Osama Bin Laden has won the war in Afghanistan – the first big battle of the War on Terrorism.
Americans are claiming victory because American bombers have devastated Afghanistan, thousands of Afghans have been killed, and the already-impoverished country is now almost completely in ruins.
But most likely this is exactly what bin Laden wanted. What has the devastation achieved? Osama bin Laden and Omar the Tentmaker are still on the loose. To the best of my knowledge, no one who had anything to do with the planning or execution of the September 11 attacks has been captured or killed.
(The chance that bin Laden was killed by the bombing is very remote. After all, he and his cohorts believe he's on a mission from Allah. So he probably left Afghanistan shortly after the bombing began.)
And don't get the idea that American military might has shown Osama bin Laden that he can't get away with his nefarious deeds. That conclusion is 180 degrees off the mark.
Do you think Osama bin Laden cares how many innocent Afghans are killed?
Why would he? Every dead Afghan is another argument for his crusade.
Hundreds of millions of people in the Third World already hate the U.S. – for bombing Iraq, for interfering in the Middle East, for keeping troops in a hundred countries, for propping up dictators who support American policies. And every bomb that fell on Afghanistan converted more people into America-haters. The U.S. military has been confirming bin Laden's argument that Americans are bullies.
Around the World
In the same way, ten years of U.S. bombing Iraq hasn't forced Saddam Hussein to change his policies. Why should it? The bombs make his stubbornness more popular at home.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel says he'll continue to attack the Palestinians until "the other side understands it cannot achieve anything by using terror; [then] it will be easier to start negotiations."
But why would terrorists care how many Palestinians die? By definition, terrorism is the brutalizing of innocent people in order to cause changes in official policy. So terrorists don't care how many innocent people are killed on either side. And every one of their own who dies causes more people to support the terrorists.
Why We Are Threatened
The root fallacy in the War on Terrorism is the idea that we have no choice but to fight people who won't rest until they destroy us.
But there have always been thugs in the world who wanted to destroy others. There have always been people who hated America – for good or bad reasons. There have always been evil people, malicious people, brutal people.
Why is it that only now do they represent such a grave threat to us?
The truth is that the evil, malicious, brutal thugs rarely have the ability to make any real trouble outside their own neighborhoods. The few exceptions – people like Adolf Hitler or Osama bin Laden – succeed only because they can get the financing, contacts, networking and other resources necessary to spread trouble.
And they can get that support only if large numbers of people have been mistreated. That was the case with the Germans after World War I – who had valuable pieces of Germany torn off and handed to France, Poland, or Czechoslovakia – who had all their foreign investments confiscated – who were told to pay astronomical reparations, even though all their valuable assets had been taken from them – who were made to bear the entire guilt for a war they were only one part of.
Hitler could command a very advanced, literate country because of the terrible treatment the Germans suffered after World War I. He promised to avenge the wrongs done to them, and they responded enthusiastically. If he hadn't had that fertile ground to work with, we'd never have heard of him.
Today, Osama bin Laden couldn't get the worldwide support necessary to carry out his evil plans if there weren't hundreds of millions of people who resent American troops stationed in their countries, who are appalled by the American blockade that's starving Iraqis, who don't like American Presidents imposing their decisions on their countries.
The difference between relatively harmless thugs and truly dangerous thugs is the real grievances the dangerous ones can play upon. They are still thugs, but they gain the support of honest, peace-loving people who have been pushed to the limit.
You'll never be able to subdue all the thugs, especially if you kill more innocent people in the process because the very act of killing arouses even more resentments.
By bombing Afghanistan, by killing people who had nothing to do with the September attacks, George Bush has handed Osama Bin Laden exactly the victory he craved – the evidence that Americans don't believe innocent people have a right to live if they get in the way of American global ambitions.
The Terrorist Strategy
If Bin Laden could mastermind the September attacks, he must be smart enough to know that bombing the World Trade Center (or any future terrorist act) isn't going to defeat America. So why did he do it?
He could see an insecure American President, just barely elected and worried about his reelection, who might jump at the opportunity to demonstrate leadership, play the macho President, start bombing, and feed the worldwide resentment of American foreign policy.
And so bin Laden has maneuvered George Bush into destroying a poor, Islamic country – causing a further decline in support for America among the world's peoples (distinct from their leaders who feed at the American trough).
Round 1 goes to bin Laden by something close to a knockout.
We will never defeat terrorism by killing innocent people. That's exactly what the terrorists want us to do.
You can make the thugs powerless only by taking away their ability to gain the support necessary to carry out their plans. That means our government must get U.S. troops out of foreign countries, quit telling other nations what to do, and quit killing innocent people in a futile attempt to "rid the world of evil-doers."
Let there be no misunderstanding. I'm not blaming America. I'm blaming American foreign policy.
And I'm not talking about pacifism. I'm talking about protecting you and me and all of America by not provoking war.
Nor am I talking about poverty as a cause of terrorism. I'm talking about American foreign policy as a cause of terrorism. The answer lies not in foreign aid for the world's impoverished. Quite the contrary.
The answer lies in minding our own business.
The answer lies in ending 50 years of foreign policy failures. Or are we going to let bin Laden win the rest of the war as well?