This is a very intelligent argument, which, at its core, blames the victims of terror for terror attacks. One clever aspect is that the author refuses to go back to the beginning of the US war on terror: September11, 2001. He never mentions it. Why? Because if one acknowledges the terrorist attacks on 9/11, one then understands the necessity for our response. The argument that we create terror by responding to terror collapses like the twin towers.
…I’d like to invite Pipes and Goldberg to imagine an alternative universe, a universe in which behaviors — such as planting a bomb — don’t have a single “root” cause. [I'll just add my 2 cents here: "Root cause" is a leftist phrase, designed originally to blame the victim. Here the writer uses it as if it comes from the conservative world.] In this universe, bomb-planting behavior is kind of like the bombs themselves: a number of ingredients have to come together before things get explosive. If you figure out what those ingredients are, and which of them you can control, maybe you can make bomb-planting behavior less common.
In the universe I’m positing, the following scenario is conceivable:
A Pakistani guy moves to America, goes to college, gets a job, starts a family. He grows unhappy. Maybe he’s having financial problems (though I’m skeptical, for reasons outlined by Charles Lane here, that Shahzad’s home foreclosure actually signifies as much); or maybe the problem is just that he doesn’t find his social niche. And maybe he was a bit unstable to begin with — which would make it harder to find his niche and might intensify his reaction to not finding it.
Anyway, for whatever reason, he feels alienated in America. He stays in touch with people and events back home in Pakistan, and this gives him another reason to dislike America: American drones are firing missiles into Pakistan, sometimes killing women and children.
War-on-terror hawks need to seriously ask whether the policies they favor have created terrorists. [Again, limp peaceniks need to ask themselves whether their policies of accommodation and avoidance of reality created the conditions leading to 9/11. The terrorists assumed we would just want to talk about things.]
Thanks to the Internet, it doesn’t take him long to find like-minded folks, or to come under the influence of a radical imam operating out of Yemen. “Jihadi intent” is taking shape, and eventually he comes into the fold of actual jihadis, a faction of the Taliban in Pakistan. They give him what he hadn’t found in America: a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose. The basic ingredients of bomb-planting behavior are now in place. [I get it! He was sad and lonely, despite the wife and kids!]
I’m not sure this is the story of Faisal Shahzad; we don’t yet know enough to say. But this story is consistent with the facts disclosed about him so far — and, more to the point, stories like this do unfold in the world we inhabit. Various things fuel “jihadi intent,” and they may include the policy of firing missiles into Pakistan.
In fact, this policy does seem to have been part of Shahzad’s motivation. He reportedly told investigators he was upset about the drone strikes.
Obviously (I hope), to say that American policies may cause terrorism isn’t to say that America is to blame for terrorism. It’s just to say those policies may have downsides. And, obviously, those policies may have upsides as well; drone strikes disrupt terrorist logistics, for example. [A nuanced way to blame the victim]
Spelling out my reasons for thinking the downsides often outweigh the upsides is a subject for another column. For now my main point is that war-on-terror hawks need to confront the downsides, rather than act as if establishing the role of “jihadi intent” or “jihadist ideology” somehow ends the debate. They need to seriously ask whether the policies they favor have, while killing terrorists abroad, created terrorists both abroad and — more disturbingly — at home. [More victim blaming]
These possibly counterproductive hawkish policies go beyond drone strikes — a fact that is unwittingly underscored by the hawks themselves. They’re the first to highlight the role played by that imam in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, in inspiring Shahzad and other terrorists. But look at the jihadist recruiting narrative al-Awlaki’s peddling. He says America is at war with Islam, and to make this case he recites the greatest hits of hawkish policy: the invasion of Iraq, the troop escalation in Afghanistan, drone strikes in Pakistan, etc. [All of result of 9/11. Sad that the writer, a relatively young man, has already lost his memory]
All of these policies — not just the last of them — may have helped incite Shahzad. Back in 2004, a real estate agent recalls, he was oddly outspoken about his opposition to the Iraq war. And last year he asked his father for permission to fight Americans in Afghanistan. Only when denied that opportunity did he turn toward Times Square. (This is evidence against the theory that he was from early on a “plant” in America.)
So too with the two other high-profile terrorist attacks against America over the past year: the Fort Hood shooting and the would-be underwear bombing. Both perpetrators had found in hawkish policies cause to buy into the jihadi recruiting narrative.
Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, was enraged by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the aspiring underwear bomber, before he became an aspiring underwear bomber, was giving glimpses of his inchoate “jihadi intent” as a student at University College London. There he sponsored a conference on the war on terror, and on the poster advertising the conference was a picture of a prisoner at Guantanamo — hooded, handcuffed and kneeling. A jihadist pinup, courtesy of Dick Cheney. [It's Cheney's fault! If he had selected a different photograph, those 13 people at Ft. Hood would have been alive today!]
Unfortunately, President Obama isn’t discarding the Bush-Cheney playbook that has given jihadist recruiters such effective talking points. Quite the contrary: the White House thinks the moral of the Shahzad story may be that we should get more aggressive in Pakistan, possibly putting more boots on the ground. And already Obama has authorized the assassination of al-Awlaki. [Obama isn't weak enough to bring about peace. Let's dig up Neville Chamberlain.]
Even leaving aside the constitutional questions (al-Awlaki is an American citizen), doesn’t Obama see what a gift the killing of this imam would be to his cause? Just ask the Romans how their anti-Jesus-movement strategy worked out. (And Jesus’s followers didn’t have their leader’s sermons saved in ready-to-go video and audio files; al-Awlaki’s resurrection would be vivid indeed.) [Here we compare terrorists who murder innocent civilians with the Christian Messiah. This is the perfect blame the victim paragraph and should be engraved in gold.]
When you look at how much real-world evidence there is against the views of war-on-terror hawks, it’s not surprising that they would construct their own little universe, a place where “jihadi intent” is an uncaused cause, and our only hope is to kill or intimidate the people who, through some magical process that defies comprehension, have been possessed by it. [Isn't interesting that a guy who is smart enough to write for the NY Times can't comprehend the short-hand of jihadi intent? It needs to be spelled out, apparently. Jihadi intent means a combination of factors including, but not limited to, religion, culture, and a personal willingness/desire to become a hero in the culture. The writers who use the phrase assume basic familiarity with the history of jihad in the modern era.]
What is surprising is that Barack Obama, who became the Democratic nominee for president largely because he had opposed the Iraq war, seems increasingly to be taking his cues from the people who so disastrously supported it.
[But you'll vote for him anyway, won't you? Maybe Dennis Kucinich will mount an effective campaign to oust him...]