What do the Saudi suicide attacks mean for Bush's war on terrorism? That so far, it's a great success
The Bushies have decided that the War on Terrorism is to be the organization principle of their reign, their "vision thing," the propaganda gimmick that makes it seem as though they're trying to do more than just enrich themselves. Carter tried using "International human rights" (intermittently) this way, LBJ had his "War on Poverty" (to keep our minds off that other war he was waging with bombs), JFK a whole cluster of slogans ("Alliance for Progress," "Peace Corps," "Ask not what your country can do for you...") on the theme of America's mission of international enlightenment, and FDR had the most succinct, and therefore most malleable and by far the most successful, propaganda gimmick of all: "The New Deal." (I don't recall that either HST or his succesor, DDE, even tried to find a label for themselves.)

To make such a gimmick work, you have to keep it going. "New Deal" was tremendous -- it was completely open-ended, the way "the Revolution" is for Fidel, justifying any new policy and making it seem that it's working toward some undefineable but far better future. "War on Poverty" was pretty good, because it was sure to take a long time and, if the Vietnam war hadn't been such a disastrous failure, might have kept LBJ going another four years. It too promised a better future. "War on Terrorism" is different in this way: instead of a better future, it promises perpetual fear. And, so far, it's working.

The Saudi suicide bomb attacks yesterday must have come as a great relief to the deep thinkers in Washington, those who do the thinking that Bush is too busy to bother about. Colin Powell may have been genuinely distressed, but he's just the courtly face for a savage policy, the way the courtly and presumably honest Adlai Stevenson was used by Kennedy to tell lies to the UN to justify an attack on Cuba. But Wolfowitz and his pals must certainly be rejoicing that their plan is working: real terrorists are blowing up things. They had got so worried that the terror index might fall, and with it their Imbecile-in-Chief's chances of remaining in power, that they had orchestrated this week's huge mock terrorist attacks in two entire cities, Seattle and Chicago.

When a reporter asked Colin Powell, in Saudi Arabia when they occurred, what the suicide attacks said about Bush's "War on Terrorism," he muttered something about how it shows that Al Qaeda is so sinister it will kill innocent people to advance its cause -- a sort of unconvincing remark after the US bombing of Baghdad and Afghanistan, but, well, this is politics. Their terror is evil, ours is democratic. But what's this about "Al Qaeda"? Does it even exist? And why do people keep pronouncing it like the Arab word for "thong"? Maybe the Republicans want to remind the Wahabis about Monica Lewinsky? No, that can't be it. Probably, they just haven't read a good explanation like that offered by Australian P. D. Jack, or listened to a sound file like this one on Voice of America (couldn't link directly to the file, but type in Al Qaeda and you'll find it).

If people really want to understand why Muslims are driven to desperate acts, they ought to stop listening to US news blather and read Zadie Smith's White Teeth, or watch the brilliant version now on the telly. Here, if you're interested, you can read my review of the book.

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