That’s Evidence for What?!

January 7, 2010

by Gene Callahan

I certainly don’t mean to try to decide the “root causes of terrorism” in a blog post, but I just read an “analysis” of this issue that’s so bad that, well, gosh darn it, I had to take up my pen (keyboard) and write (type).

The article in question was written by Rich Lowry over at National Review, and is called “The Death of a Theory.” What is the theory that has been decisively falsified by recent events?

“Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab couldn’t ignite the bomb in his underwear on Flight 253 on Christmas Day. All he managed to blow up was a worldview. His failed attempt put paid to the notion that terrorism is the byproduct of a few, specific U.S. policies and of our image abroad.”

Ah, so, we are going to find out that Mutallab confessed to officials, “No, there is no U.S. policy that prompted me to do this — I just hate America!”

So it’s a bit of a surprise when, just a little later, Lowry tells us, “In taking responsibility for Abdul Mutallab’s attempted attack, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed it was in retaliation for a U.S.-sponsored strike against its leadership in Yemen.”

So, wait… the group responsible says this was “the byproduct of a few, specific U.S. policies”?! Ah, but Lowry also mentioned Nidal Malik Hasan, the murderer at Fort Hood. So it must be Hasan who provides this killer new evidence that these attacks are unconnected to U. S. foreign policy, right? Not so fast: “Hasan reportedly was disappointed that Obama stayed in Afghanistan.” Huh? The perpetrator of this attack, too, says it was motivated by a specific U.S. policy? And these claims refute the idea that specific U.S. policies contribute to terrorism?

Now, I don’t contend for a second that these claims by the terrorists in question prove that Lowry is mistaken in his view that the terrorists “just hate America.” No, clearly they could be lying. But I find it absolutely bizarre to see these cases put forward as proof that the people who think U.S. foreign policy may play a role in terrorist attacks are wrong! Lowry apparently is basing his case on the fact that these are new complaints about U.S. foreign policy: “For years, we were told that the Iraq War was al-Qaeda’s best recruiting tool. Now, new recruiting tools are at hand.”

Of what possible relevance to the debate here is the newness of these “recruiting tools”? It’s as if someone tried to prove that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer by pointing to the fact that even people who smoke new brands of cigarettes, that weren’t even out when the latest studies were done, also get cancer!

Well, for Lowry, the relevance seems to be, “if it’s not one thing, it will just be something else,” as he continues: “If we pull our troops from Afghanistan, they’ll object to our missile strikes in Pakistan.” Well, OK, but can’t one see how shooting missiles into a heavily populated country might be found objectionable, at least by some extremists? This seems another, specific U.S. policy that might be cause trouble.

“If we stop the missile strikes, they’ll object to our training of foreign militaries.” Once again, at least if these are “foreign militaries” crushing the opposition at the behest of some petty Arab tyrant, then one can understand possible objections.

“If we stop that, they’ll object that we have the temerity to maintain a blue-water navy.” Whoa, wait just a second! Lowry has seemingly attempted to lull us to sleep with some things terrorists are likely to really object to, before trying to slip his Trojan Horse past us. “A blue-water navy”? Has anyone, ever, heard a single terrorist claim something like, “I go to Allah now to decommission the blue-water navy of the great Satan”? No? No, I didn’t think so.

I guess the goal of the piece is to get these things all muddled, so the reader ends up shaking his head and saying, “Man, those terrorists won’t quit until we give up our navy.”

As I have stressed, Lowry may well be right: These terrorists may well be lying to us, and have the real goal of seeing our “suicidal abdication.” But this “killer” new evidence Lowry presents offers not an iota of support for that view; if this is the best Lowry can offer, then maybe it’s Lowry who can’t give up his “operating theory of terrorism, no matter how tattered.”

4 Responses to “That’s Evidence for What?!”

  1. chidemkurdas Says:

    There was a similar misrepresentation of the other side in the Vietnam war. They were supposedly fighting to impose Marxism-Leninism on everybody and destroy freedom. It is clear in retrospect that the people who filled the ranks were in fact fighting for what they saw as their country’s independence. Had the Vietcong been understood as patriotic peasants giving their lives for their country, the role of the US in Vietnam would have obviously become less defensible.

  2. Bob Murphy Says:

    Heh good one Gene. It reminds me of certain arguments against free marketeers that go like this:

    “Do you think we should fix health care by taxing rich people? No? OK, what about if we have the government regulate drug prices? No? OK, what about if we slap a fine on people who don’t buy health insurance? No? Man, you libertarians are against everything! There’s no winning with you!”


  3. Great comment, Gene! I’ve long stopped expecting logic at National Review.

  4. Authorbeard Says:

    You know the Japanese seem to like us and we nuked them–twice! Maybe . . . On second thought, one shouldn’t let this get back to NR until they acquire a sense of humor.


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