War in Iraq, Threat of ‘Islamic Terrorists’ Based on Uncertainties


We looked down this morning…just to make sure.

Recently, readers have been writing to complain about our views on Iraq. They’ve accused us of being a coward…of being a sissy…of lacking cojones, in other words.
We had to look. And sure enough…nothing had changed.

And then we wondered – what is the connection? Do blockhead world-improvers have bigger cojones than other people?

Since writing a note in the DR last week, here is an example of the sort of letter we’ve been getting:

“I value your insights into the markets, the economy and investments tremendously. Since becoming a reader of The Daily Reckoning, my portfolio is way up. However, I have just a few points to add to your liberal slant on all things non-financial. You say that the radical Islamists are impotent because they don’t have governments and standing armies? Did a government or standing army kill 3,000 plus people at the World Trade Center? Did a government or a standing army give the strategy, training, explosives and determination to kill 300 people in the Madrid train bombings? And don’t forget the Indonesian nightclub bombing. And by the way, if the 9/11 attacks were a criminal matter, could your ‘cops’ have gone after the Islamic brass in Afghanistan? And, sir, if you haven’t learned it yet, the threat of retaliation is not a reason not to attack your enemies. Particularly when they have already stated that their goal is your death, and that they are working on the means to accomplish their goals. So send your brandy-swilling friends out for a walk and grow some cojones!”

We never thought of our point of view as ‘liberal’. But the liberals attack us as a ‘conservative’, so we’re happy to annoy them both – liberals and ‘conservatives’ …republicans and democrats. We are truly impartial; we love them all.

If you tried to apply a kind of ‘pure logic’ – admittedly impossible – to the matter, where would it take you? Our critics maintain that some criminals are special. They are so dangerous, so potent, such a threat to life and limb, that the cops can’t deal with them. They must be pursued by the army (and any man who says otherwise isn’t a real man!).

Of course, to the average American, the current threat posed by the ‘Islamic terrorists’ is vanishingly small. Every day, more or less, someone is murdered in Baltimore. As far as we know, no one has ever been killed by ‘Islamic terrorists’. Not a single one in the last 350 years. Logically, murder by a homeland Christian (just guessing) is a much larger threat. But there is no great demand for intervention by the troops from nearby Fort Meade.

“This threat is different,” say the cojones crowd. True, it is. But in order to justify a ‘war’ – such as the war in Iraq – they must also believe in a series of abstractions, theories, metaphors and guesswork:

– That there really is an organised group of ‘Islamic terrorists’
– That the group is growing and becoming more effective
– That it will continue to grow
– That it will pose a real danger sometime in the future
– That these terrorists really have it in for Americans
– That they will get powerful weapons and learn to use them
– That international police organisations cannot stop them
– That military intervention can stop them
– That we (or someone) knows what kind of intervention will be effective
– That the effect of military intervention will not be negative
– That collateral damage and unanticipated consequences will not outweigh the benefits
– That there will not be a backlash that actually aids the terrorists
– That we can afford the intervention; that it’s worth it
– That we Americans are behind intervention (a consideration for true democrats)
– That God himself is on our side (a consideration for religious people)

And so on…and so on…

The odds that any of these things are correct are unknowable. Some are probably more or less true…some are probably more or less untrue. Logic requires that the individual odds be toted up…some added…some multiplied…in order to yield the likelihood that the whole list is correct. We don’t know, but our guess is that an unemotional logician – with cojones or not – would come to the same conclusion as Maggie Thatcher. War always has consequences you can’t foresee. In this one, there were too many ‘uncertainties’, she said.

No one ever accused Ms. Thatcher of lacking cojones.

“Cojones have nothing to do with it,” says the logical mind. But cojones have everything to do with it, is our guess. The actual odds that military intervention will make the world a better place are probably very small. In any case, they are certainly unknowable. So, the rational person would probably not want to use military force – killing thousands of innocent people…putting millions in danger…spending billions of dollars – except when he had to…

…or when he wanted to.

Critics of the war in Iraq don’t give cojones their due. Critics imagine that the war crowd has made a mistake. They try to argue with them…to meet their foes with reason…and with reasons. What a waste of time. They need to step back and look at the people they’re arguing with; look at all of us.

We have brains. But we have cojones too. Occasionally, we use our brains…and occasionally we howl at the moon.

Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning Australia

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail The Daily Reckoning.
Bill Bonner

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  1. Err.. whats this business all about?

