Well, that’s a gutsy title for a posting. Hopefully we won’t be getting any middle of the night knocks on the door from Homeland Security. Note to Tom Ridge: focus on the word “try” in the subject line and the unlikelihood of a real terrorist openly posting his thoughts on a weblog.
Which gets at what I’ve been thinking about—the utter improbability that all of the Homeland Security alerts and efforts, both here and abroad, really are seriously disrupting Al Qaeda’s terror plans. Of course, I’m entirely willing to admit, and I certainly hope (given our upcoming travel plans), that more is going on behind the scenes than makes the newspapers.
But the general thrust of what is publicly disclosed seems terribly naïve and unproductive. I speak as a quasi-expert here, having read lots of spy and mystery novels over the years, the most recent being a book in Lee Child’s excellent Jack Reacher series, “Echo Burning.” Reacher is an ex-MP (military policeman, not member of parliament) who is now a loner, a macho Robin Hood who rights wrongs and defends the defenseless.
In the ending of this book Reacher tries to kill a professional killer, and then rescue a hostage, by thinking like the criminals he is matching wits with. This is a sophisticated process that goes way beyond the apparent linear thinking of our Homeland Security folks. Ridge seems to believe that an upswing in Al Qaeda “chatter” indicates an attack is imminent, or that evidence of financial institution surveillance means this is where terrorists are going to strike.
Geez. Even a fictional character like Jack Reacher knows better than that. Misdirection and feints are as much a part of a good criminal’s repertoire as a boxer’s. Make it look like I’m going here, because I’m really going there. Or, in a double level of deception, make them believe they’ve caught me heading for there rather than here, which lets me turn back to here. It’s a chess game of wits—point, counter-point, point-counter-point. If we can’t think like terrorists, we’re never going to stop terrorism.
This is why Bush’s simplistic “evil-doer” language seriously bothers me. “They want to kill us because they hate our way of life.” No, not really. And if Bush really believes this, and isn’t just spouting simplistic slogans for political purposes, then god help us—especially if his attitude permeates our country’s overall intelligence efforts. As the 9/11 Commission pointed out, Al Qaeda terrorists are sophisticated, savvy, intelligent people. They have complex motivations for what they do, and complex strategies for carrying out their plans.
I can’t really think like a terrorist, because I’m not a terrorist. But I can try. And this leads me to put forward a counter-intuitive prediction, counter, at least, to most of what I’ve been hearing lately about the likelihood of a large-scale attack in this country before the November election. I boldly, and perhaps wrongly, predict that there will not be any such attack. And here is my reason.
Thinking like an Al Qaeda terrorist, I want to see George Bush re-elected. For he fits perfectly into my long-range plans. Being a Muslim extremist I want to foster a battle of civilizations, modernity vs. tradition, Christianity vs. Islam. I don’t want to have the lines blurred, for this will allow Muslims who are on the fence to comfortably cross to the other side—the side of moderation, peace, tolerance. It is good for extremists when battle lines are drawn in an extreme fashion. And this is just what Bush is doing with his ill-conceived war in Iraq, and his amateurish efforts to coerce other nations into cooperating with the War on Terror.
So I don’t believe that Al Qaeda wants to risk attacking the United States during the Republican convention or just before the elections. While this country is not Spain, there could be a backlash against the administration similar to what happened in the Spanish elections after the terrorist attacks. American voters might well say to themselves, “Bush failed to protect us; we really aren’t any safer now, as he has been claiming; we need to elect Kerry.”
My theory is that Al Qaeda prefers four more years of Bush to four or more years of Kerry. Bush is a known, Kerry an unknown. Kerry has the potential of truly uniting the world in a fight against Al Qaeda, and defusing the conditions that make the Middle East such a fertile breeding ground for terrorists.
Hence, my pseudo-terrorist mind thinks along these lines: “It is better to lay low until after November 2. Bush has done a lot to screw things up for us, that’s for sure. But Kerry is even more of a threat. So let’s let the American people think that Bush is doing a good job protecting them. This will enhance his re-election chances, which is all to our good.”
Maybe this is just wishful thinking stimulated by our upcoming airline travel. Still, it makes good sense to me. If Bush didn’t exist, Al Qaeda would want to invent him. Having him now, they don’t want to lose him.