"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Most Important Thing You Will Read Today 

Whatever you're doing, stop it right now and go read this diary entry by Pericles at Daily Kos. I have no idea who this individual may be, but he or she should be working in counterterrorism for the CIA - no one working there now appears to have anything like this level of historical and strategic insight.

The post is presented as a series of questions: If you are a violent extremist, what is the first and biggest obstacle between you and victory? What is Bin Laden's ultimate goal? What was the purpose of 9/11? What is Bin Laden's long-term strategy to defeat the United States? Why didn't Al Qaeda attack the United States before the election? And so forth, leading penultimately (his final question is the hopeful "What can we do?") to the money shot: What can we expect Bin Laden to do next?

Here's the answer Pericles proposes:
As the Iraq War drags on, it is becoming less and less popular. The Afghan War is mostly out of the public view, but to the extent that it also drains American lives and money with no end in sight, it also is losing support among those who are paying attention. The memory of 9/11 is starting to fade, as years without an attack convince more and more Americans that we are safe.

All of these factors threaten Bin Laden's plans. If President Bush is tempted into pulling our troops and TV cameras out of Iraq, Bin Laden loses. He needs the United States to continue playing the Great Satan role, because there are many secular Muslims who still hope to fit into the globalized world economy. He needs an enemy to focus their fear and anger, and only the United States is up to the job.

What's more, if he is going to bankrupt the US economy, he needs a wider war. At this point the US military is stretched thin, so a wider war would require a draft or some other unpopular measure for swelling the ranks. The American public would have to be very, very riled to agree to such a thing.

All of this points in one direction: Another attack on the United States, probably within the next year. Ideally, the trail would lead back to some area where the US doesn't currently have troops, and where there is an attackable enemy. Iran is an obvious choice, if Bin Laden can engineer it. But Syria would work as well, and may be easier to manipulate. Egypt, Pakistan, and/or Saudi Arabia could fill the bill if the attack on the US were coupled with a revolution against the corresponding US-supported government. So, for example, an attack on the US coming from Pakistan could be synchronized with the assassination of President Musharraf to draw American troops into that country.

Where will he attack? The target needs to fulfill two criteria: First, it needs to be justifiable to an Islamic audience. Bin Laden's pre-election message was probably aimed at them rather than us, and was intended to pre-justify the next attack. From an Islamic point of view, Bin Laden has now pleaded with the American electorate to be reasonable, and has been rejected. Any attack that follows will seem all the more justified. Second, the next attack needs to empower Bin Laden's most aggressive enemies in the United States. He wants us to continue striking first and asking questions later.

It is probably hopeless to try to read Bin Laden's mind in enough detail to guess his exact target. (And there is always the worry that we will do his thinking for him or point out something he has overlooked.) Undoubtedly much will depend on the opportunities that most easily present themselves. But one class of targets seems all too obvious: red-state megachurches whose leaders have made virulently anti-Islamic statements. They are relatively undefended. They are the heart of Bush's political power base, and so can be blamed for his policies. They can easily be portrayed as enemies of Islam. And, last but not least, an attack on a church would rile American hawks like nothing else.

Bingo. Go read it now, and don't skip the last part, where Pericles offers some really useful suggestions to forestall disaster.




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