We said some time ago that the War on Terror would be more accurately called the war against conspiracy theories. And we have occasionally pointed out how conspiracy-theoretic thinking is becoming common in the mainstream of political debate.
Things are still getting worse. According to a recent opinion poll,
More than a third of the American public suspects that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East
Note the characteristic conspiracy-theoretic allegation that powerful malevolent people are acting ostensibly with one agenda (protecting Americans from harm) that has popular support, while secretly pursuing a different and incompatible agenda that does not have popular support (because it involves mass-murdering Americans). And hence that the people who support the current policies because of their ostensible purpose (such as ourselves) are dupes.
In a structurally similar conspiracy theory regarding Israel, the Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks – a Pentagon correspondent, no less – has claimed that during the recent fighting in Lebanon, Israel purposely left Hezbollah missile launchers intact, so that they would be used to murder Israelis and hence provide public-relations justification for Israel's incursions into Lebanon, whose ostensible purpose was to prevent precisely such murders.
Those two conspiracy theories share a degree of detachment from reality that is so extreme that if it occured outside the political arena it would uncontroversially count as insanity. And yet they enjoy mainstream acceptance, and respect even from many who do not (yet) share them. But there is worse: these delusions are not random. They are focused – on evil – in a manner, and to a degree, not condoned in the West since the 1930s.
By this measure, the war is being lost. We can only repeat the call we made before: Persuade them. Persuade them because in the long run, if you fail to persuade them, they will kill you.