Sunday, October 31, 2004


What did Osama's tape really mean?

In their haste to spin it either pro-Bush or anti-Bush, anti-Kerry or pro-Kerry, the ovine pundits have essentially missed the entire point of Osama Bin Laden's Friday tape: it doesn't really threaten the United States. Indeed, it reminds me of the deal Al Qaeda offered the European Union: stay out of the Middle East, and we'll leave you alone. A kind of reverse protection racket, basically.

Matthew Yglesias thinks we should at least consider it:
The best reason for doubting it's a good idea is, I think, simply that there's no good reason to trust Osama on this topic, so taking him up on his "offer" is a bit of a moot point. Some men you just can't reach. On the other hand, insofar as this is defensible as a policy on its own terms, the fact that it at least might work as an anti-terror strategy has to enter into the balance of considerations. It's a tough question, I think, and one that deserves to be debated seriously and honestly and not just swept under the rug.
I'm not so sure. While it may be true that all Al Qaeda really wants is to eliminate all Western influence in and contact with the Middle East, is that really "all" they want? The United States has important interests in the Middle East - Israel, for one. Would a Middle East shorn of all American influence really be safe for Israel?

Also, this ignores the reason why Al Qaeda wants us out of there: they wish to restore the Muslim caliphate of old. But the caliphate once extended into Spain, and as Muslims inhabit more and more parts of the world, what would stop Al Qaeda from claiming sovereignty over every territory where Muslims lived?

Next, there's the point that if one terrorist group can essentially blackmail its way to success - stay out of whatever area we claim as exclusively ours and we won't kill you - what's to stop every terrorist group on the planet from observing and learning the only appropriate lesson?

Finally, there's the ultimate question of simple justice. Whatever the legitimate grievances of Arabs and Muslims, Al Qaeda murdered almost 3000 Americans. Osama Bin Laden is a mass murderer on a disgusting scale. He should not have been allowed to get away with it.
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