Thursday, October 13, 2005

Place your bets

People who say that 9/11 had nothing to do with Iraq are correct in the practical sense, but wrong in the ideological sense. It is true that the 9/11 planners and executors probably had nothing to do with Saddam's regime, but terrorism is fundamentally a fight about ideology, as was WWII and the Cold War. At its core, the question is: why have arab muslim societies failed? Al Quaeda says it is because they are insufficiently moral, and they would succeed if they became like a stricter version of Saudi Arabia. The US thinks it is because they are insufficiently free, and they would succeed if they became a little more like the US in a human liberty sense (many of them are already materially wealthy, with suburbs, SUVs, and shopping malls).

Iraq, for a variety of reasons, is the board where this great game is being played out. A constitution, democratically elected government, and a degree of federalism are US-style individual liberties, and they offer Iraqis a way of living side by side harmoniously. People promise that this will also make Iraq rich and successful, but this is more tenous (it will probably keep them from falling backwards though). Al Quaeda, and autocratic neighbours, want to stop this from happening because it will fatally undermine their cause and so are doing their best to disrupt the process. Unfortunately, while many Iraqis may not think much of the US, they like the Wahhabi vision for their country even less.

All this and more is made clear in a letter from Zawahiri, presumably in hiding in Pakistan, to al Qaeda's commander in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi (pdf). It's also what Bush and Blair have been saying for three years now, but I don't hear the Iraq war being discussed in these terms never mind the broader GWOT. Winning contests is about placing smarter bets than the other side -- bets that both parties will agree to because both think they will win (but one will be wrong).

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