Nine Years After 9/11
Is Al-Qaeda Overrated?
Very few Muslims condone attacks on innocent civilians. Americans should not give Al-Qaeda the status of a geopolitical challenger on the order of Hitler or Stalin. Letís reduce terrorism to a nuisance where itís not dominating Americans' political consciousness. This 2010 article is from TIME magazine, Sep 11.
by Tony KaronThe putative threat of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's little band of terrorists, believed to number no more than a couple of hundred, is also the prime reason offered in Washington for keeping close to 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at a huge cost in blood and treasure.
In US politics, you downplay the "al-Qaeda threat" at your peril, as Senator John Kerry discovered in 2004, when he suggested during his ill-fated presidential campaign that terrorism could not be eliminated, but could be reduced to a "nuisance" level where it wasn't dominating Americans' lives. Al-Qaeda, he said, was essentially a diabolical criminal enterprise that should not be given the status of a geopolitical challenger on the order of Hitler or Stalin.
Kerry's view did not convince voters, but it may well have been vindicated by events. Systematic police work and intelligence-driven military strikes have reduced the operational core of bin Laden's movement to a handful of desperate men hiding from US drones in the wilds of Pashtunistan. They've failed to launch another attack on the US mainland, and even the handful of devastating strikes in far off places -- Bali, Madrid, London, Istanbul -- that followed 9/11 have given way to the occasional, amateurish attempt by one or two people recruited via the Internet. More important, al-Qaeda's attacks failed miserably to achieve their main objective: to inspire a global bin Laden-led rebellion against US-aligned regimes throughout the Muslim world.
Bin Laden's problem from the very beginning was that while (polls show) a majority of Muslims around the world might have agreed with his charge of US malfeasance in its dealings in the Middle East, only a tiny minority identified with terrorism as a response. Despite the virulently anti-American attitudes revealed in opinion surveys in parts of the Muslim world after 9/11, very few people were prepared to condone attacks on innocent civilians. That's why so many people in Egypt and Pakistan bought into conspiracy theories about the CIA or Israel's Mossad being behind the attacks.
The ubiquity of bin Laden's image in the wake of the attacks suggested that he might become a kind of jihadist Che Guevara, destined to live on long after his death on an endless stream of T-shirts and tchotchkes. (Of course, he'd first have to be killed to test that theory.) But there's another connection: Like the Saudi jihadist, the Argentinian revolutionary had mistakenly assumed that simply demonstrating through violence that a hated enemy was not invulnerable would automatically rouse the masses to rebellion.
While the 9/11 attacks made bin Laden the focus of American fear and rage, his "global jihad" failed to either eclipse or enlist its more localized Islamist rivals. Hamas confined itself to striking Israeli targets, and to competing with Fatah for local political power at the ballot box and on the streets; Hizballah continued to lock horns with Israel on its northern border and to engage in the complexities of Lebanese politics; Iran actually helped the initial US military campaign in Afghanistan, although it soon resumed its struggle with Washington and its allies for influence throughout the Middle East. Al-Qaeda may still figure in US debate, but it no longer garners any attention in the Arab political conversation -- prompting it to issue increasingly hysterical denunciations of Hamas, Hizballah and Iran.
The only al-Qaeda "chapter" to gain any traction was the one that came into existence in Iraq in response to the US invasion, and thrived while its presence was tolerated as a force multiplier by mainstream Sunni insurgents. But the group's ideology and propensity for vicious sectarian murder of Shi'ites turned the insurgents against them, and eventually the bulk of the insurgency turned on al-Qaeda, with many Sunni insurgents going onto the US payroll under the rubric of the "Awakening" movement. (The uptick of al-Qaeda attacks in Iraq in recent months has coincided with the growing alienation of Sunnis, particularly in the "Awakening" movement, from the Shi'ite-led government. And a political solution to Iraq's political conflict will no doubt once again shut it out.)
A similar fate almost certainly awaits the movement in Afghanistan, where its erstwhile Taliban ally is fighting a nationalist campaign against foreign armies, which will inevitably end in a power-sharing political settlement. And even Taliban leaders have indicated they won't allow their territory to be used as a base to export terrorism.
Hostility towards the US in the Muslim world has escalated over the past nine years, because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Israel's conflicts with its neighbors. But al-Qaeda, ironically, remains on the margins. It's not inconceivable that bin Laden's men will get lucky again at some point in the future, but not even another major terror strike would change the basic calculus of al-Qaeda's demise.
JJS: Enemies are useful to politicians. Enemies make people loyal to their country, and politicians personify their country. Confronted by enemies, voters tend to support the politicians already in power. Enemies also justify wars. Wars raise taxes and can make citizens more willing to pay them or excuse government increasing the public debt.
Currently, itís hard for citizens to feel the financial impact of waging war, because their taxes fund many programs besides war and debts become due only in the future. However, if people had to pay for war in real time -- cough up the hundreds of billions of dollars this year or month for the wars this year or month -- would citizens be as easily (mis)led by the pro-war arguments of politicians? Probably not. So, if you like peace, you might want to limit taxation to the financing of war. If peace breaks out, taxes disappear.
Then, how would government fund the programs that you donít mind paying for? Like police, schools, roads, and parks? User fees. And where would you, the user, get the money? From your Citizens Dividend. From your share of the commonwealth.
What is this social surplus? It is all the money we spend for the nature we use, the trillions flowing each year for land, resources, EM spectrum, and government-granted privileges. Replacing conventional taxes and subsidies with the public sharing of natural values is the policy of geonomics. It creates fairness and prosperity.
Geonomics creates a world with much less reason to ever call a jihad or wage war. Without stress, people can think more clearly. They can find solutions that work for everybody.
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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