Bin Ladens Modest Goals
October 2, 2001
different from the next guy: Id let out a yelp of delight if Osama bin
Laden were smashed like an insect. But I also know I might have second thoughts
afterward. Would making him a martyr make this country safer? So I try to have
my second thoughts in advance.
The startling thing about bin Laden is that his
proclaimed goals arent extreme. He has said he would be willing to call off
hostilities against the United States if three conditions were met: the removal of
U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia; the end of sanctions against Iraq; and Palestinian
possession of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
Its the third goal that amazes me.
Notice that unlike most Muslim radicals, he doesnt demand the annihilation
of Israel, merely its withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders. This is by no means an
admission of Israels right to exist; he would no doubt be delighted if Israel
were wiped off the map. But this relatively moderate goal is not what one would
expect of him.
Notice too that, contrary to our apocalyptic
rhetoric, bin Laden has no apparent animus against freedom and
democracy. He hasnt suggested, let alone demanded, that we
change our way of life or convert to Islam only that we get out of his part
of the world. These are the foreign policy goals of many patriotic Americans.
What makes bin Laden an extremist is not his
(professed) goals, but what he is willing to do to get his way: namely, to kill as
many Americans and Jews as it takes. The paradox lies in his combination of
defensible goals and fanatical methods.
Obviously bin Laden hasnt read Dale
Carnegie. His methods make it hard, to say the least, for Americans to entertain
his goals. We are in no mood to say: Yes, well, maybe we should have done
those three things anyway. What we might have done freely, we refuse to
do as a reward for horrible violence.
In fact, any American
who urges the same goals now (even if he has been urging them for years) is apt to
be accused of treason, or anti-Americanism. Thanks, Osama.
Edward Cardinal Egan, the archbishop of New
York, when asked if he thought U.S. foreign policy may have bred hostility to this
country around the world, replied: Definitely, we have to examine our
consciences. He added: It is not necessarily that the explanation is
that there have been some misdeeds on the part of the United States, but that is a
possibility. Thanks to bin Laden, the cardinal will be roundly denounced for
summoning us to introspection at a time like this.
If bin Laden is serious about his announced
goals, he has only proved that violence is usually self-defeating not a bad
lesson for us. He has shown an undeniable criminal genius, but the U.S. reaction has
put those goals out of the question for the time being.
If, on the other hand, he has abandoned those
goals, he may have adopted a new purpose: to spark a war between the United
States and the entire Muslim world. Some of our Israeli allies also
crave such a war and are calling for a U.S. overthrow of several governments in the
region. But in the event of war, the regimes most likely to topple are those that
have been friendliest to this country just what bin Laden may be counting
on. Do we want to risk that?
One perennial human folly is the belief that
the course of a war can be controlled. Experience thoroughly refutes it. Even
victory may carry an unexpected cost: we have finally paid for winning the 1991
war on Iraq. You may think the war was just, you may even think it was worth the
loss of the World Trade Center and thousands of lives, but you can hardly say that
you foresaw the consequences. We only just got the bill.
In no way did Americas war justify bin
Ladens crimes. But thats the point. When men are enraged, they
dont settle for proportionate justice: they seek measureless revenge. And
our cost-benefit experts didnt budget for revenge.