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A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
Monday, April 05, 2004
THE RAIN IN SPAIN FALLS MAINLY ON RAILWAY TRACKS Poop Throwing Monkey has a line of argument that I think we will be seeing more of:

"Islamic fanatics are different than us. They think about things differently, they have different values and different expectations, different motives and different goals. You'll make a terrible mistake if you project your own point of view on to these people, and assume they will respond to events in what you consider to be a rational way.

One of these big differences is that they really do feed on weakness. .. Spain's failing response to terror is about to become an object lesson for all of Europe. Like most lessons learned in war, it will come at a terrible price. I honestly hope with all my heart that the right people are watching, and that they draw the right conclusions from what they see."

I have several points to make:
1. Just because you might be psychotic or fanatical, does not mean that you are not capable of responding to incentives the way that rational people do. At the moment, the Spanish and terrorists are locked in a symmetrical iterative game . It has just begun. It is not clear to both participants what the pay-off structure is yet. Spain wants to develop a reputation for making life hard for terrorists. The terrorists want to show that Spain is a "wuss" incapable of defending itself, or being able to withstand terrorist induced bloodshed. What will be (if there is one) the dominant strategy of this game? If the Spanish are willing to play, "get the terrorists no matter what they do" game, and with some success, my feeling is that they will end up winning, or at least managing the threat in a "socially manageable" way: some deaths, but Spanish society continues on. The terrorists attacks will diminish in time under this strategy. Nothing the Spanish have done so far leads me to believe that they will do anything else. Why are some commentators so convinced otherwise?

2. A question to ask: If the Spanish are such wimps, please explain to me why it is that years of Basque separatist violence has not led to the dismembering of the Spanish state? The stakes are higher, so the Spanish Government cannot dare give in? The Basques are just nicer people, not capable of the extreme violence of Al Qaeda? Those don't do it for me, I am afraid.

3. What will America do, if it suffers another major terrorist attack? What will it do when there are no more obvious juicy targets to attack in the Middle East? Terrorism today, as a mutating aysmmetrical threat means that we can no longer look at Libya (for example) and say: "We will blow stuff up if another air-liner goes down." What role does our powerful army play when terrorists owe allegiance to no nation. Can we afford to "make up more stuff" and invade another nation we do not like? Syria? Iran? Yes they have been implicated in terrorism IN THE PAST. However, very few folks are saying they are supporting Al Qaeda now (Syria is again a Baathist regime, so they would be as likely to support Al Qaeda as Iraq was--true this did not stop us from invading them).

4. This point of "what would we do if the unthinkable happened" is not an idle thought. As a regular reader of The New Republic I have read and watched with growing concern over the lack of coordination and progress in defending "soft" targets here in the USA. The Department of Homeland Defence is not something that inspires much confidence. How good would we in America be in detecting threats, and foiling bomb attacks, as the Spanish (and French!) have been in the past week or so? We are a lot bigger. We are a target rich environment. We don't do a good job of protecting that environment.

5. How about some credit for the Spanish, French, and British? They did pretty well in foiling attempts to cause more havoc; and in Spain's case, getting at the perpetrators of the bombings. The question we should ask is why they were successful, rather than point our finger at them and say: "We told you so." I would like to put forward a reason that we would do well to learn from--Each of these countries has had history dealing with terrorism and/or movements of nationalist liberation. They have had to deal with exactly the issues we are currently struggling with, for a lot longer than we have. That would suggest that we could learn something from them, apart from colouring them as Yellow French Surrender Monkeys.
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