anyone who criticizes him does it because they're secretly on The Other Side. It's Violent Moron Mad Libs.

[Members of our in-group] have criticized me for killing [members of an out-group]. They've even called it a crime! But, I ask, where were they when [members of that out-group] killed [members of our in-group] at [place]? I wonder, why weren't they upset about THAT?

Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rudy Giuliani et al exist at the exact same moral and intellectual level as Al Qaeda's #2. They truly are no more informed or sophisticated than he is. If Ayman al-Zawahiri had been born an American Christian, he'd undoubtedly be a successful right-wing politician or talk show host.

More textbook Zawahiri wingnuttery can be found in an online forum (described in a New Yorker article) in which he responded to questions from Muslims. Amusingly, he actually answered far tougher questions than any American political figure ever would. Perhaps someday we can learn from the mideast how to have an open society:

SAUDI: Are there other ways and means in which the objectives of jihad can be achieved without killing people? Please do not use as a pretext what the Americans or others are doing. Muslims are supposed to be an example to the world in tolerance and lofty goals, not to become a gang whose only concern is revenge.

ZAWAHIRI: If a criminal were to storm into your house, attack your family and kill them, steal your property, and burn down your house, then turns to attack the homes of your neighbors, will you treat him tolerantly so that you will not become a gang whose only concern is revenge?

All you have to do is switch "American" and "Muslim" and you've got next week's Ann Coulter column, complete with sneering references to "tolerance." It's uncanny.

P.S. Strong Horse!

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at August 1, 2010 09:30 AM

i am not familiar with your inner impulse ( a donk which wakes up now and then ? ) which seem to focus lots more on repubs . how ever i can easily do this same thought experiment on plenty of nice libs and pwogs and their donkey masters . all in the service of the empire .
at least looking back at the " american century " ( i purposely leave out colonial settlers and extermination of indigenous people ) so it seems .

Posted by: badri at August 1, 2010 10:43 AM

I don't know. The trouble with the point you're making, as I understand it, is that the stuff that people like Zawahiri talk about actually happened (or some version of it), whereas Hannity/Coulter just invent their own victimhood. Which is why the equivalence you're drawing between them might be neat and satisfying, but can also be really deceptive; people like Zawahiri (or Zaid Hamid, the Pakistani Glenn Beck) have credibility for all sorts of people because they tell a persuasive story about something that is actually happening, the world-wide American crusade against Muslims. That's not to say that Zawahiri is *right*, of course, but unless you start from the fact that his charge of hypocrisy is persuasive because we really do kill lots of Muslim civilians and no one calls it terrorism, you can't possibly understand the thing he represents or why it continues. What he's describing in that last quote after all, is a real experience that lots of real people in countries we invade really have. In other words, people like Zawahiri or Hamid might be dangerous clowns, but they're powerful because they tap into grievances that have real and potent causes; because Americans really are hypocrites when it comes to talking about "terrorism," those people gain legitimacy by calling us out on it.

The Hannitys and Coulters, on the other hand, are just making stuff up. Which is why a phenomenon that might seem superficially similar is really something very different, a sense of victimhood crafted out of thin air as a pretext for *pre-emptive* aggression. Zawahiri is in no sense *better*, but otherwise intelligent people fall for his rhetoric precisely because he's talking about grievances that exist, but which no one else talks about. But the people that fearfully imagine muslims sweeping through the midwest in some kind of "crescent dawn" scenario are getting to that delusions through a very different kind of thought process.

Posted by: zunguzungu at August 1, 2010 10:51 AM

In addition to what zunguzungu said, there's also a bit of a power difference here.

Posted by: ethan at August 1, 2010 12:58 PM

Excellent points, and I'd agree that Jon's analogy is too broad. The main point of comparison between Zawahiri and right-wing loons in this country is their willingness (no, make that zeal) to see people murdered in the name of their cause, and their utter lack of concern if that includes innocent people.

As I've said various times since 9/11 when conservative friends have pointed out that the things I'm saying sound suspiciously like Al-Qaeda's latest audio tape, I agree with their grievances, not their methods.

