by Austin Bay
Osama Bin Laden has given us notice he believes the future lies
in the past, or at least his highly edited and Bowdlerized version of the
last thousand years.
Meanwhile, back on the Potomac, American leaders mutter wonk
terms like "strategic endstate" -- Pentagon and State-speak for what the
world ought to look like after the guns fall silent and the economic aid is
In soundbite format, the strategic collision between Bin
Laden-type extremists and America may well be one of "imperial
restorationist" versus "liberating reform."
Bin Laden has complained of the terrible "80 years" of Muslim
indignation and suffering since the end of the Islamic caliphate. Turkey's
reforming general and political genius, Kemal Ataturk, must rate a special
place in any Hell designed by Bin Laden. Ataturk, as part of a program to
replace Ottoman political structures and modernize Turkey, ended the
caliphate in 1924.
In the angry babble of his psyche, Bin Laden just knows that
should not have happened. History, going wrong for Islamic expansionists at
least since the 16th century, really failed when the caliphate went poof.
In Bin Laden's future, the caliphate is restored. The decadent
modern world fades as American power dies, though techy bits of modernity
are OK, such as videophones and nuclear weapons. Global rule of Bin
Laden-interpreted Islamic law follows.
Don't snicker. Violent "imperial restorationists" have an ugly
track record. Benito Mussolini and his Italian Fascists dreamed of restoring
the Roman Empire. The obvious choice for caesar was Benito. Who but Bin
Laden serves as caliph? Add that title to Osama's "end state." It underlines
the autocratic and despotic motives that lie behind the schemes of various
religious absolutists, ethnic zealots, ultra-nationalists and eco-crazies
around the world who reject the moderation and compromise that participation
in the global system requires. Remember, violent eco-crazies battle for the
"restoration of nature" -- a green empire.
But what of American strategic goals?
We intend to eradicate terror networks and punish
terrorist-harboring nations. To reach those goals takes years of effort and
perseverance -- Churchillian blood, sweat, and tears.
Numerous pundits, however, argue that to truly defeat global
terrorism, America must ultimately focus on "the root causes" that seed
terrorist appeal. The usual "roots" are poverty and inequality.
Unfortunately, many of the pundits advocating this "reformist" goal are
trapped in utopian socialist amber, with buzzwords like "North-South"
divide. They treat American wealth as something despicable, instead of an
In so many hard corners of the world, autocratic rule (the
denial of individual political voice and economic opportunity) and systemic
corruption are the real "roots" of local poverty. The same corrupt political
and economic practices that feed terror networks are the ones that create
conditions of endemic suffering and embittered resentment. The local
autocrats have an investment in encouraging their people to blame America.
It deflects the heat from them.
Liberty (the right to responsibly pursue happiness) is the
creative source of American wealth and power. For all but a handful of
American citizens, the "futures" presented by the planet's Bin Ladens pale
utterly when compared with the opportunity to pursue "the American Dream."
Certainly, examples of American excess and silliness abound, but examples of
American success and largesse are even more abundant. Here's the fact at the
throat of America's enemies: When the vast majority of Earth's oppressed get
a chance to vote with their feet, the destination isn't Baghdad, it's
Extending political and economic opportunity into the world's
hard corners, by curbing the power of corrupt autocracies, should be
strategic goals of America's war on terror. It's pragmatic, not grandiose.
Squeezing corrupt banks and financial networks (a key Bush administration
endeavor) is the starting point. Increased financial transparency and
accountability exposes kleptocrats.
Eliminating terrorists ultimately reduces the daily fear
experienced by political moderates -- men and women who vastly outnumber the
extremists but live, literally, under the gun. In the hard corners that
harbor terror, moderate voices are silenced by the threat of assassination.
These moderates are the "reformationists" in their own lands, the
entrepreneurs who can expand wealth and the political activists able to
adapt democracy to local conditions.
The reformists are America's strategic allies in our
counter-terror war. A well-waged counter-terror war will help free them from
fear. A well-formed political strategy will encourage them to pursue their