Al Qaeda Be What You Want It To Be

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Glenn Greenwald peers into the implications of a story in the New York Times by Michael Cooper and Larry Rohter concerning —

As he campaigns with the weight of a deeply unpopular war on his shoulders, Senator John McCain of Arizona frequently uses the shorthand “Al Qaeda” to describe the enemy in Iraq in pressing to stay the course in the war there.

“Al Qaeda is on the run, but they’re not defeated” is his standard line on how things are going in Iraq. When chiding the Democrats for wanting to withdraw troops, he has been known to warn that “Al Qaeda will then have won.” In an attack this winter on Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the Democratic front-runner, Mr. McCain went further, warning that if American forces withdrew, Al Qaeda would be “taking a country.”

In particular, Greenwald highlights this idiotic (or is it dissembling) frame in defense of McCain’s fudging of reality.

Some other analysts do not object to Mr. McCain’s portraying the insurgency (or multiple insurgencies) in Iraq as that of Al Qaeda. They say he is using a “perfectly reasonable catchall phrase” that, although it may be out of place in an academic setting, is acceptable on the campaign trail, a place that “does not lend itself to long-winded explanations of what we really are facing,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

The framing Pollack offers slackens the steeliest of jaws.

Al Qaeda as a catchall phrase? A catchall phrase for whom? “Those Muslims who would seek to do us harm,” perhaps? Yet that shopworn piece of propaganda always ignored the motives of everyone involved. For example, when one country occupies another country by force, there will be resistance by those who sincerely believe they are defending their country. Even if the occupiers shepherd in what they consider a “legitimate” government, there will still be those who seek to assert their autonomy through violent means. Thus did the Wehrmacht consider the French Underground “those who would seek to do us harm.” As did the Romans consider the Jewish zealots in Jesus’ time. Oh, and as did the Redcoats the Continental Army. There always will be those who seek to do violent occupiers harm.

Additionally, al Qaeda is the group that carried out the attacks upon the African Embassies, the Cole, the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon. Their leadership is mostly Saudi, and they’re hanging out, for the most part, in Pakistan.

Al Qaeda is not Iran. Al Qaeda has nothing to do with Iran. Al Qaeda’s roots are in Wahhabi Islam, a radical Sunni branch from Saudi Arabia. Iranians are Shiite Muslims, a major branch of Islam that has, on bad days, had relationships with Sunni Islam much like Roman Catholics and Protestants during their bad days. And the Wahhabi are the fringe — unless, of course, you’re Saudi. When John McCain kept repeating “al Qaeda went to Iran for training,” it was the religious equivalent of saying “the Christian Coalition went to The United Methodist Church for training.” This would be unacceptable both to the Christian Coalition and to the United Methodist Church, I’m sure. But to Kenneth M. Pollack, as long as they’re Muslims, who cares what Americans think they’re voting about?

Al Qaeda also is not a motley group of loonies in the Sunni Triangle who happen to call themselves “al Qaeda in Iraq.” Look. If I want to put together an old-guy’s softball team and call ourselves “The New York Yankees,” that’s fine (except to the Yankees, who own the name). It still wouldn’t make us the New York Yankees. Al Qaeda is Osama bin Laden’s gang. Those Iraqis taking on the name are wannabes.

Here’s the big problem with “catchall phrases” in lieu of reality. A number of years ago I was leading a forum at a church gathering on the Iraq War. Although it was a general gathering, there were about a hundred against the Iraq occupation; six or seven were for it. The most vocal of the supporters cried out her war whoop thusly: “But they attacked us!”

Yes, she was sadly one of those who are so soaked in Faux Noose that she wouldn’t know a fact if bit her on the patoot. Yet I did feel genuine sadness, even compassion, for her. As a wave of ninety some odd helpers-by-preference-and-profession loudly corrected her by ponting out that Iraq had not attacked us, I could see her mental antibodies kicking in: ninety some odd “liberals” were ninety some odd near-traitors, to her. She was impervious.

I do not think she was stupid; I think she was infected by a virulent meme. Kenneth M. Pollack, however, undoubtedly considers her as dense as a dwarf star: the campaign for the votes of ordinary voters “does not lend itself to long-winded explanations of what we really are facing.” Why not? Because we’re, duh, not academics? Too stoooopid ta git it?

Baloney. Too many people are too infected with memes thrown out by the privileged for their own benefit. Just as the priveleged infect themselves with their own superiority memes.*

John McCain has promised “there will be other wars” — and that’s good for some folks, but not you and me. And just today John McCain was on TV telling us that because social security and medicare are not, in his view, perfect, we can’t have universal health care. Wouldn’t benefit the folks he wants benefitted, I suppose.

*Here’s a test for superiority infection: who was the greatest American theologian of the 20th century?

If you said “Reinhold Niebuhr,” then you and I agree. Now, where did Reinhold Niebuhr earn his doctorate?


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