It seems obvious that the terrorists want us out of Iraq--in physical, financial and cultural terms--and out of the Middle East in general. The World Trade Center, after all, was one of the most potent symbols imaginable of Western financial world domination. But there's a difference between what the terrorists want, and what they say they want. There's also a distinction to be made between terrorists such as Al Queda (who happen to be right wing Muslims), and Muslims who draw the line at acts of violence against civilians. There are also the secularists to be considered. The reason groups like Al Queda appeal to these other factions is that they claim to be freedom fighters working to expel a hostile foreign invader.
But in fact the last thing the terrorists want is for us to pull out of Iraq. For one thing, they've gained immense prestige by our invading Iraq. In the case of al Qaeda, what was previously a despised and marginalized band of creeps has now become a central player on the world stage. Their Fanaticism requires a suitable enemy, and I'm sure our actions have aided their recruitment drive immeasurably.
So what do the terrorists really want? Well, we've already started implementing their agenda, both in Iraq, and even--most unbelievably--in our own country: torture, illegal detention and rendition, illegal wiretaps, increased use of surveillance, assaults on freedom of the press. The goals of the religious right are the same universally, be it the Muslim, Christian or Jewish variety. It's no accident that what benefits Al Queda also benefits the Republican party, as well as the hard-liners in Israel. They all need this war to survive.
President Bush says that the terrorists are not enemy combatants, and there was a point when he was right. They were just despicable criminals until he elevated them to mythic "enemy" status by treating them with the respect of declaring war on them. A lot has been said of how Clinton was soft on terrorism, but, excuse me, weren't the bombers in the 1993 plot to blow up the Trade Center successfully apprehended, prosecuted, and put behind bars? Clinton didn't blow his top like Bush and start attacking everybody.
While it's an understandable human response to want to kill the people who seem to threaten our American way of life, it's essential to that very way of life to set a moral example in following the rule of law; to do otherwise justifies the terrorists in their actions by making us just like them. Israel's response to Hezbollah's act of provocation, to cite another example, is just what Hezbollah wants. Groups such as Hezbollah and Al Queda can't survive in a climate of openness and freedom--and neither can the religious right in our country or in Israel. Liberalism is immeasurably stronger than blind fear and hatred and superstition, and it inevitably wins--by persuasion rather than violence--in a truly free market of ideas.
Now, I know what you're going to say: the terrorists have lots of fire power, and the more liberal elements of the middle east are going to have a hell of a time trying to control them without our help. While that's true, it's also true that it's our country that has fostered this explosive situation in the first place by propping up dictators such as Saddam Hussein, the Shah of Iran, and the royal family of Saudi Arabia. We've made a mess of things, and it would certainly create a bad situation were we to pull out of Iraq and the Middle East at this point. The only thing worse would be to stay there.