Posted by: John Caruso at August 1, 2010 01:22 PM

Been MY experience, through my whole life, that if a horse IS able to stand on his own four feet, strong/weak/sighted or blind, he can kick YOUR ass and maybe dance the two step on for a while, and it'll be MANY a day before YOU feel like YOUR old self again.
Zawahiri is just pissed that he don't have a few F-18s to throw down with. He's a ACinC kinda guy on the Moozlim side. If YOU've ever read The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, I'm reminded of the Cockroach General after a major troop loss, "There's millions more where that came from." Sean, Rush, Billo, Zawahiri ALL want to be the Coackroach General. The ONLY difference I see is Zawahiri MIGHT actually pick up a rifle and fight along side the rabble he's rallied.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 1, 2010 02:52 PM

No one yet? Well then, I guess I'll try my hand at defending the host.

That much of the Muslim world is currently, to say the least, being influenced by Western powers is not suspect. But the idea that non-Muslims have no experience in being terrorized is a faulty one. Tell that to the Christians murdered in Pakistan and Nigeria or the Jews in Yemen and Tunisia.

As Jonathon Schwarz mentioned before, propaganda doesn't necessarily have to be 100% false to be useful. While the objective of many Muslim militant groups is the resistance to Western imperialism, to believe that dozens of these groups don't have other agendas is naive.

In a daily practice of masochism I go visit the yahoos over at "Yahoo! Buzz" to see what bile they have to dish out on the latest stories. Occasionally, some person will post, "Stop killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan", the response will inevitably be, like so much clockwork "Stop killing people in Algeria, Uzbekistan, Libya"

Ect. Ect. Ect.

Posted by: Nikolay Levin at August 1, 2010 05:31 PM

To fight a war, one needs an enemy. To maintain an enormous all-consuming war machine, even moreso. Nowadays, war-loving enemies may be even more important than a war-loving public. After all, just look how Gorbachev nearly ruined everything by leading the commies in the USSR to give up their quest for world domination. That was the dirtiest trick ever! For a while, it was a little awkward for the Pentagon when people mentioned the peace dividend. Accounts of the end of the Cold War reveal how apoplectic all our Cold Warriors in the Reagan Administration were about Reagan being willing to listen to Gorby.

If the war-mongers on the opposing sides sound alike, it may indeed be because all writers have to do is do what JS does and write with blanks, like a form letter, and then fill in some names. Point of consideration: This is even easier when writers work for the same production company.

Those interested in the political history of Islamism might read the recently published A Mosque in Munich by Ian Johnson, which recounts the anticommunist use of Islamism first by the Nazis and then by the US during the Cold War. Then read Devil's Game by Robert Dreyfuss, which recounts the sponsorship of Islamism by the US, via the Saudis and the Muslim Brotherhood, to oppose Nasserism in the arab world and then, via the Saudis and Pakistan's ISI, to fight communism in Afghanistan.

The past is prologue, and the story continues from there with more gaps, so when "Osama" praised William Blum in the audio tape released in January 2006, he displayed an excellent sense of humor, even if it was an inside joke.

Posted by: N E at August 1, 2010 07:21 PM


Nice to see you around!

Even accurate information can mislead, and total lies generally aren't the best unless, like Hitler's infamous Big Lie, they are so outrageous that few people will believe someone would have the nerve to tell them. But total lies can work in a pinch, as when the 15-year-old daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US testified in 1990 before the House Human Rights Caucus co-chaired by Tom Lantos to describe how she supposedly had seen Iraqi soldiers killing babies in a Kuwaiti hospital. That was utter, complete bullshit, a total lie, but one that a number of Senators found compelling.

(See John Macarthur's book Second Front: Censorship and propaganda in the Gulf War)

Usually partial lies are enough, but apparently Hill and Knowlton thought they needed more then. It strikes me now how hard it was back then to get Congress to wage even one war.

Posted by: N E at August 1, 2010 07:56 PM

Do Not Like.

First, the issue at hand here is not whether Zawahiri et al. are generally likeable; the issue is whether it is correct to condemn their use of terrorism against the United States, as far as I can tell.

So: is it? If so, why? As others have pointed out, there's a huge differential both in the level of damage done (millions killed in the Arab world, as compared to thousands in the US - most of those by al-Qaeda) AND in the relative power of the two actors. We've spent the last fifty years beating the shit out of the Muslim world. Whatever else may be wrong with them, al-Qaeda is not wrong about this: they are well within their rights to blow up some Americans, because the other alternative is, what, somehow magic the oil that we seem to believe is ours out from under their sand?

