National Review Defends Al Qaeda

September 22, 2008

Lisa Schiffren thinks we are all too quick to buy the official line on the hotel bombing in Pakistan:

The truck bombing at the Islamabad Marriot which has killed at least 60 people, and is said to have been targeted against senior CIA officials visiting the Pakistani capital, has been universally attributed to Al Qaeda. That is entirely possible, and even likely. But this is a good time to maintain skepticism. We — the U.S. — are neck deep in a conflict with a significant, powerful rogue element of the Pakistani state: their military intelligence unit — ISI (InterServices Intelligence). ISI has spent much of the past seven years playing the U.S. off against the Taliban/Al Qaeda factions in Afghanistan, with which it has an incestuous relationship.

The underlying premise – that the ISI plays the U.S. and militant groups within Pakistan off each other – is uncontroversial. And a healthy dose of skepticism is always good. The problem with her conspiracy theory isn’t that it’s too paranoid, but rather that it doesn’t make any sense. Not only is there no good reason for us to suspect the ISI of the bombing, there is actually pretty good reason for the ISI to suspect us.

Pakistanis, in my limited experience, do not enjoy having bombs go off in their cities. When bombs do go off in their cities, this hurts the approval ratings of the ostensive perpetrators. In the war for the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people, this has been a pretty bad week for Al Qaeda, and thus a pretty good one for the United States. And while Al Qaeda is very much in the business of doing things that hurt their popularity, the ISI is more or less a rational agent – if they’re bombing hotels in Islamabad, it’s to help us, not Al Qaeda.

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