Monday, March 22, 2004

Killing terrorist leaders and popular opinion 

Sheik Ahmed Yassin, considered by some to be the spiritual leader of Hamas, died today in an Israeli missile strike. His followers vowed revenge. The stock market fell, and analysts attributed the negative price action to fears that the Sheik's death would increase the likelihood of retaliatory terrorist attacks.

It seems fair to say that the Sheik's death made investors feel anxious, rather than safe. While it's not a perfect analogy, I wonder if this reaction challenges the conventional wisdom that Osama's capture/death will help Bush's reelection chances. Killing Osama gives Islamic fundamentalists a martyr to rally behind, and may well attract more recruits to Al Qaeda and other organizations, possibly making us less safe on the balance. While I'm sure that neutralizing Osama will give Bush an initial boost of popularity, will that wear off when people realize that killing or capturing one man is largely a symbolic victory?
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