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I've just seen the widely publicized Usama Bin Laden (UBL) tape, in which UBL casually his advanced knowledge of the September 11 attacks, his plans and expectation for how many people who would be killed by them, his descriptions of organizational details (who was in charge, who knew what, etc.) and his overall perspective on the attack. The tape is the "smoking gun" that the US claims it is, and should put to rest the conspiracy theories that are still unfortunately floating around in much of the Muslim world (that the U.S./Israel/international Zionist conspiracy, etc., were really behind the Sept. 11 attacks). The tape is also chilling from an emotional level--watching how UBL and his associates chuckle and smile while discussing the planned and executed murder of thousands of civilians from dozens of nationalities and every religion. Those of you who haven't seen the tape can download transcripts, key quotes, or video excerpts from http://cnn.com and presumably many other media outlets.
The release of the tape highlights the ongoing media wars as this confrontation unfolds in a global networked economy and society. UBL and his followers have made brilliant use of the media, both from his own video-taped speeches and especially from the extensive friendly coverage provided by the Al Jazeera satellite network. Now, he who lives by the sword dies by the sword, as UBL is caught making self-incriminating and embarrassing statements on tape at the very moment that his forces are cowering in caves or on the run.
To me, the most interesting statement on the whole tape is UBLs assertion that "when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse." He then explains that his movement had never received as much international support than immediately after the attack. He is of course, right, and the point should be carefully considered by those who are reluctant to militarily confront terrorism.
When I was in Italy recently, I was moved by the support for America that so many people expressed. But I was also deeply concerned by what I felt to be a naive (if well-motivated) belief, reflected in both the left-center press (especially the prestigious La Republicca) and much of the population, that the September 11 attacks principally reflected a social problem that needed to be resolved through compromise and social amelioration, rather than through military victory. There was a view that pursuing the military defeat of Al Qaeda and the Taliban would only serve to win them more adherents in the Muslim world and thus worsen the conflict.
In fact, though, the opposite has occurred. Just as UBL astutely noted, his popularity surged right after the attack. The strong horse was favored. But now, three months later, with his training camps in Afghanistan destroyed, the hated Taliban regime removed from power, the Afghan people coming together to form a new government under a moderate and forward-looking leader, the Afghan people celebrating in the street, and the crimes of the Al Qaeda movement (including their admitted responsibility for the September 11 attacks as well as their vigorous pursuit of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons) fully revealed from documents left behind in Afghanistan -- now, following the heavy blows suffered by Al Qaeda and the Taliban, where are the demonstrations of support, where are the Jihadists pouring into Afghanistan? In fact, the momentum is in the exact opposite direction, with surviving Jihadists slinking back to their countries, and the so-called "religious leaders" in Pakistan who had sent them to Afghanistan now themselves under increasing scrutiny and criticism.
The reality is that the radical Islamist movement is like fascism, and just like fascism and other totalitarian ideologies, it has more virulent and less virulent forms. The Al Qaeda grouping represents its most virulent and militarist form; Al Qaeda is to radical Islam what the Nazis were to fascism. It is an organized political-military force which intends to take over the world, and has launched an international war to pursue its aim. It plans to assembly whatever military power it can to achieve its goals, and has no hesitation to deploy this power for mass terror, murder, and war crimes. Its goal is to establish its own system of totalitarian rule--based on principles of complete subjugation of women and death and destruction for "non-believers"--within the entire current and historic Islamic world, stretching from the Philippines to Spain, with the remainder of the world's people and governments cowered into submission. Just like Nazism, it can not be appeased through social reform. Hitler's greatest popular support--both within Germany and from ethnic Germans and/or fascists elsewhere--was when he was riding a crest of military victories. When Hitler was militarily defeated, so was Nazism defeated as an internationally powerful ideology and movement. Hence goes the battle against Al Qaeda.
Of course this is a much more complex situation now than then. Al Qaeda is not concentrated in a single government, but is spread out in cells throughout the world. By now, the thorough interpenetration of Al Qaeda and the Taliban--with Al Qaeda harboring and supporting the Taliban as much as the other way around--should be crystal clear to all, thus fully justifying the US military response in Afghanistan. As the pursuit of Al Qaeda and its brothers-in-arms spreads to other countries, the appropriate mix of military, diplomatic, political, and financial measures will be more complex. However, the underlying ideological framework remains--this is a just war against a dangerous, international violent totalitarian movement. This does not mean that US policy should be above critique. To stifle dissent and critique would be to hand the terrorists an unearned victory in the achievement of their vision. And indeed, some of the critique--for example, criticism of military tribunals from both left and right--has already seemed to have a positive affect, as the Bush administration refines its tribunal plan to make it more palatable with the imperatives of a democratic society (I happen to agree that the option for military tribunals is appropriate in the current circumstances, but that the nature and use of such tribunals has to be carefully designed and constrained.) Similarly, some of John Ashcroft's homefront security plans are coming under appropriate questioning. But, and this is an important but, we do need to recognize that we are at war for our very survival--if 19 terrorists with airplanes could kill thousands, imagine what 19 terrorists with nuclear suitcase bombs could do to the US and the world. Our attitude and approach--toward military strikes, collateral damage, prisoners of war, military tribunals, and preventive detention--all need to be colored by the fact that this is a just war that must be won. And that was shown as clearly as ever by the now-revealed candid words and demeanor of Usama Bin Laden.
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