'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, March 15, 2004

A Banal Comment About the Bombing in Spain

Despite the analysis of other commentators on the left and the right, the rejection of Aznar from Spain was a setback for al-Qaeda, not a victory, if indeed al-Qaeda was responsible. It is the stated goal of Bin Laden, and these radical rightwing fundamentalists generally, to ensnare the West in a costly world war. Given this stated goal, the fundamentalists succeed to the extent that Western governments aid and support Bush's wars.

Center and right commentators respond to this argument by saying that, yes, Islamic fundamentalists are trying to draw the West into open war but their goal is to win that war -- that they believe Western nations are a cowardly and fickle opponent that will be defeated as the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan (Bin laden, you see, believes the expense of the Afghanistan campaign took down the Soviet Union) -- and then with the West defeated reform the world in the image of the Taliban. So therefore, you know, we must not falter, we must stay the course, etc, etc. The above is a pretty mainstream belief, but is nonetheless rather silly.

Does anyone really think that Osama Bin Laden is going to defeat the US in all out war? Does anyone believe Bin Laden believes this? Of course not, not even the hard right. When we say Bin Laden won a war against the Soviets what we mean is that there are no longer Russian soldiers in Afghanistan, not that Russia is now being run by mullahs. The easiest way for the Soviets to have won their campaign in Afghanistan would have been to never have begun it. Similarly, the easiest way for the US to defeat Osama Bin Laden is to stop answering his fondest prayers, to stop giving him exactly what he wants.

The goal of Bin Laden and those like him is what Bush's handlers call "The War on Terrorism". It shores up support for repressive ideologies and institutions like the Taliban. It provides a convenient demon to scare people into supporting organizations and regimes they would otherwise have no reason to support, makes it easy to indoctrinate people into an us-versus-them worldview that explains away the very real hardships people face as a result of these oppressive ideologies and institutions, etc. Any of this sound familiar?

If the West is afraid of the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism, it should pursue policies that will lead to economic prosperity, self-determination, and modernization in the Mideast, rather that supporting repressive regimes and a regressive economic dynamic left over from the days of out-and-out colonization. Look at the economic structure of New Iraq: basically all the assets of the entire country will be owned by (mostly) America-based corporations. Throw in a couple US military "mistakes" and who can fail to understand why the resistance to the US's occupation of Iraq is generally a popular resistance?

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