We had eleven participants last night, despite heavy freeway gridlock, including Sharon, John II, and George (!). Thanks to Chris for sharing his knowledge of terrorism and nuclear proliferation. I like that we easily can branch out from a narrow topic to a more big picture view, e.g., from nuclear stockpiles to the motives of Al Qaeda to the morality of American foreign policy. A few points in follow-up.
First, I noticed how unsure we were over just how much of a threat Al Qaeda remains. This is not surprising, for several reasons beyond the obvious that this war is fought in the shadows, so the most useful information probably is classified. One is what Chris said: AQ is constantly adapting and in many ways has completely transformed itself into a more decentralized, web-based enemy. Conventional wisdom says that this is both good and bad. Fragmentation makes AQ less able to launch gigantic, really catastrophic attacks, but it also makes them harder to track and destroy. Shoe bomber knuckleheads are amateurs, but off-the-radar amateurs.
Also, as Sharon and I and others noted, AQ’s goals are not just military; they’re political and even psychological. They’re trying to use terror and fear to goad us into overreacting to any attacks they pull off. Bin Ladin, et. al., want a “clash of civilizations” (another good book, here, that was badly misunderstood). Only by suckering the “far enemy” deeper into the Middle East can AQ prove to the Muslim world that the USA (and our alleged puppets, Israel and Arab governments) really is the main source of the region’s problems and not, say, underdevelopment, underinvestment, lack of democracy, oppression of women, etc., that Al Q’aeda offers no answers for at all. They hate us for what we do, sure, but they want us to do more of it to heighten the contradictions. Pretty Marxian for a bunch of theocrats.
Anyway, if you want to learn more, there has been an endless stream of books and articles on the Islamist threat since 9/11. Probably the most famous book on Al Qaeda itself is written in 2006. I think it won the Pulitzer prize. Another one I liked is The Next Attack, which is all about preventing it. For a short primer on how to deal with radical Islam as a political force in the long-term, try The Future of Political Islam, by a (still current?) UCSD professor. “They” are not all the same at all, and we have to be able to distinguish real enemies from the other people in the region who just don’t like us that Chris kept mentioning. Chris: Your thoughts? Other books or articles? I’ll read them.
Separately, I promised someone in post-meeting chit-chat to link the another book, Planet of Slums, about the vast growth expected in the horrible, ungovernable mega-slums of the third world (inc., BTW, Mexico). A perfect stocking stuffer.
Lastly, I promised links on how Israel handles airport security without crotch-groping grandma like the TSA. I’ll get to that later.