Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
I am Firm, You are Obstinate, He is a Pig-Headed Fool

Yes, the current election-suspension controversy leads us, once again, into the morass of "Who does Al Qaeda favor in the US election, and what could we deduce about that from a terrorist attack?" For instance, see Kash at The Angry Bear:
Item #1: This past week the Bush administration warned that Al Qaeda is seeking to “disrupt the democratic process” by launching terrorist attacks in the US during the period leading up to the November election.

Item #2: Nearly everyone (at least nearly all of those whose opinions I've heard) thinks that a terrorist attack in the US is likely to have the effect of causing people to rally around the President, boosting his popularity, at least temporarily. In the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack, it seems likely that people will prefer stability to a change in leadership.

Item #3: Al Qaeda probably knows about item #2.

Now apply some logic. Items #2 and #3 imply that Al Qaeda would only attack the US if they want Bush to remain president. Furthermore, item #1 implies two things. First, if it is true Al Qaeda wants to attack the US before the election, then this is our first evidence that Al Qaeda does indeed want Bush to win the election. Second, item #1 tells us that the Bush administration knows this.

Let me repeat that. These three items taken together mean that the Bush administration knows that Al Qaeda would rather have them in office than a Kerry administration. Think very carefully about what this means before you go about your business.
Well, much as I'd like to believe it's a simple problem (and in addition that the answer is "AQ has gotten bored and gone home"), I don't buy it. In particular, I'm not convinced of #3. There are 2 kinds of people who agree with #2. One kind is the kind that has observed human history and is aware of the rally-round-the-flag, circle-the-wagons effect that things like attacks from outside can cause in a country. For an example: Churchill told the world that "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills..." And they would have; but then again, the Germans fought the Allies every inch from Normandy back to Berlin, too.

See also Jim Henley's point that in the sloppy Red State/Blue State cultural division, the world is filled with Red States; they just happen to be populated by non-Americans. They all fly their flags, sing their patriotic songs, and swear they'd rather fight than switch. (It's buried in the middle of this very long posting.)

The other kind believes that this is true, but only of their own side. It's like the observation attributed to Bertrand Russell, and which I used as the title of this post, only in this case it's

We are resolute in the face of adversity
They will fold under pressure

I think that the group of people who believe this includes the kind of people who become terrorists. They believe that their own will, and their devotion to their cause, will make their cause invincible, but that their enemy has no such steadfastness. In short, they're too in love with their own violence to consider the actual likely effect of an attack on their enemy's morale, and so they're not sophisticated enough to get Kash's point #2.

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