Five weeks have passed since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and from what we have learned in that time I think it's fair to pronounce the attacks a near-total failure.
True, they caused unprecedented death and devastation. But the attacks were not, really, about death and devastation. They were about terror, which is why those who perpetrated them are called terrorists.
The goal, as now seems clear, was to provoke a frightened and inflamed United States to lash out indiscriminately, create a split between the Islamic world and the West and to deliver some existing regimes — chiefly in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Algeria — into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. At the same time, the U.S. would collapse under domestic fear and quickly sue for peace, abandoning Israel and offering a complete withdrawal of its influence from North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia as the price it would pay to prevent similar attacks from happening again.
It seems pretty clear that this was the terrorists' plan, and when measured against these objectives, it is also clear that this plan failed. Understanding why the terrorists ultimately failed means understanding the true nature of the United States’ core strength.
The plot failed in part because of the immediate response by the government to quickly ground flights — most likely preventing additional hijackings — and by the passengers of United Airlines flight 93 who bravely overtook the hijackers and probably saved the Capitol and/or the White House from destruction.
It failed more fundamentally because the U.S. did not react the way that Usama bin Laden's followers expected. Having apparently watched the Denzel Washington movie The Siege — a film that depicted mass hysteria incited by Islamic terrorist attacks in New York — one too many times, bin Laden's men overestimated the likelihood that the U.S. would panic and overreact. They also learned the wrong lesson from previous cases when a few casualties caused the U.S. to withdraw from foreign commitments; hitting Americans on American soil isn't the same thing.
But most significantly, the terrorists misjudged the reaction of American women. In the past, American women have been far more reluctant to see the nation go to war than men. But this time, American women seem to be, if anything, more bellicose than the men.
Part of this hawkish reaction by American women stems from the attack being on American soil, killing civilians, parents, children, and spouses. But part of it also stems from the fact that these attackers represent a culture that brutally oppresses women. When I remarked to a friend that my Web site was generating more bellicose e-mail on the war from women than from men, he compared their reaction to what could be the expected response of African Americans if the U.S. had gone to war against apartheid South Africa.
I think he's onto something. Media targeted at women seem to be bearing this theory out: The most recent issue of the Star tabloid features a special 12-page section on the war emphasizing the role of women in combat from the Gulf War, to women serving today on aircraft carriers. There is a feature on the "defiantly lipstick-wearing" female anti-Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan and a sidebar on 17-year-old British female sailor Jodie Jones of HMS Illustrious who declares, "I'm ready for action!" A profile of a female three-star general concludes, "as the nation launches an all-out counterattack on Usama bin Laden and his evil henchmen, we couldn't be in better hands."
In America and Europe, the emotional and political tone is largely set by middle-class married women. These women — who never much thought about the Taliban and Islamic regimes — are thinking about them now, and they don't like them. American and European women are likely to be far more supportive of military action against the misogynist regimes of radical Islamic states than of other kinds of military action. They're also likely, even after the war, to keep pushing for female emancipation throughout the Islamic world.
The liberation of Islamic women is the thing, I think, that bin Laden and his ilk fear the most. But as a majority of voters in the world's richest and most powerful countries, American and European women are likely to eventually get what they want.
It may take a couple of decades, but a direct consequence of the Sept. 11 atrocities may be the liberation of women throughout the Islamic world. For bin Laden, the Taliban and their supporters and followers, that would be a failure. A colossal failure.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee College of Law, and writes for the InstaPundit.Com.
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