If you don't like it, well, tough. While you sit pretty and drive your car to and from work every day, the government you elect and pay taxes to is ruthlessly slaughtering Muslims around the world. Terrorism is a pretty fucking minimal consequence for that sin. So, please, pick on Zawahiri for his reprehensible attitude towards women or apostacy or something else, but with terrorism I don't think you have a leg to stand on.

Posted by: saurabh at August 1, 2010 07:58 PM

Saurabh: Your argument appears sound given certain stipulations, including that we Americans are all on the same Team.

For myself, just as I imagine spiritual counterparts in Dresden in 1945 or Baghdad in 2003 who did not appreciate being bombed merely because they were nominally on the wrong Team, so I would not appreciate being killed for being on the American Team.

I never voted for anyone who won an election and, being unemployed, I don't pay much in the way of federal taxes. How diffuse has the blame got to be before my death is not justifiable?

So yeah, if they destroyed a US aircraft carrier or something, I'd probably agree that were a legitimate act of war (or as legit as such things can be). The WTC? Not so much ...

Posted by: Cloud at August 1, 2010 08:21 PM

Meanwhile, while you bicker about the fact that they didn't file the proper injunctions against the aggrieving parties in the Hague, your "team" - the society you participate in and reap the benefits of - is bombing their society on a daily basis. The fact that you feel bad about it doesn't somehow excuse your guilt, or mine.

Yes, I get it: justice doesn't deal in approximations, and there's a heavy measure of unfairness in attacking the World Trade Center (and, arguably, it's counterproductive). But I'm not a pacifist, and I accept that anti-imperialist battles have and will continue to require the application of violence to achieve their ends. Sometimes that violence is most effective in the form of terrorism; if that is the most efficient path to a reduction in violence in the world (the vast, vast majority of which is carried out by the United States, in stark disproportion to your tears about the WTC).

The fact is, we've perpetuated thousands of WTCs on the Muslim world, severing the limbs of children, blinding and killing sisters and leaving widows and widowers across the planet. If you truly believe you're not on the American "team", then why do you single out the one act of violence against that team as somehow meriting equal weight with the thousand-fold violence against the other team?

Posted by: saurabh at August 1, 2010 08:57 PM

Hi NE.

Yes those were my sentiments exactly. Unholy Wars by John Cooley is another good source among the others you mentioned. Which brings me to this.

"So: is it? If so, why? As others have pointed out, there's a huge differential both in the level of damage done (millions killed in the Arab world, as compared to thousands in the US - most of those by al-Qaeda) AND in the relative power of the two actors."

Well that's not disputed. Infact find radical Islamists and the United States military-industrial complex both detesting because they were key allies in America's march across the Asian continent. That these factions are having a Sino-Soviet moment is not altogether changing my perceptions of them. Just because Osama Bin Laden turned on his handlers doesn't mean hes off the hook for accepting their help.

Even if Islamic radicalism cropped up independently, I feel that seeing terrorism through a dualist paradigm is counterproductive. Did the Jews in Tunisia have anything to do with Zionism? Did the Ahamdis Muslims fire Hellfire missles into Pakistani Waziristan? I don't see black and white, I see shades of gray and If anyone on the "left" wants credibility over Limbaugh and Faux Noise they should consider that carefully.

Posted by: Nikolay Levin at August 1, 2010 09:16 PM

Yes, I agree, we should wait to support third-world liberation from American imperialism until those fighting against imperialism are ideologically pure enough to support. Sustainable, fair-trade freedom fighters FTW.

Are you seriously suggesting some sort of equivalence ("factions") between the giant monstrous military/industrial beast that's killing millions of people and sucking the resources out of their ground with the handful of desperate characters who are firing back?

Osama bin Laden is remarkably consistent: he's been fighting against imperialist invaders for forty years now. That American cynics switched teams, now deciding to take a taste of the pie they refused the Soviets, doesn't somehow change what he's doing in that regard. So, yes, dispute, if you like, their repressive social agenda, and lament the effect on their societies when they're the only ones left, if you like, if that's where your priorities are, but there is absolutely no disputing their right to use violence against the United States. Yea, even terrorist violence.

Posted by: saurabh at August 1, 2010 09:24 PM

Saurabh, you misunderstand me. Especially in your last paragraph, you're preaching to the choir. I did not equate 9/11 and the whole of US violence. I'm pondering the ethical question: given that they are so disparate in magnitude, what do I make of the former (obviously assuming AQ did it)?

