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Their greatest ally

Ever since the War on Terror began, I have been haunted by a passage from Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry. The novel's protagonist/narrator, Henry Smart, is a participant in the Easter Rising and the subsequent insurgency against British rule in Ireland. Fiction though it is, I think it offers tremendous insight into the psychology of a terrorist war, and especially how the occupier plays into the hands of the terrorist:

And the British would hit back; they'd over-react. They always did. Over the next four years, they never let us down. It wasn't that they made bad judgements, got the mood of the country wrong: They never judged at all. They never considered the mood of the country worth judging. They made rebels of thousands of quiet people who'd never thought beyond their garden gates. They were always our greatest ally; we could never have done it without them.
( Doyle, A Star Called Henry (1999), 187-88. )

Through our arrogance and the ineptitude born of it, we have been the unwitting allies of al Qaeda. We have gone from liberators to oppressors in a handful of months. Instead of mopping up the loyalists to a hated military dictatorship, we have antagonized a charismatic religious leader with a private army. Every time we bombard a mosque or herd innocent people into jail -- whether or not these actions can be justified tactically -- we make new enemies. And of course, with the Abu Ghraib debacle, we have handed Islamic extremists probably the greatest recruiting tool they've ever had.

The goal of terrorists is not to defeat you militarily (they know they cannot win an open fight), and it is probably not even to force a change of policy by violence (because terrorist attacks tend to galvanize rather than weaken the resolve of the attacked). They seek to pull you down with them, to make you act as bad as they say you are. And we are doing exactly that in Iraq. We have squandered our credibility and abandoned whatever moral high ground we might have claimed at the outset. What's more, we've done it all by ourselves.

(Some links found via Talking Points Memo)