The Two Years Hate

All bases are covered in this Reuters article about Osama bin Laden's impending capture. Not only does it discuss how troops are closing in on bin Laden, to reassure the rest of the world, but it mentions that he keeps avoiding capture, so they have an excuse when several months from now he's still roaming free. Moreover, even if they do catch him, it won't matter.

French Gen. Henri Bentegeat:

"Our men were not very far. On several occasions, I even think he slipped out of a net that was quite well closed," he told Europe 1 radio. He did not specify a time frame.
"In Afghanistan, the terrain is extremely favorable to escapes, there are underground networks everywhere," he said.
But he added that arresting bin Laden "would not change things directly. (Al Qaeda) is a hydra with many heads. If we catch one head, there will be others."

Now with Al Qaeda being implicated in the recent Spanish train bombings, there's even more reason to find him. The article continues:

The general said it was essential that bin Laden be caught.

"He symbolizes September 11 and is certainly not completely innocent in what happened in Madrid," he said, making a link between the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington and the Spanish train bombings last Thursday.

Got that? He symbolizes September 11. He's more than a man now, he's a legend.

No one can deny that the Spanish bombings were the work of barbarians, but this particular Barbarian Chief seems to be connected to an awful lot of activity considering that he's been holed up in caves for two years. It's certainly possible that he's connected to the bombings, but not enough people are pointing out that it's unlikely. For a group like Al Qaeda to survive, spread out all over the world and constantly under investigation, a strict command hierarchy is hardly the best strategy to take. I suspect they are much less organized, and that capturing bin Laden will do very little to punish the guilty for this particular attack.

Additionally, my guess is that Al Qaeda is behind only a small percentage of Islamist attacks. Affiliated groups might conceive an idea for an attack, plan it out, and perform it with perhaps an Al Qaeda man stopping by to give training, if he stops by at all. And it's likely that that man's involvement with Al Qaeda could be only fleeting, but when the local groups commits a crime, it's now an Al Qaeda crime.

Only a network of individual cells could let Al Qaeda last this long, and only a further network of unaffiliated Islamist groups could let the worldwide terrorist phenomenon survive this long. They might share philosophies and goals, but to pretend that the whole world's terrorist movement is run by Al Qaeda, or that all of Al Qaeda's actions trace back to bin Laden, or both, is self-deception.

Ever the masters of deception, it's easy to see why Western governments are so eager to pin everything on Al Qaeda and on bin Laden specifically, just as George Orwell's Emmanuel Goldstein was an entirely consistent invention of the Eurasian government. Bin Laden is real, but like Carlos the Jackal, he's probably responsible for fewer acts of terrorism than he's credited with. It's more important now that bin Laden stay free than be killed. (Live capture is not an option.)

Not that I would hesitate to pop a cap in his ass if I found him first. No doubt he has more blood on his hands then could ever wash off. But there's the risk that in demonizing him so much, governments and their media cronies worldwide risk losing focus on the real motivations and agents behind terrorism.

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I have to disagree a bit. I

I have to disagree a bit. I don't think that the US government is so corrupt that they're intentionally not looking for Osama, or otherwise wish to keep him at large to maintain the need for power.

1984 was 20 years ago...

Anyone ever seen Terry

Anyone ever seen Terry Gilliam's Brazil?

Jason, Brazil is one of my


Brazil is one of my favorites.

As for how many Islamist terror attacks are sponsored by Al Qaeda, I'm not sure that's even a meaningful question. Some people argue that ADHD isn't a disease; it's just a catchall name for a cluster of personality traits that the public health and education authorities don't like. Similarly, there's a wide spectrum of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups; some of them cooperate with others for specific purposes; and subgroups cooperate more or less closely and more or less often. I suspect "Al Qaeda" is just an identity the American authorities impose on them, because they need a name for the enemy they're fighting. And Immanuel Goldstein was already taken.

Brian, I didn't say with

Brian, I didn't say with certainty that the US government doesn't want to find him. I imagine it's something like the situation with the USSR before the collapse: they wanted to beat the Reds, but after the collapse, they fretted about what new enemy could bring the budget and the prestige they were used to.

1984 is timeless.

Kevin, that's a great point, and expressed very directly.

I think that the nature of

I think that the nature of Al Qaeda, which means "the base" in Arabic, is and was intended to be, the framework upon which other terror groups could hang, for purpose, information sharing, and funding.

