But neocon strategy has always required the simplistic conflation of disparate phenomena, and the exploitation of public ignorance and fear, in the execution of policy. Who are they, after all? The invasion of Iraq required the Big Lie that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9-11. The earlier invasion of Afghanistan required the clever sleight-of-hand by which the mainly Saudi Arab but international al-Qaeda was equated with the purely Afghan Taliban. “We don’t distinguish between terrorists and the governments that support them,” Bush declared.
This was almost a boast that the U.S. would be boldly ignorant as a matter of public policy, and a warning to the empirical rationalists of the world that the White House was in the grip of truly simplistic minds and would indeed shamelessly exploit popular Islamophobia as they pleased even as they made elaborate public gestures in support of religious tolerance. (The calculated message was: Be scared, world, because we’ve got cowboys in power, and hell, we can get kinda crazy when we’re pissed!)The fact is, there was and is a difference between al-Qaeda, an international jihadist organization that wants to reestablish a global Caliphate and confront the U.S., and the Taliban, which wanted to stabilize Afghanistan under a harsh interpretation of the Sharia but maintain a working relationship with the U.S.