The stone-cold deontological answer being — "killing civilians is always wrong, no matter what." The utilitarian answer is: "it depends." Can an act of terrorism be the least evil path to an overall reduction of violence in the world? Well, on how long a timescale should that be measured? Will it be counter-productive — how does one know? This is why I get frustrated with utilitarianism.

Also, I didn't say that I shared no guilt for the outrages. Just wondered whether I was guilty enough to deserve any bombing that might come my way. Because if I am, at least 95% of America is, too. And what about Canada and Britain and other governments that go along with us? If the only way to end the occupations in the Islamic world was to wipe us ALL out, would that be justified?

Sorry if it sounds like I'm abusing sarcasm; I'm actually thinking about these things. I know the answer that I'm comfortable with, but I don't suppose that I'd fault an Iraqi for feeling differently.

Posted by: Cloud at August 1, 2010 09:54 PM

I see no difference between the two operations ... What do you call all this? Is it or is it not terrorism?

"You say A was an act of terrorism! But A was no different than B! And B was an act of terrorism! So, A was... wait a minute..."

Al Zawahiri has an unorthodox approach to syllogism, and certainly hasn't mastered Hannity et al's skill with a false dichotomy.

Posted by: weaver at August 1, 2010 11:20 PM

Cloud: In the Oil Wars ya PAY at the pump as well as in TAXES. THE VICTIMS don't have the luxury of saying, "Forgive Cloud and his buddies, they ONLY paid in a little to bomb us." NO they can ONLY TRUTHFULLY say, "The Americans bombed us", 'cause Afghans have most likely NEVER heard of Cloud and his buddies(U&I).

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 1, 2010 11:47 PM

"Osama bin Laden is remarkably consistent: he's been fighting against imperialist invaders for forty years now."

That sure is a lot to know about Osama bin Laden. Most self-proclaimed experts have been unable to even figure out how tall he was within half a foot.

People would be wise to not believe anything about Osama bin Laden without very reliable proof, especially claims about his motives and goals that are based on dubious videotapes and lots of hearsay. Same for Zawahiri. People shouldn't be so eager to have an enemy, or a champion, that they uncritically embrace whoever is supplied, especially since so much of what can be proved false has been proved false.

Posted by: N E at August 2, 2010 01:13 AM

but there is absolutely no disputing their right to use violence against the United States. Yea, even terrorist violence.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that there is no disputing the right to use terrorism against enemies. But I do think that normal morality applies only in normal contexts. Along those lines, one of the great victories of pro-Israeli propaganda was characterizing Palestinian suicide bombers as barbaric non-humans who live in a society so depraved that they send their children to their deaths. The trick here was to focus the blame for these atrocities on the character of the Palestinian people, rather than as behavior resulting from unbearable oppression and violence.

I think a better understanding of these types of extreme actions, and a way to arrive at a justification for them, would be to consider the conditions under which we could come to believe that strapping bombs on our loved ones chests (or our own) was a legitimate, or necessary, course of action to take. Once you get that far - at least past the reflexive denial that you could ever do such a thing - I think the normal judgement that killing civilians is wrong gets a bit cloudy.

Which isn't to say it's morally right. Or even that the perpetrator has a right to engage in that behavior. Rather, it's probably better to say that while the action is morally wrong from our pov, it may very well be justified in contexts (eg, extreme oppression) where the fabric of society is so fractured and fundamentally amoral that judgments based on our morality fail to apply.

Posted by: scudbucket at August 2, 2010 01:40 AM

That last paragraph was a bit confused.

Try again: Perhaps it's better to say that while we judge the action as morally wrong when considering it from our pov, it may very well be justified in contexts (eg, extreme oppression) where the fabric of society is so fractured and fundamentally amoral that judgments based on our morality fail to apply.

I'm trying to get at the old insider-outsider thing here, but not articulating it very well.

Posted by: scudbucket at August 2, 2010 01:48 AM

NE: I believe that Bin Laden and Zawahiri exist because The FBI have them on wanted lists.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 2, 2010 03:06 AM

Good propagandists know how to create such a black and white argument that platitudes that one would normally accept as basic get overlooked. This keeps their ranks strong. And what could be more useful when fighting a powerful, evil enemy? Being the underdog has many effects on propaganda, one of them being a shared sense of noble purpose. If you can drill that into somebody's head, becoming as evil as your enemy becomes an easy sell.

