Successful groups, whether they are Al-Qaeda or the Founding Fathers of the United States, tend to start out with brilliant people who have clear objectives. Those brilliant people attract other smart people by the power of their arguments.
But as an organization grows, you rapidly run out of bright people. The average IQ of any organization starts dropping, and before long, the power of identifying with a group overwhelms the power of reason.
Take Republicans and Democrats for example. Most members vote along party lines no matter who the candidate is or what that candidate does while in office. While there are plenty of bright, independent thinkers in both groups, the majority would vote for a sea monkey if it got the party nomination.
Consider religion. I’ve made this point many times, but it is necessary context for this discussion. At most, only one religion can be “right” because religions are mutually exclusive. It can’t be true that a Christian goes to heaven while at the same time he burns in Hell (according to Muslims). It can’t be true that we only have this life, as Jews believe, if it’s true that people reincarnate. There can’t be new prophets such as Joseph Smith if Mohammed was, as Muslims believe, the last prophet. So no matter who is right about the “big picture,” if indeed anyone is right, we can all agree that at least 75% of the world would serve their souls just as well as in their current schemes if they started praying to Sponge Bob Square Pants.
As soon as you tell me “Carl joined a group,” I can tell you Carl is no longer as rational as he used to be. His judgment will start to conform to the group’s judgment, and the group’s judgment will be based on some ever-drifting sense of values that lost its rational connecting tissue long ago.
This gets us to the question of whether changing the foreign policy of the United States (or Israel) would end terrorism. If Al-Qaeda is like every other organization on Earth, it is irrational. That means it is relatively immune to reason, just like Republicans and Democrats and Methodists and Jews. If the U.S. stopped support for Israel and withdrew all troops from the Middle East, would it be good enough for Al-Qaeda? No. America would still support the Saudi government by buying their oil. Private citizens would still send financial support to Israel. Our intelligence services would still share intelligence with Israel. There is no practical way for the U.S. to get off the target list simply by changing its foreign policy.
The government of the United States is the quintessential example of an irrational organization. No matter what your political leanings, you can find mounds of examples where the government was – in your own irrational opinion – being irrational and working against its own best interests. If you think Al-Qaeda can act rationally, you are holding it to a higher standard than the U.S. government.
So what makes us think terrorists are more rational than any other organization? I believe Al-Qaeda is adrift, their ranks filling with an ever-growing influx of irrational bearded guys who like to blow shit up. If you believe they would take the U.S. off the target list because Al-Qaeda achieved 75% of its goals (say we stopped supporting Israel so much and withdrew our military from the region) then you have no understanding of how groups “think.”
I knew a guy who worked privately as “muscle” to get rid of stalkers for women who could afford his services. He was an expert on stalker mentality. His view, based on years of experience, is that you can’t make a stalker give up stalking. The best you can do is encourage him to stalk someone new. His job was to make it so dangerous to stalk his client that the stalker would move on to a new and more accessible victim.
We have the same stalker mentality situation with Al-Qaeda. Our best bet is to divert their focus to more accessible targets, just as the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan shifted their focus to us. Ironically, the civil war in Iraq might have accidentally accomplished through irrational means what good foreign policy could not. Al-Qaeda is using far more resources fighting other Muslims than fighting the U.S.
I don’t buy into the bumper sticker thinking that we’re fighting them over there so they won’t follow us home. But it’s entirely possible that a civil war in Iraq is the best way to divert the stalker, even at the expense of recruiting new terrorists. Over time, Al-Qaeda’s mission will drift to become whatever it is that most of its people are spending most of their time doing. And that could be fighting other Muslims.
Good foreign policy is overrated.