Thus, why is it surprising that many islamic terror groups that seem to cooperate together to greater and lesser extents are lumped into the "Al Qaeda" column? That's what Al Qaeda is. No need to impute the existence of a shadowy cabal, conspiracy, cynicism, or anything else to explain why the US authorities prosecuting the WOT put them all under the Al Qaeda banner. Al Qaeda isn't some discrete organization that is separate from these other little groups that are doing drive-bys, the little groups are Al Qaeda. That's the point of Al Qaeda- franchising terror.

That government and other rent-seeking groups will always try to find something to justify their position/existence is a given; however, jumping from that general axiom to saying that the US intelligence community worked to "invent" another enemy seems illogical to say the least. We all know they didn't, and that they atrophied precisely because they couldn't find a new target. If anything, history shows that they didn't try very hard to find another enemy, since they were woefully unprepared for Al Qaeda despite 4 attacks prior to 9-11.

Conspiracy theories or even whiffs of them are unworthy of us, especially when more mundane explanations obtain.

As far as the timeless dystopian warning novel, I have to give Huxley's Brave New World the nod over 1984. 1984 is an outdated structure based on the supposition that stalinism would obtain throughout the world, and that the panopticon police state is the most efficient way to control a population (or even possible). If the dystopian tyranny is coming, its coming via Soma, not Big Brother.

Well, we do know that the

Well, we do know that the current administration isn't beyond lying or misrepresenting the truth in the War on Terror. Using Al Qaeda and Bin Laden as a catch-all for general Islamist terror isn't that farfetched; it seems to fit in nicely with the traditional view that military organizations are necessarily hierarchical. People just aren't used to thinking of bottom up, decentralized organization.

Yikes. Maybe Bin Laden has been reading Catallarchy?

Brian, governments used

Brian, governments used Carlos the Jackal as a scapegoat for crimes that he didn't commit, but that they couldn't get anyone else for. He did commit crimes, but not all the ones attributed to him.

Likewise, bin Laden has committed crimes, but I think it's a bit of a stretch to implicate him in the Spanish attacks. It's possible that he was behind them, and if that knowledge becomes public, I'll acknowledge that I was wrong; what I'm saying in a Reason-esque way is that what we're reading about now is bin Laden the myth, not necessarily bin Laden the man. As Micha said, the view that Islamic terrorism is not carried out by a hierarchical structure with him always at the top is not the standard view.

I mean, if its just the

I mean, if its just the observation that "Osama" is the shorthand for Al Qaeda, then that would be true I suppose, but also unremarkable.

The current WOT is a bona fide war, not the phony ones on poverty, drugs, etc. If Osama is ever caught (they keep telling me he's alive, but he hasn't shown his face on video for 2 years; which side is it again that is using Osama as a symbol?), its not a matter of a criminal prosecution where we try and prove he did X, Y, Z, etc- he'll get tried on being a barbarian, masterminding a terror network period, if a trial is held at all. It'll be in the style of the old British colonial courts- "you'll get a fair trial and then we'll hang you".

And if I recall correctly, people are saying that Al Qaeda is behind the Madrid bombings. Does Al Qaeda = Osama?

Conspiracy theories or even

Conspiracy theories or even whiffs of them are unworthy of us, especially when more mundane explanations obtain.

I don't see anyone espousing conspiracy theories. Instead, it's the same skewed incentives present in any government program - the need to justify existence, greater funding, and larger scope.

The current WOT is a bona fide war, not the phony ones on poverty, drugs, etc.

Long after Bin Laden is dead, the WOT will still being going on, and the Feds will still be trying to justify its existence.

I'm still fascinated by the

I'm still fascinated by the idea of Public Choice Theory, though I haven't done any reading in it yet.

Is it formalized enough that you can look at each of the actors in this situation--French Generals, Reuters, Al Qaeda, other Islamic terrorists, non-Islamic terrorists, Spanish political candidates, libertarian bloggers, etc.--and enumerate their motivations for either undertaking an action or subsequently reporting it? Imagine if you could get a probability distribution out of the exercise to give you a good guess of where the truth lay...

I'd like to see an exact

I'd like to see an exact definition of "conspiracy theory." As I see the term actually used, it's just a conversation stopper. In fact, it might be more accurate to call it a thought stopper, a shorthand term of dismissal for avoiding substantive consideration of evidence. Is any assertion that a government is lying, or that the actual motives of its policies are more mendacious than the stated reasons, a "conspiracy theory"? Maybe not--but any time someone suggests the government has ulterior motives, and might lie, someone else is sure to bring up "tinfoil hats" and "black helicopters." Apparently, the suggestion that a politician might lie to get himself reelected is on the same order of craziness as believing that the government is run by space lizards.