Some examples of it happening on "our side": I've had friends who cheered the "Bear" when he took a baseball bat to the head of a young Nazi soldier in Tarantino's latest movie (I'm blanking on the name). Another friend of mine was almost about to make allowances for the killing of the children of Nazis because "a child of a Nazi is a Nazi."

It is generally wealthy elites that get so wrapped up in trying to defend the underdog that they fall over themselves to see who can out-sympathize with the next. Most normal people who have not been indoctrinated in nationalistic hatred are happy to just understand it, so they can learn in what situations to expect it, and therefore, respond to it.

Like John Trudell said, its not about guilt, sin, and blame. It's about responsibility.

Posted by: LT at August 2, 2010 06:05 AM

I was just thinking the other day how much in common the Christian terrorists have with the Muslim terrorists and the Jewish terrorists.

1. Extreme intolerance of other religions
2. Extreme stupidity
3. Multiple excuses for using violence against others - no excuse for violence against them, no matter how much violence they have used (this may be more true for the Christian terrorists though)
4. No understanding of the violence used against them
5. No understanding of other people's positions, or tolerance of such
6. Thinking "socialism is god-less"
7. Thinking God rewards the good and punishes the bad, in the long run. I call the the "great big personnel manager in the sky" thinking.
8. The rich must be good, since they have been rewarded.
9. No real ability for critical thought.

As to whether one side or another has the right to use violence, I vote that NONE of them have the right to use violence at any time.

And it is a damn evil shame that the US and it's Christian terrorists are so rich that they can do violence all around the world. May they rot in hell forever.

I wonder if anyone besides me realizes that the NYC skyline has been vastly improved since early 2001.

Posted by: Susan at August 2, 2010 11:29 AM

oh, I forgot one:


Posted by: Susan at August 2, 2010 11:36 AM

I read this piece at first as a huge piece of sarcasm pointing out how much more moral Zawahiri is than the Republicans. I am still not sure if that wasn't the intent as the article makes it so obvious Zawahiri is more moral than America.

If that was seriously trying to say that Zawahiri is revealed to be as bad as the Republicans in those quoted or highlighted comments then the author had one hell of a brain fart. Good grief.

Can anyone here imagine Fox news comparing America to Al-Qaeda and saying they are basically much the same? They even have a name for the LIBERAL act that claims such things which is "false equivalence".

Can anyone imagine anyone on Fox news having to complain that the major media has treated America worse than Al-Qaeda in similar situations?

Can anyone imagine Fox news calling for fairness?

Hell, if Zawahiri said all that then he's being too hard on himself IMO. He's being humble and self-faulting where it is inappropriate. Can anyone imagine Hanity doing that on behalf of America?

Not even remotely.

Hell I can't even imagine Jon Stewart doing half that stuff.

Zawahiri equates 9-11 with the Sudanese factory bombing. But in fact 9-11 was obviously nowhere near as bad on many levels. First and most obvious 9-11 was a response to prior and on-going violence -- ie a self-defence attempt. Zawahiri does seem to claim this in other places which makes his false equivalnce with America's unprecedented, unprovoked Sudanese bombing in that first statement all the more humble and apologetic.

Secondly 9-11 was a military target not a hit on a key healthcare infrastructure point. 9-11 minimised collateral damage while the Sudanese operation maximised it.

Thirdly as others have pointed out the US attack was part of an on-going violent aggression that has murdered millions -- and I actually mean "murder", unlike the person who said,

"The main point of comparison between Zawahiri and right-wing loons in this country is their willingness (no, make that zeal) to see people murdered in the name of their cause, and their utter lack of concern if that includes innocent people."

That is 100% bullshit on the basis of what is said here and the facts commonly known. Zawahiri's comment is more "liberal" here:

"If a criminal were to storm into your house, attack your family and kill them, steal your property, and burn down your house, then turns to attack the homes of your neighbors, will you treat him tolerantly so that you will not become a gang whose only concern is revenge?"

In other words a proportionate self-defence against a prior and on-going act of aggression, carried out not for revenge but to prevent the aggressor destroying more innocent people.

The original article idiotically (unless it is sarcasm) says,

"All you have to do is switch "American" and "Muslim" and you've got next week's Ann Coulter column"

And the only difference would be the TRUTH that when Zawahiri claims self-defence he is correct and when the US apologists do so they are absurdly lying.

