Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Woolsey's wool / our eyes

Did anyone else find it strange that former CIA director James Woolsey used the word "totalitarians" to describe al Qaeda on last Friday's installment of Real Time with Bill Maher?

Don't you need some sort of massive state apparatus behind you to qualify as a "totalitarian"? Wouldn't a "totalitarian" organization or government be relatively easy to locate? (It would presumably have to be fairly massive and immobile to enforce its ideology.)

The assumption that al Qaeda was and is such an entity is, as George Paine argues today at, one of the major miscalculations of the Bush administration. Al Qaeda is not a totalitarian organization, it is a "non state actor." That is, the goal is the same (followers of Hitler and followers of bin Laden both want the same thing: "to take over the world," as cartoon villains put it), but the means for accomplishing that goal are very, very different. Mistaking "non state actors" for "totalitarians," we've gotten bogged down in precisely the war that al Qaeda wanted us to fight; it's one that will misuse and sap our resources, inflame and motivate our enemies, and finally threaten to exhaust us as a nation.

As Paine puts it at the end of his piece:

"These are gigantic miscalculations in the War on Terror. They are the greatest mistakes that could have been made. They are fundamental misunderstandings of the problem America faces. The actions and assumptions taken by the Bush Administration were exactly wrong. [...] The Bush Administration shows no sign of learning. We have six days until we learn whether the American people have learned. Think before you vote."

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