The economic concept of "rent-seeking" is based on the assumption that government policies sold to the public in the name of the "general welfare" serve the actual purpose of promoting private gain at taxpayer expense.

Please remember that, in this past century, we've had: 1) the birth of the modern propaganda/PR industry in WWI, when the British and US governments relied on the expertise of Bernays and his ilk to lie their populations into war; 2) FDR manipulating the American people into a war they didn't want; 3) the Tonkin Gulf incident; 4) Kuwaiti incubator babies; 5) Iraqi tanks massed on the Saudi border in 1990. And that's just off the top of my head in a couple minutes' time--it barely scratches the surface.

A "conspiracy" happens any time the county commissioners meet in somebody's living room to get around the FOI laws. It happens every time a good ol' boy sheriff uses county equipment to grade the roads on his farm, or hires out county inmates to friends of his. Why WOULDN'T it happen at the national level, as well?

Stereotypical "conspiracy theorists" believe that personality and ideology, not institutional structure, are the primary factors. History is driven by personal cabals, like the Bavarian Illuminati, united mainly by personal devotion to some esoteric ideology or other. Such personal cabals are the main driving force of history.

I, on the other hand, don't believe "conspiracy" is the main driving force of history. Conspiracy is a secondary phenomenon, that results from the primary cause of institutional structure. As described by the sociologists C. Wright Mills and G. William Domhoff, the rise of the centralized bureaucratic state and the large corporation in the late 19th century, and the organizational ties between them under state capitalism, led to the concentration of power in the hands of a centralized corporate-government elite. It is this institutional phenomenon, resulting in personal ties between the elites commanding the corporations and government, that makes conspiracy possible.

Why not just say that

Why not just say that governments are institutionally, structurally likely to try and justify their existence rather than go through an elaborate pseudo-justification of "conspiracy theories"?

Austrian theory tells us that when it comes to government function, intent is irrelevant and that its very nature/structure causes it to be inefficient and wasteful (and rent-seeking). Indeed, the theory assumes the very best of intentions. Thus I think that imputing shady motives or active malice to government bodies is both extraneous and irrelevant to an argument about institutional failure and rent seeking. I say that because this quote:

Ever the masters of deception, it's easy to see why Western governments are so eager to pin everything on Al Qaeda and on bin Laden specifically, just as George Orwell's Emmanuel Goldstein was an entirely consistent invention of the Eurasian government.

...essentially says that (a) the gov't is the deceptive ones here (as opposed to, say, the barbarians who sneak through civil society to blow up innocents) and (b) with the explicit comparison to Emmanuel Goldstein, the imaginary bogeyman of 1984, the paragraph insinuates that Osama and the WOT are at least partially (if not totally) imaginary, too- a propaganda tool to justify expenditures, etc.

That certainly is saying too much, and the comparison isn't applicable or useful. Osama is unfortunately real, as are the terrorists who seek to kill innocents to impose their worldview. Gov't is bad, yes, but Osama is far worse, and I don't think its necessary to impugn the motives of the people working at CIA or the armed forces to get the essential point of the post across- that governments are rent-seeking coercers who will naturally try to justify their continued existence.

Its a "conspiracy theory" when bad faith is implied but not supported. If one wants to say that someone specific is doing something bad, specifically, then one ought to go out and say so. But if all one has is "gov't is bad so I wouldn't put it past 'em", then that falls into "conspiracy" land.

Personally, I don't think we need to impute bad motives to government (for the reasons stated above), and I think that the left's tendency for lunatic conspiracy theorizing (that Bush knew and planned 9-11 to boost oil stocks to help out his friends in Crawford) is one of the things that helps prevent/stall socialist advance in the US- because most people hear those theories as paranoid ranting and either dismiss the speaker entirely, or are frightened by them and are pushed into the other camp from aesthetic revulsion. I would prefer libertarians to learn from the far left's bad example.

Jonathan: The War on Piracy


The War on Piracy continues today, too, but its a trivial expense and part of the US Navy's standard operating procedure. We should be so lucky as to have the same happen to the War on Terror.

