In the dozen-plus years I have been active in matters relating to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, I have watched them go from a small Islamist organization to a worldwide insurgent movement, while bin Laden has established himself as the primary source of inspiration and leadership for tens of millions of Muslim Islamists. This process has been made possible by two things: (a) the skill, courage, patience, and ruthlessness of bin Laden and his ilk, and (b) the refusal of the U.S. government to understand the motivation of bin Laden and his allies.
Last week, Representative Paul did all Americans an immense service by simply pointing out the obvious: Our Islamist enemies do not give a damn about the way we vote, think, or live. Though any country they ruled would surely not look like ours, they are motivated by the belief that U.S. foreign policy is an attack on Islam, its lands, and its believers. This, of course, is not to say that America is to blame for the war it is now engaged in, but it is to say that it is foolish – and perhaps fatal – for Americans to believe that are we are being attacked for such ephemera as primary elections, R-rated movies, and gender equality. If our Islamist enemies were motivated by such things their numbers would be minuscule and they would be a sporadic lethal nuisance, not, as they are, the most serious national security threat we face today.
Of the eighteen presidential candidates now in the field from both parties, only Mr. Paul has had the courage to square with the average American voter. We are indeed hated and being warred against because we are “over there,” and not for what we are and how we live. Our failure to recognize the truth spoken by Mr. Paul – and spelled out for us in hundreds of pages of statements by Osama bin Laden since 1996 – is leading America toward military and economic disaster.
At day’s end, Mr. Paul has at least temporarily shaken the pillars of the bipartisan consensus on U.S. foreign policy. Neither party, and none of the candidates, want to discuss the Islamists’ motivation because they would have to deal with energy policy, support for Israel, and the 50-year record of U.S. support and protection for Arab tyrannies. These holy cows of U.S. politics have long been off limits to debate, but Mr. Paul has now accurately identified them as the source of motivation for our Islamist enemies, and implicitly has said that the obsessive interventionism of both parties has inspired al-Qaeda and its allies to kill 7,000-plus U.S. civilians and military personnel since 11 September 2001. The war we are engaged in with the Islamists is a long way from over, but it need end in America’s defeat only if Mr. Paul’s frank statements are ignored.
And no matter how you view Mr. Paul’s words, you can safely take one thing to the bank. The person most shaken by Mr. Paul’s frankness was Osama bin Laden, who knows that the current status quo in U.S. foreign policy toward the Islamic world is al-Qaeda’s one indispensable ally, and the only glue that provides cohesion between and among the diverse and often fractious Islamist groups that follow its banner.
Michael F. Scheuer
Falls Church, VA