Sunday, August 22, 2010

The New Jackals

Big Picture Conclusions Linked to The New Jackals by Simon Reeve

The detail that got me to look at this book about Ramzi Yousef and Osama bin Laden was the misleading publication date of 1999. Once I started looking at it, I found the book interesting enough to read, and light enough to read quickly, but it was NOT published in 1999, and this casts a large shadow over the entire thing. There was only one concrete proof of the later publication date: The back cover talks about the 9/11 attacks of 2001. Most likely, that means this was a later reprint to capitalize upon or even exploit the new infamy of UBL after 9/11--but if so, why doesn't the book mention anything about the publication history? Are they just hoping to mislead potential purchasers? Or were there other changes they don't want to talk about? One source (via Wikipedia) claims that the last and rather sensationalist section was added to the reprinted edition, but I suspect that there may have been other changes, too. The book would have been much more valuable and interesting to me if it were the original and unmodified edition reflecting what was known BEFORE 9/11 changed the world's view of the significance of terrorists. It seems to me that almost half of the book may have been added in the reprinting, since there is a lot of redundancy there and less substantiated stuff there.

Having said that, I'll try to assess the book briefly before moving to my conclusions. There is a lot of good information in the book, and some solid investigative journalism. There are also a lot of rumors and unfiltered stuff thrown in, and I strongly suspect that the relative significance of UBL was bulked up in this printing. Much of the material is downright speculative and could be used to feed conspiracy buffs, though the author's citation comes down to 'Someone told me he thinks so' or even 'Someone agreed with me it could have happened that way.' The most obvious fantasy is his attempts to link UBL to Saddam Hussein, which remains fundamentally implausible--but which was a leading propaganda angle of the neocons and neo-GOP politicians at the time when the book was probably being revised for republication. For support of conspiracies, he suggests the Oklahoma City bombers may have had more help than has been acknowledged, and he even tries to link that bombing to the first WTC bombing. The variability in the solidity goes beyond troubling, but basically forces you to go back to the primary materials.

My conclusion is fundamentally economic: We just can't afford to continue playing this game on the terms that the religious terrorists are defining. Essentially, they can make very small investments that induce us to make vastly larger counter-investments. UBL has said that he wants to bankrupt America, and he has described his strategic approaches to doing it, and this book greatly increased my feeling that America under Dubya was playing the game exactly by UBL's rules--and losing. If we are going to win against the terrorists, we need to change the game in our favor, which means we need to realign the bulk of the Islamic world against the terrorists. As shown by the recent kerfuffle about proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, it is clear that the majority of Americans do NOT understand this necessity. They are blindly walking into UBL's trap, even though there is nothing hidden or secretive about UBL's evil strategy.

Going rather beyond the scope of this book to consider the large historical view, but the degree of religious militancy in the Islamic world has fluctuated over the centuries. The actual peak was probably during the early transitional period when the cult became an established church. To survive the threats of those years, Islam became a highly militant religion, and even after its survival was assured, it continued aggressively expanding for a long time. Then it settled down and for a long time was quite peaceful, though UBL would surely call it a decadent period. Now it is moving back towards militancy--and most Americans are eagerly pushing to make it more militant by mindlessly attacking all things associated in any way with Islam. The most mild mannered and rational pacifist in the world would be regarded as anathema by most Americans--if that person was in any way tainted by Islam. In economic terms, we cannot afford this. Even if we only manage to grow the terrorist groups by a few percent, their RoI advantage is going to suck us dry.

Amusingly enough, that lunatic Rumsfeld was not crazy when he talked about the dangers of asymmetric warfare. He couldn't understand the solutions or he never would have supported the insane lost investment of billions of dollars in Iraq, but at least he noticed that such low-tech adversaries were getting much more bang from their limited bucks.