In last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Kimberley Strassel published a truly fascinating interview with President Bush. Oddly, his most revealing remark on the war came not in a discussion of Iraq, but when he spoke about his (excellent) commitment to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa.
He said, “freedom includes freedom from disease, because (terrorists) can exploit hopelessness, and that’s the only thing they can exploit.”
At which point one can only throw one’s hands in the air and sigh. Because this means he doesn’t understand terrorism. At all. Terrorists aren’t recruited because they feel hopeless. Quite the contrary; they feel inspired, galvanized, heroic and saintly. They are revolutionaries, they are seeking to change the world, and their actions are not one last desperate throw of the dice. Theirs are acts of hope and optimism, certainly not of despair. They think they’re part of a victorious army, not isolated individuals crushed by misery.
I think once upon a time he knew this, back when he talked about evil. But it seems that, over the years, he listened to too many social science types, too many vulgar marxists, who fed him the silly slogan that to defeat terrorism you have to eliminate the “root causes,” which, according to many of the advocates of the conventional wisdom, are poverty and Israel.
I wish someone would shake him gently, and say, “but those men who came to kill us here on 9/11 were well off, they came from good families, they were upwardly mobile, and if there is a single word that totally misdescribes them, that word is ‘hopeless’.” And then say “Remember Osama bin Laden, the scion of one of the richest families on the planet?”
I suppose here or there you can find a dead broke terrorist whose recruiters played on his sense of hopelessness, but that’s the exception that proves the rule. The terrorists exploit other things, from religious fanaticism to hatred of the West to personal, ethnic, national and regional shame.
I think that single sentence tells us a lot. Alas.