Thursday, November 27, 2003


Sock Thief quotes Andrew Rawnsley in The Guardian:

It is a delusion to think that all that is needed to make the world safe is a change to the occupants of the White House and Number 10. Charles Kennedy could be Prime Minister and Michael Moore might be President of the United States. Al-Qaeda would carry on killing. Because, to them, freedom is an ugly thing.

and then goes on to say:

I can see why some could disagree with his overall argument but to consider this view as something completely beyond the pale is a bit extreme.

But once again he's directing his arguments at a caricature - and an exceptionally poor one at that. Noone I know thinks that regime change in the US will cause al-Qaeda to stop killing people. What they do think is that it is the best way to get a change in policy - in particular to policies that have some hope of actually defeating al-Qaeda, rather than driving people into its arms.

The "war on terror" is a war of ideas. It is not won on the battlefield, with tanks and laser-guided bombs, but in the hearts and minds of those who actively or passively support terrorism. There's that old Mao quote about guerillas being fish who swim in the ocean of the people; they need both the active support of people who hide and fund them, and the passive support of people who look the other way and ignore what they do, in order to operate. Al-Qaeda's ocean is the poor of the Muslim world, the oppressed, and those who despise modernism. The way to defeat al-Qaeda is to dry up this ocean - to "drain the swamp" - and make them rich, free, and fans of MTV.

That's a slow process - and to its credit the US is working on some of it (promoting democratic reforms in several Gulf states, for example). But at the same time, they are doing some extraordinarily counterproductive things. Propping up authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia. Blindly supporting Israel. Creating their very own West Bank in Iraq. Threatening Iran - a nation which is relatively democratic, and whose people (as opposed to rulers) are very definately modernist... it's almost as if they want to turn people against them.

Changing the occupants of the Whitehouse and Downing Street won't stop al-Qaeda from killing people, but to the extent that it changes these disastrous policies, and puts the focus firmly back on al-Qaeda rather than Iraq, then it will make the world safer.