So are those who would disagree with Zawahiri saying that they WOULD let the mad man in his story kill their neighbours too? Or are they saying, oh sure we would try to stop the mad man but when we "liberals" do violence it's for the best reasons whereas those dirty Muslims you know, they just want to kill people, and its their good luck that they happen to have America to excuse their violence but we see right through that excuse for what it is....?

Posted by: DavidByron at August 2, 2010 02:28 PM

Speaking of violent morons:

Shorter Marc Thiessen: "I want to waterboard Julian Assange! Fap-fap-fap-fap!"

Posted by: Jelperman at August 2, 2010 04:20 PM

"I vote that NONE of them have the right to use violence at any time."

That's refreshingly intelligent and principled.
Putting aside the morality of OBL and Zawahiri and any other violence-advocating Islamacists, the lot of them are either fools or dupes or in some instances probably directly in the employ of YOUR enemies.

In practice, terrorism ends up being a justification for oppression, which has been a problem faced by the democratic left throughout its history. Even assuming OBL and his gang really did pull off 9/11 all by themselves, they set back the cause they purport to be trying to advance more than anyone else ever has. And frankly, that's always been true, which is why those who want to wage wars and solve problems with violence face a constant, nagging temptation to engage in fraud and murder to justify whatever they think is necessary to serve the National Interest. This is especially true in the United States, where every coverup works.

Embracing questionable morality might be ethically defensible if it it were to serve some larger purpose or greater good, but since's it's tactically idiotic and makes the world worse, people on the left would be wise to embrace Ghandi's dictum that the means are the ends. After all, why make a fool of yourself defending Zawahiri's good intentions when his words and deeds have done nothing but give a boost to consolidation of U.S. military control of the Middle East and South and Central Asia? For those who want to run the world, terrorists are the gift that keeps on giving.

Posted by: N E at August 2, 2010 05:15 PM

OBL and others should have played to Zionist guilt. That always works.

Posted by: passepied at August 2, 2010 05:55 PM

this analogy fails on so many levels, but just to point out that terrorism as a strategy for reducing violence by taking a small measure of revenge on the imperialist bastards is a clear failure. I don't propose to know what to tell a palestinian or afghani or iraqi (or somali or columbian or...) to do, but blowing up the WTC as an anti-imperialist gesture has been an utter failure for all parties concerned.

or am i just being naively romantic in thinking there has to be a better way than getting the US to exhaust itself in 2 land wars in Asia, at the cost of millions of lives, trillions wasted, and a blighted, unlivable, environment?

Posted by: anonymous at August 2, 2010 06:05 PM

anonymous: "it's a bad strategy" is a very different point than "it's morally unconscionable", as someone above suggests. The idea that people who are being shot at and bombed do not have the right to fight back seems thoughtless to me, like you haven't given the question more than a cursory glance. Usually the case with moral absolutists.

As to whether it's been a failure, well - I tend to agree that provoking two wars which have killed well over a million people is probably a hallmark of poor strategic thinking. But... I'm not exactly clear on what the better way is. Hope? Hope combined with waiting?

Posted by: saurabh at August 2, 2010 10:37 PM

NE, You'd be surprised with Gandhis views on resistance. Non-violent or otherwise.

On the other hand, given that I have doubts myself that this Osama fellow is nothing more than a convenient bogeyman, if his purpose was the destruction of the Twin Towers than I wonder if he'd mind making his old buddies better off for it.

The World Trade Center buildings were in a dilapidated state to begin with and were on course to be demolished by the Port Authority. That is until a man by the name of Larry Silverstein, leased it. He eventually established an insurance policy that stipulated not one, but two attacks on the complex would be covered in full six weeks before the attacks. As the nation mourned, Silverstein and his buddies successfully sued for 5 billion. Put options on American Airlines and other 9/11 related businesses placed by mysterious traders shortly before the attacks made untold people rich, but Osama apparently didn’t count on that. At least the attack on the Pentagon kind of made sense, though it sure was mighty convenient that the Flight 77 took out of the floor that housed the intelligence archives. Can't declassify what you can't recover, can you?

And interesting that you mention those FBI profiles Mike Meyer, since the profiles show no mention that bin Laden and Zawahiri are implicated in the 9/11 attacks. Infact, further research shows that despite administration calls to the contrary, the FBI has failed to establish a prosecutable case against them to this day.

