Osama bin Laden was a crank living in the mountains of Afghanistan with only a small following in the Islamic world until George W. Bush elevated him to world celebrity status.
It’s true that bin Laden knocked down the World Trade Center towers and struck the Pentagon or at least we’re pretty sure he was behind those attacks. He was able to do that because his 19 people were lucky and because our immigration screening, our intelligence, the FBI and the airport security system were all sloppy.
To the extent that these attacks roused the federal government from its previous apathy and sloppiness, he did us a favor, though at the terrible cost of about 3,000 lives. But that attack was not justification for a “war on terrorism.” A war on bin Laden, yes; a war on terrorism in general, no.
In the first place, there aren’t that many terrorists in the world. You can check with the State Department’s annual report on terrorism if you doubt me. In the second place, most of the world’s terrorists are local guys with local beefs against local folks. All the time the Irish terrorists were bombing and shooting the British, Great Britain never felt the necessity of declaring a worldwide war on terrorism. It went after the Irish terrorists.
When bombs were going off in Paris some years ago, the French didn’t say everyone must fight terrorism. They went after the guys who were planting the bombs.
It pleases George Bush to call Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations, but they are not, as far as the United States is concerned. Their target is Israel. The Israelis are right to call them terrorists, but we, as a sovereign country, should never go about adopting other people’s enemies as our own. Neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad has ever attacked the United States or expressed any desire to do so. And the same is true of most so-called terrorists in most parts of the world.
Our problem is with bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization. We should have concentrated on that instead of declaring a global jihad against terrorists everywhere in the world.
The problem with doing this is that it commits us to an unending war. It is a war in which there is no way to define victory. When you go to war against a country, when you occupy it and its government surrenders or collapses, you know you have won the war. But terrorists don’t have a country. They don’t have a government. They don’t have an infrastructure.
Terrorists, in fact, operate like criminal gangs. You kill some of their “soldiers,” and they recruit more. You kill a gang leader, and another guy takes his place. Israelis, who are far more ruthless than we are, have been killing terrorists for more than 50 years. Have they solved their terrorism problem? No.
The great German philosopher of war Karl von Clausewitz said that war is the pursuit of political objectives by other means. That’s true of terrorism. All terrorists have political objectives to get the British out of Northern Ireland, to end the Israeli occupation, to get the French out of Algiers and so on. Since the motivation of terrorists is political, the solution to terrorism is likewise political.
There are some people in this country who will try to convince you that we are in a “war of civilizations.” Don’t buy it. It’s false. There are specific aspects of our foreign policy that some people, like bin Laden, object to. He has no desire to occupy the United States, nor does he wish to convert the West to Islam.
In the meantime, go about your life and realize that there is a 1 out of 300 million chance that you will get killed by a terrorist. You have much more to fear from the flu and other natural hazards.