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Obviously, 2001/09/13:13:13

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"The United States repeatedly made clear to the Taliban that they will be held responsible for any terrorist acts undertaken by Bin Ladin while he is in their territory."

       --U.S. State Department, Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999
History is neither simple nor inevitable.

The crackpots at the the libertarian think-tank claimed yesterday that "The CIA Created bin Laden." Yep. Molded him from clay and blew the breath of life into him. Sure. I figure the U.S. military is to blame for the OKC bombing too--after all, they really trained Timothy McVeigh (thanks to TeriLee for pointing this out.) It's hardly surprising that an organization like the U.S. Army should experience "blowback" by its hired killers.

The subtle racism in the blaming of the victim that we're starting to see is clearly revealed by the McVeigh comparison: the fact that no one suggested OKC was the fault of the U.S. military suggests that Americans like McVeigh are responsible for their own actions, but people with dark skins who follow the word of prophets other than Jesus in far-off countries aren't. As if Americans were grown-ups, and Arabs were children.

Human beings, even human beings who wear robes and have long beards, have free will. History always turns on the choices of individuals, but who or where is often impossible to say. People who forget this often argue "if we had only done (or not done) this then they would have done (or not done) that" as if there was a simple mechanical connection between our actions and everyone else's.

Even the briefest glance at history shows that the logic is only that simple in highly-selective retrospect. Was Julian right or wrong to burn his ships? Is it ever a good idea to contemplate invading England? How about Russia? Could the 2nd English civil war have been avoided if the army's grievances had been properly addressed? If Alexander had pressed on would India be a Greek-speaking nation today?

Studies using role-playing games and computer simulations show that most people, most of the time, are incapable of making "good" choices on the basis of the sort of incomplete information that is generally avaiable even at the best of times. Great moments in history as often as not turn on what appear in retrospect to be stupid mistakes, for good or ill.

It's very easy, after the fact, to claim it was obvious what should have been done.

It isn't obvious. It isn't obvious what should have been done fifteen years ago in Afgahnistan, and it isn't obvious what should be done today, at least not to me. But there are principles that can guide our actions, and by sticking to them we can at least say that we did the least harm we could, even if some smug bastard decades hence decides that there was "obviously" a better way.

One principle is: do what you say you will. When Germany invaded Belgium in 1914 the Kaiser's government certainly didn't expect England to live up to its commitment of mutual defense. Likewise in 1939 when Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland. Similarly when the Iraqi's invaded Kuwait in 1991. People who aren't fanatics tend to be a forgiving lot--we hope and hope that if we just give a little more ground, the demands of our enemies will be satisified and we can all get along.

This hardly ever happens. People who are fundamentally hostile to us tend not to put much stock in our forgiveness. And then they get all upset when they finally go too far, and we kill them for it.

As demonstrated by the quote above, the Taliban have been given clear warning over many years as to the consequences of allowing bin Laden to act freely in killing Americans. If that turns out to be what has happened, America should keep its word.
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