Brian, Did Bush not lie us


Did Bush not lie us into war in Iraq in the first place? Or, if it was not lying, wasn't it at least willfully sloppy fact-checking and buck-passing? It's no stretch to think that there could be similar goings on in other arenas of the War on Terror.

And while mentioning Goldstein for effect, the prime comparison is Carlos the Jackal. Governments did blame him for things he didn't do (and he even helped with false admissions!). I have no doubt that Al Qaeda is active in many parts of the world trying to undermine all concepts of civil society. But they're not omnipotent, and they can't be behind everything.

"Why not just say that

"Why not just say that governments are institutionally, structurally likely to try and justify their existence rather than go through an elaborate pseudo-justification of 'conspiracy theories'?"

My point, badly as I may have made it, was that "conspiracy theory" is a devil-term with no substantive content. It's just a buzzword for avoiding real argument. And it's usually brought out precisely when someone says that "governments are institutionally, structurally likely to try and justify their existence..."

BTW, I don't think most

BTW, I don't think most people would deny that the government is corrupt or amoral enough to keep Osama on ice until a more politically expedient time, were it in its power to do so. So the question is, how practicable is such a course of action? One might make all sorts of valid arguments (the number of people necessarily involved, the likelihood of leaks or defection, etc.) as to why the government might not be able to pull it off, or might be deterred by the potential consequences of discovery. I am skeptical of the feasibility of such a design myself. But to simply dismiss the issue with the term "conspiracy theory" is not an adequate argument. It is no argument at all.

Randall- A lie, as most


A lie, as most people understand it is: "an assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive", with emphasis on the intent to decieve. Other definitions of lie include simply uttering inaccurate statements, but it is clear that the connotation of "lie" is intent to decieve, and such a meaning is clearly intended by the people who say that "Bush Lied!", rather than to say, somewhat uncontroversially, that he uttered something that turned out to be incorrect (who would care then, since that happens all the time to everyone, and is seen in the distinction between lying and being mistaken).

Thus I would have to say "no, Bush did not lie" in that all the evidence available does not, in my view, support a conclusion that he willfully intended to decieve the public, knowing full well that what he was saying was untrue.

To say whether it was "willfully sloppy fact-checking and buck-passing" would require understanding why, and on what grounds, the war was justified and decided. There are many reasons given for supporting the war, and I am altogether unimpressed by the current focus on WMDs as being the sole and sufficient reason. It obviously was not; the US could have legally invaded at any point past 1993, when Saddam violated the terms of the US cease-fire from the Gulf War, and had UN permission to invade after the November(?) 2002 resolution. That Bush went through the trouble of trying to get a 2nd resolution was a matter of politics, not justification, and tellingly during that process is where most of the chorus of "aha!s" come from. The reason the "aha!s" don't impress me is that Bush had congressional and UN permission to invade Iraq months prior to the whole WMD case, so any problems with the WMD case are moot.

Bush made a bad decision, in that he trusted the opinion polls and decided he didn't need to make an alternative case to the public (aside from the one tailor made for the UN), and so all we have is the rather sloppy UN effort.

Anyway, all of this is to say that, again, its not enough to say "well, they did it before, they might be doing it again" in the process of winking and nudging at the audience that, indeed, they are doing it again. If we believe that they did it before, and that they might be doing it again, we say "we don't know what is going on precisely or who did it" and proceed on that tack, rather than assuming the conclusion and then hinting at it. When the case against government and the proceedings of the WOT can be made specifically (that there is an obvious and present connection) then yes, we should make it. When there is not (save for some theoretical conclusions), my beliefe is that we should keep the arguments separate.

Kevin, You assume too much


You assume too much when you say, "I don't think most people would deny that the government is corrupt or amoral enough to keep Osama on ice until a more politically expedient time, were it in its power to do so," because indeed I deny that. If you want to say that "it is not beyond a general government's scope of action to manipulate events such that a politically sensitive enemy of the state would be kept until such time as it would be most poltiically advantageous to announce his or her capture", then I'd say yes, but that would be a very clunky way of stating the obvious.

However your first statement assumes that all governments are corrupt and amoral (which would mean they're all actively malign, as some cartoon villain planning and wishing to do evil), and so naturally our government would try to do that in this specific case, since active malice is a priori true.

I don't believe that you can say that your statement is either a priori true or that it is empirically supported by current facts. So the question is not as you have assumed, but the question is "is your assumption valid in this case?" which has yet to be shown.