Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Face value

In 1925, an Austrian who had been wounded in the closing weeks of World War I published a bitter diatribe against the French, English, Russians, and particularly Jews. By the time Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in Germany, Mein Kampf was a bestseller on par with the Bible; it was frequently given as a gift at marriages and birthdays. Despite this widely-published policy statement, the USSR was still lulled into a false sense of security by a non-agression pact, and the Allies were shocked to discover the Nazi's persecution of Jews, homosexuals, and other "deviants."

Why do I mention this, nearly eighty years after the book's publication?

Less than a fortnight ago al-Jazeera aired a new (recent) video of Osama bin Laden. In the video bin Laden stated that he was not opposed to the United States or opposed to "freedom", but that his goal was to change American policy in the Middle-East. (This has been interpreted variously to mean US policy toward Israel and Palestine, toward Iraq, toward Iran, and toward Saudi Arabia.) He suggested that the Afghani mujahadeen bled the USSR into bankruptcy and that he intends to do the same to the United States. He pointed out correctly, that for every dollar al Qaeda has spent, the US has spent about $1,000,000.

Predictably, the American response to the video has been to take it as a signal or a threat. Security across the nation is being tightened. Radio and TV talk shows are abuzz with one question: "When and where will al Qaeda strike next?"

What if we took bin Laden's speech at face value? If by simply filming a videotape and mailing it to al-Jazeera every six months he can send the entire nation into a panic and slow shipping and transport to a crawl, isn't he well on his way to winning this economic war that he has declared?

In bin Laden's speech he compared the United States to the Soviet Union. It's important to remember the values that make the United States different and helped us win the Cold War: freedom, including free flow of people and information. Without that we're simply another military superpower just trying to hang on.

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