Thursday, March 24, 2005

"Root Causes" of Terrorism...

I'm involved in what I consider to be a very lively and intelligent debate about the reasoning behind Osama Bin Laden's attack against the World Trade Center and whether or not invading Iraq during the Clinton Administration could've prevented the destruction of the WTC.

This debate is taking place in the comments section of mostly unrelated post over at the Belgravia Dispatch. The other side of the debate is being competently represented by Eric Martin from Total Information Awareness.

I contend that the terrorist attacks against Americans since the Gulf War are not simply opportunistic acts of violence, but a campaign waged against the United States as a reaction to the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia from 1991 to 2003. My theory is supported by such experts as Milton Bearden, head of the CIA's covert operations in Afghanistan during the 1980s, and the Council on Foreign Relations. A March 3, 2002 article in the Boston Globe noted that bin Laden's original and still preeminent goal is to rid the US military presence from Saudi Arabia, according to Bearden.

Amazingly enough, these sources are backed up by Osama Bin Laden himself. Bin Laden conducted an interview in 1998 where he was having a henchman pitch him questions. He could have started with any question and answer he liked, but the first question asked of him was he had called for Muslims to take arms against America in particular:

"The call to wage war against America was made because America has spear-headed the crusade against the Islamic nation, sending tens of thousands of its troops to the land of the two Holy Mosques over and above its meddling in its affairs and its politics, and its support of the oppressive, corrupt and tyrannical regime that is in control. These are the reasons behind the singling out of America as a target."

In addition to these sources, this seems to be a logical theme repeated over and over and over again in the discussion of Osama Bin Laden and anti-american terrorism leading up to and including the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001.

So, in retrospect, it is safe to say that it was a mistake to allow the Gulf War cease-fire to persist and fester, keeping the U.S. in a legal state of war with Iraq and U.S. troops stationed in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to fulfill the obligations of our mutual defense agreements with those nations.

Now, whether or not the American people would've had the stomach for an Operation Iraqi Freedom during the Clinton Administration is an entirely different argument.


Blogger Eric said...


First I would like to say, that this is not an accurate portrayal of our opposing views:

"I contend that the terrorist attacks against Americans since the Gulf War are not simply opportunistic acts of violence, but a campaign waged against the United States as a reaction to the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia from 1991 to 2003."

My position has never been that they were "opportunistic acts of violence" but rather a carefully targeted strategy to elicit a specific response. I also believe that part of the goal was to expel the US from Muslim lands, Saudi Arabia in particular, I just don't see the problem of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda going away if we had removed troops from Saudi soil in the late 1990s. My point all along has been that yours is too narrow a reading.

The articles you link to do not take so reductionist a viewpoint interestingly enough. They do cite this factor, but do not make the "but for" case you do. And again, you cite Bin Laden as if his public statements should be taken at face value. This from a propagandist is almost the opposite of prudent.

In your last post at BD, I noticed that you shifted the time from 1998 to 1995 for the potential for a remedial removal of troops. I'm still not sure that 1995 would have been a magic date to avert an attack.

Other interests were served by attacking the US, other causes led to anger with the US on Bin Laden's part, and as can be seen now, Bin Laden has not abandoned his anti-US plans now that US troops are off Saudi soil.

I still think it is a leap to say he would have abandoned such plans five to ten years ago had said troops been withdrawn.

Either way, I've enjoyed the back and forth and appreciate your well thought out views.

8:31 AM  
Blogger J Thomas said...

I'd ask people to consider the possibility that bin Ladin is primarily opposing the saudi government.

He wants to replace the saudis by a religious government that would inspire muslims everywhere to find their spiritual roots.

In that context the point of attacks on the USA is to remind potential supporters what side he's on and what his goals are. Whenever the saudis look "soft on america" that's useful to him. US troops in arabia are an obvious talking point, and attacks on US troops in saudi arabia point out the problem.

9/11 was presumably aimed at getting support from muslims. It didn't do significant damage to the USA. It was a human tragedy but the stockbrokers etc who died were eminently replaceable, if we needed them at all. But it gave potential supporters the idea that al qaeda could strike the enemy even with essentially no resources.

Also with 9/11 there was the hope that the USA would declare that arabs/muslims were the enemy. If we declare war against islam, who is there to oppose us except al qaeda? Bin Ladin could hope that it would get him a whole lot of support. However, it looks like al qaeda essentially fell apart and is mostly not available to create significant opposition to the USA. But to the extent that our statements and actions make it look like islam is the enemy, we can expect new groups to form to oppose us.

But al qaeda needs to overthrow saudi arabia. They should control mecca (and oil) as a major goal, and losing small conventional wars to the USA can at best be a minor goal.

2:13 PM  

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