Today, the anniversary of 9/11 (here’s my 9/14/2001 take), the media and the Net are full of look-backs, appropriately. I’d like to invest a moment in thinking about the bad guys and how we’re doing at preventing a re-run.

It seems to me that for terrorists to attack us successfully, they need three things: First, money for the mechanics. Second, street cred, so they don’t get turned over to law enforcement. Third, a place to hide. So if you want to fight them, what you want to do is cut off their money, water down their street cred, and turn their hiding places inside out. Direct military action? Sure, but applied against insurgents, it just hasn’t worked very often.

The 9/11 Guys · They were Wahhabis; a specifically Saudi-Arabian branch of Sunni Islam so extreme as to seem insane to non-adherents. It is now a wealthy and powerful branch because the al-Saud family cut it a bargain: we’ll make you the state religion and pump you full of money and influence, and all you have to do is promise never to criticize our corrupt absolute monarchy.

The organization behind the 9/11 guys earned its street cred resisting the corrupt, brutal, and incompetent Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

After the Soviets left, Afghanistan became their safe haven.

How Are We Doing? · If we were going to cut off this specific group’s money, the best thing to do would be to disrupt the Saudi-Wahhabi devil’s bargain. Nope; last time I checked, the Saudi monarchy was still “good friends” with the West. The good news is that the al-Sauds can’t possibly last much longer. The bad news is that what replaces them might be worse; hey, it happened in Iraq.

If we were going to dilute the street cred, the thing would be to put an end to the practice of brutal invasions of Muslim countries by Western powers. Nope; while the idea of knocking out Saddam’s tyranny looked smart at the time (to me, anyhow), we screwed it up so badly that a recent BBC poll (PDF) shows (see Question 23) that 57% of the population generally approves of attacks on coalition forces. Can you say “breeding terrorists?”

We know that our side’s guys in Iraq are genuinely trying to accomplish something good, unlike the Soviets in Afghanistan; but the people in the middle of the maelstrom may be too close to get perspective.

Finally, as to a place to hide. Afghanistan pretty well shut down; check. Pakistan? Well, Gen. Musharraf is another one of those friendly tyrants. Actually, I suspect the hiding place is the hardest of terrorism’s three legs to attack. But the lameness of our approach on the money and motivation fronts makes me want to scream.

Six Years Later · Now Usama’s speechwriters have him talking about Noam bloody Chomsky and the Caliphate-to-be’s enlightened tax regime. We can’t shake our addiction to Saudi oil or our habit of propping up dictators, and although no Western power has ever achieved a good result by sending soldiers to the Middle East, we don’t seem capable of either learning how to do it right, or giving up the practice.

We’re just not doing a very good job on the preventing-a-rerun front.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: (Sep 11 2007, at 23:15)

> the corrupt, brutal, and incompetent

> Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

The world has still to see an invasion, which is unspoiled, humane, and good.

> We know that our side’s guys in Iraq are

> genuinely trying to accomplish something > good, unlike the Soviets in Afghanistan

For the record, the Soviets actually did some good things in Afghanistan: schools, hospitals, infrastructure. Many Soviet civilians worked there.

What I generally like about US & UK people is this "my country, right or wrong" attitude.


From: dave (Sep 12 2007, at 00:23)

Not doing a good job is an understatement :-( I wish your insight on this problem could be seen and understood by those in a position to stop the genocide happening and focus on the real ways to stop this from happening again. Sadly, I can't see that happening.

Thanks for an insightful blog entry. Most people blogging about this topic are waffling on about how horrible it was that so many were killed in New York six years ago while totally ignoring the number of people killed - on both sides of the conflict since. It really makes the number in New York pale in comparison.

It is a sad event for all involved...


From: Contributor A (Sep 12 2007, at 01:05)

Tim wrote: ..."Noam bloody Chomsky"...

The very mention of him draws me in to the obvious conspiracy theory that this video was created by those who simply wish things to remain as they are - not by Usama.


From: puzzled (Sep 12 2007, at 02:56)

What's your objection to Chomsky?


From: John Cowan (Sep 12 2007, at 04:57)

Not to mention that when the House of Sa'ud does fall, it will provoke an oil price shock that will make 1973 and 1979 look like nothing at all.


From: len (Sep 12 2007, at 06:13)

And sad but so:

Note also in other articles the use of virtual worlds to rehearse and train for attacks with the expected push back from the Beltway that it is national interest to restrict peer to peer.

With the rise in the so-called lumpen terrorist cells (unaffiliated urban amateurs coming up to speed fast using the information made available by the web), the money pipelines are just one of the focuses for restriction.

Cut off the means of communicating that which should not be communicated and monitor the rest. Not a happy outcome since as our friends from the NSA tell us, with Internet technology to watch one you have to watch all. Now the great game moves from the terrorists using the facilities to the major powers think tanks evolving means to amplify their own acts and watch the rest, which in turn, get passed down to the minor players for costs plus.

Anyone have a better idea than 24 x 7 X 365 x 360 degree surveillance and cyber war?


From: Tony (Sep 12 2007, at 07:11)

I'm not sure what your justification is for saying "We know that our side’s guys in Iraq are genuinely trying to accomplish something good" unless you're referring to individual soldiers.

It seems to me US Government policy in Iraq was carve it up for Haliburton, now that that hasn't worked like they expected I think they're burying their heads in the sand hoping a way out will prevent itself.


From: Observer (Sep 12 2007, at 12:10)

On a few occasions, Mr. Bray criticized this Iraq adventure as misguided. This post, it is referred to as "doing something good". Wonder which it is.

Oh, surely neither the Soviet Union, nor the United States has any interest in the strategic value of the region, it is all about delivering good, democracy, what not.

Lest anyone forgets, great powers usually do not commit armies to doing good, neither the United States, nor the Soviet Union were much of an exception.


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