Hmmm... I wonder why?

Anyway, where I come from, I don’t consider blowing up a market self-defense just because the local mafia burnt my house down. Furthermore, an attack on an international symbol of commerce was not my idea of defending anything Islamic or Middle Eastern of any value. Americans were not the only ones, by far, to die in the attacks.

Still, I’m being fair here. You wonder which attack I would consider actually justifiable? The USS Cole bombing. The ship was well within Yemeni waters at the time and the United States was no doubt clearly occupying Yemen proper like dozens of other countries whose "Status of Forces Agreements" are kept secret even from the U.S. public. This attack could even be considered legally legit if one cites the landmark Israeli Supreme Court case which despite widespread condemnation, ruled that a rebel force fighting against an occupation is an international armed conflict.

Of course theoretically, Osama could of reasoned that his tactics were successful in that the United States is bogged down in two wars and is unraveling as an empire.

But I feel that securing the TAPI pipeline was the goal all along.

Perhaps that topic is for another time…

Posted by: Nikolay Levin at August 3, 2010 02:53 AM

"I disclaim all patriotism incompatible with the principles of eternal justice."--John Quincy Adams

John Q. could never be elected prez today, let alone be nominated by a major party.

Ol' Hickory will be our guiding light into oblivion.

Posted by: Paul Avery at August 3, 2010 03:28 AM

John Q. could never be elected prez today, let alone be nominated by a major party.

I think it unlikely that anyone elected prior to, oh, 1980 or so, could possibly be elected president today.

Posted by: NomadUK at August 3, 2010 03:42 AM

Of those persons who have been elected president in the past, only Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush would be eligible to be elected again. They are unlikely to be nominated.

And while we're looking backwards and forwards, it's too bad Cheney is going to miss his fair trial - there was never a realistic chance he'd last long enough for that, no matter what happens in this country - but maybe he'll receive justice in his next life, or the one after that - if any.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at August 3, 2010 10:34 AM

Of those persons who have been elected president in the past, only Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush would be eligible to be elected again. They are unlikely to be nominated.

And while we're looking backwards and forwards, it's too bad Cheney is going to miss his fair trial - there was never a realistic chance he'd last long enough for that, no matter what happens in this country - but maybe he'll receive justice in his next life, or the one after that - if any.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at August 3, 2010 10:35 AM


Always nice to hear your musings, and those of Finkelstein too, though what he said about Gandhi didn't surprise me too much even if I like Gandhi's pithy remark about the means being the ends. I know that no person can try to solve difficult problems without a little more complicated analysis than that.

As for 9/11, you'd be wise to forget about Silverstein and his insurance and the intel offices in WTC 7 and most other 'suspicious' facts. If you don't be careful, you'll get sucked into a vortex of coincidences and bias and lies and outright guesses. Stable, reasoned views don't do well in that vortex, which is why the NSA probably devotes some effort to sustaining it, as has itself been reported by spurious sources.

Instead of getting bogged down in speculation, just imagine what your first thought would have been if it had been reported one night that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had gone halvsies on the Powerball ticket that turned out to be the lucky number that won the biggest pot ever.

The change brought about by 9/11 was vastly bigger than a pipeline, and the stakes were and are much higher. Madeleine Albright was well within mainstream gepolitical thought when she called the U.S. 'the indispensable nation.' Understanding how it is indispensable is important. We don't hvae a functioning international dispute resolution system like the League of Nations was intended to be (see the history of Israel and United Nations resolutions), so the United States military presently plays the role of marshall. Like the Roman legions, our military doesn't just work for the U.S. public, and arguably doesn't work for the US people at all. It works to protect the richest citizens, who in the West are United States, European, and Japanese multinational corporations. Mostly finance capital nowadays.

The U.S. military keeps the world economy running, because right now nobody can oppose it. NATO troops are aiding the US in Central Asia, and the Japanese keep expanding their security forces and have even finally sent some troops abroad, but for now the US military is indispensable to protecting Western capital. Saddam was a threat to the stability of world oil markets, so he had to go. Iran is seen as a threat to the stability of world oil markets, so Iran better watch out.