    “As far as we know, no one has ever been killed by ‘Islamic terrorists’”

    I kind of agree with your ideas about the chances of success of military interventions against terrorism, but I find it hard to ignore two towers in New York crashing down because airplanes loaded with fuel slammed into them. Must be those fanatical Presbyterians.

  2. Bill

    Most of us are aware that there is a clear nexus between the ongoing Middle East crises and world financial markets. A good money manager needs to monitor the Middle East. I agree with much of your Middle East analysis. Sometimes I try to add to it.

    You are however on a hiding to nothing because the majority of Americans can’t even locate Iraq on a map don’t have any understanding of the complexities. None of them realise that the same sort of cr#p has been going on in this region for at least 4000 years, long before the emergence of current world religions.

    In any case its financial news, worthy of frank debate, because Greenspan put it there the other night!

    I am more than happy to take any of the detractors on. My understanding of the facts is as follows:

    1. Saddam had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

    2. There were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq.

    3. Perhaps a MILLION Iraqi civilians have died directly or indirectly as a result of UN sanctions, the war, the insurgency /rebellion /occupation. This gives cause to Arab grievances!

    4. There are currently a group of A###E W#PE yanks who are suing the AWB for paying bribes to Saddam to enable starving civilians (mainly children, the old and the infirm) to be fed. This process of bribery, while dishonourable, was in any case a CIA strategy aimed at buying out Saddam’s officials and generals in the event of a conflict – which they did! Stuff their myopic law suit!

    5. The military venture into Iraq severely compromised the war efforts in Afghanistan. Because of this there is now a resurgent Taliban and a related destabilisation process occurring in Pakistan.

    6. Rumsfeld and other neocons funded and resourced Saddam and the Taliban in the first place! I didn’t and neither did you.

    7. American culture fails appreciate the shades of grey. As a result, foreign policy is generally half baked and counter productive.

    8. The US aid effort in Iraq continues to be marred by massive institutional corruption including favouritism to those associated with the US Administration.

    9. Yes there are terrorists – but they are relatively few in number. And confiscating tooth paste at airports won’t stop them anyway.

    10. Yes I am very worried about Iran but war is not the answer. In any case I understand that they already have a few tactical warheads (probably 4) purchased from mafia sources in a former Soviet republic during the early 90’s. I hope I’m wrong.

    11. Iran does indeed have an energy crisis. They don’t even refine enough oil to run their cars.

    12. US Administrations gave further cause to the radicals in Iran by snubbing reconciliation approaches by the moderate Khatami government between 1997 and 2001.

    13. As Alan Greenspan says, Iraq was all about oil.

    14. All of this is old news – so why can’t I buy a plug-in hybrid? The boot dragging associated with finding alternatives to oil is astounding in the circumstances. We should have been there 20 years ago – except that would, in my view, have compromised big oil interests.

    Happy to be corrected on any of these facts and interpretations.

    Coffee Addict
    September 18, 2007
  3. Jono, I think he was referring to deaths in Baltimore, not in general.

  4. Cajones? The following letter to the editor was published in a major Australian newspaper less than 2 weeks after 9/11


    Rwandan terrorists murdered 100 times the number of people than died in the U.S. attacks. I do not recall the U.S. taking any military action against the perpetrators at that time. Terrorists in East Timor destroyed not two-and-a-bit buildings but 80% of everything in the entire country. Did the U.S. declare war on Indonesia?

    It seems the U.S. is concerned with protecting the world against terrorism only when the U.S. itself is threatened.

    Any rational human abhors terrorism, but civilized people fight evil with goodness. It is worth noting that Rwandan and East Timorese villagers are accepting many of their terrorists back into the community. Xanana Gusmao even went to the border to personally embrace returning militiamen.

    So it seems that not only are humble Rwandan and East Timorese villagers more civilized and Christian than Americans, but their statesmen are actually worthy of the title.

    It is time to tell the politicians that you oppose Australian involvement in mindless vengeance. Gandhi once said something like “eye for an eye, and the whole world would be blind”.

    Please don’t lose sight of what is important in this world. Civilization depends upon it.

  5. Good points Addict.

    I would like to suggest that Iraq might also be about syphoning large amounts of American money into international firms and privatized militias, Haliburton and Blackwater to name a couple.

    Perhaps those at the helm saw the economy’s legs giving way due to failed fiscal policy, and decided to get out as much as they could on the way down.


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