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The death of a theory

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POSTED: January 20, 2010 10:13 a.m.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab couldn’t ignite the bomb in his underwear on Flight 253 on Christmas Day. All he managed to blow up was a worldview.
His failed attempt put paid to the notion that terrorism is the byproduct of a few, specific U.S. policies and of our image abroad. This view dominates the left and animates the Obama administration. It informs its drive to shutter Guantanamo Bay, to get out of Iraq and to cater to “international opinion.” If we are only nice and likable enough, goes the theory, the Abdulmutallabs of the world will never be tempted to violent mayhem.
Only the young Nigerian didn’t appear the least bit moved by President Barack Obama’s commitment to close Gitmo in a year. He didn’t seem to care that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will get a civilian trial in New York. He didn’t appear to be fazed at all by Obama’s Cairo and U.N. speeches, or a year’s worth of international goodwill. He just wanted to destroy an airliner.
It shouldn’t be hard to fathom why. Abdulmutallab was in the grip of a violent ideology with an existential hatred of the United States at its core, an ideology promoted by a global terrorist conspiracy under the loose rubric of al-Qaida. This is the essential fact that the left tends to minimize or deny.
Obama called Abdulmutallab an “isolated extremist” in his initial statement on the incident, and left the same impression about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the terrorist of Fort Hood. How coincidental that we are beset by isolated extremists believing the same things and inspired by the same people — in the cases of Abdulmutallab and Hasan, the radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
A totalist rejection of the United States, this ideology will never lack for particular reasons to hate us. For years, we were told that the Iraq War was al-Qaida’s best recruiting tool. Now, new recruiting tools are at hand. Hasan reportedly was disappointed that Obama stayed in Afghanistan. In taking responsibility for Abdulmutallab’s attempted attack, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed it was in retaliation for a U.S.-sponsored strike against its leadership in Yemen.
If we pull our troops from Afghanistan, they’ll object to our missile strikes in Pakistan. If we stop the missile strikes, they’ll object to our training of foreign militaries. If we stop that, they’ll object that we have the temerity to maintain a blue-water navy. Nothing short of suicidal abdication will suffice.
The other great reputed recruiting tool was Gitmo. But what’s worse — holding terrorists in a facility condemned by the world’s scolds, or releasing them to re-invigorate al-Qaida’s franchise operations? The Wall Street Journal says 11 Gitmo returnees have joined the ranks of Yemeni militant groups, making the detention facility AQAP’s farm team.
The administration is loath to admit that vacating Gitmo has itself proven a powerful tool for the terrorists. It can’t give up its operating theory of terrorism, no matter how tattered. Instead of designating Abdulmutallab an enemy combatant and interrogating him, we have granted him all the protections our justice system provides a civil defendant. Whatever comes of this foolish act of generosity, we can be sure that the next Abdulmutallab will be singularly unimpressed.

Lowry is editor of the National Review.
 

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