What had become a problem by the end of the 90s? Many in the world had begun to think the marshall's guns weren't loaded, or feared the marshall would turn tail and run rather than incur casualties. That was the military's problem with Clinton. When that happens, everyone in other countries has to quit relying on the marshall to protect their interests. Europeans and Japanese and Israelis and others in and out of client states need to know what to expect, and what they can count on. If they don't feel safe, they will hire their own hired guns. Once that starts happening, everyone starts planning for contingencies, and the happening of contingencies never follows the planning for them by much. Once the Germans and Japanese start rethinking their own security policies, it might not take long for Europe and Northeast Asia to again become trouble spots. Then situations like in The Guns of August can start happening, because in a shootout shooting second is bad, and that's even more true when the gun being shot is really, really big. European intellectuals are very afraid that this will happen. They do not want a resurgence of German nationalism and militarism in particular. And I'd expect the Chinese and Koreans to feel the same about Japanese militarism. Those are the biggest of stakes.

The Pentagon and Rand and State Department thinkers consider all that and take seriously scenarios involving a devolution toward global conflict and war involving competing industrial powers. Nobody wants war between China and Japan, or between Russia and Germany. But in my opinion war between the United States, Germany, and Japan and Russia and China wouldn't be much fun either, and it looks to me like the solution of our hard-line hawks to the problem just makes the problem bigger and merely gives them the illusion of control, which hawks always like. Ultimately their control will break down, and in the meantime the United States is being ruined. (We're pretty far along that curve already.)

When things like 9/11 happen, basically because the US public needed to be persuaded to accept the 'indispensable' role of the U.S. military in the world, we're well on the way to crazy. I guess to see that kind of crazy, you have to be a different kind of crazy, but it's too bad more people can't see it happening, because then perhaps it could be stopped while homo sapiens sapiens still has a non-fighting chance, so to speak.

As things stand now, the US public has increasingly become the wrong kind of crazy, unable to see from any perspective other than its own, full of war lust and resentment based on nostalgia about a misunderstood past, and embittered by racism that no longer has any respectable outlet. That kind of right-wing crazy is aggressive and brutal, and after 9/11 it quickly became an even more divisive international force than the public ambivalence and hedonism that it was intended to counteract. So we have swung back toward a more cosmopolitan approach under the thoughtful countenance of Obama, trying to soothe the populations of our allies, especially in Europe, while still dealing firmly with our enemies with smooth double-speak that looks an awful lot like hypocrisy to thinking people.

So it goes.

Posted by: N E at August 3, 2010 01:16 PM

Nikolay Levin: I mention the FBI to say that I believe they existed. If Bin Laden and Zawahiri are guilty of crimes or not IS for a jury to decide.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 3, 2010 01:17 PM


This isn't like the quest for the historical Jesus. Everybody knows bin Laden and Zawahiri did indeed not long ago walk the earth. Whether they still do isn't so clear, though I gather Zawahiri has been seen outside of a cave more recently.

As for the jury you mention that should decide all this, you are indeed a funny guy.

Posted by: N E at August 3, 2010 02:50 PM

Guilty till proven innocent? How Eletist European of YOU. EVIDENCE My Friend, evidence, some say George and Dick did it. Should WE just run willy nilly and LOCK THEM UP too? SURELY YOU are not suggesting just shooting all the alledged suspects without trial?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 3, 2010 04:57 PM

mike, just reporting the news flash that there isn't going to be a trial and never was going to be one.

Posted by: N E at August 3, 2010 08:44 PM

I suppose YOU'RE right a Predator will probably get them in the end. Should they be captured alive ANY dream of a fair trial would vaporize on the trip through GITMO and down the waterboard. NO getting past that, apparently.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 4, 2010 12:08 AM

Blowing up the WTC did improve the skyline of NYC significantly.

Funny how so few Americans are appreciative of that fact.

Posted by: Susan at August 4, 2010 12:16 AM


If everybody felt intense social pressure to tout destruction of the towers as a great accomplishment of urban renewal, they probably would.

Posted by: N E at August 4, 2010 07:35 AM

I'd RATHER have those towers than the Patriot Act and TWO wars.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 4, 2010 02:38 PM

That's a nice analysis @1:16pm N E; too bad it's buried in a comments thread. Hows about you post it to your blog?

Posted by: Cloud at August 4, 2010 10:57 PM

Thank you cloud, and touche. I need to get to that.

Posted by: N E at August 6, 2010 10:08 PM
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