Influencing Al Qaeda (crosspost from Crooked Timber)
Much of the value of a blog like Crooked Timber is in the comments threads, but the signal to noise ratio is inevitably low, especially when flame wars erupt. I thought this point by Donald Johnson responding to Chris’ post on the Spanish election (and disregarded in subsequent comments) was valuable enough to justify more prominence.
If al Qaeda has the capability to plant bombs and kill hundreds of people, they’re going to do it however they interpret the Spanish election. They might plant their bombs before elections if they think they can influence them, or they might plant their bombs where there are large crowds on some special date, or they might choose some big symbolic target again, like the Pentagon or the WTC. The point is to stop them, not to worry about how they might read election results except to the extent that understanding what they think might give clues on what their next target is going to be.
Exactly right. The idea, that by doing what al Qaeda (supposedly) wants we are sending a message that will influence them to do more of the same directly contradicts the overwhelming evidence that al Qaeda is unconditionally committed to terroristic war against us, and cannot be dissuaded from it (evidence that has been stressed more on the right of the blogosphere than anywhere else). They cannot be influenced, only incapacitated.
fn1. This applies equally to the Spanish election result and to Bush’s decision to pull US troops out of Saudi Arabia.