Consider Anwar al-Awlaki: Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post describing what the establishment thought of Awlaki ten years ago:
In November, 2001, the very same Washington Post hosted one of those benign, non-controversial online chats about religion that it likes to organize; this one was intended to discuss “the meaning of Ramadan”. It was hosted by none other than … “Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki.”
More extraordinary than the fact that the Post hosted The New Osama bin Laden in such a banal role a mere ten years ago was what Imam Awlaki said during the Q-and-A exchange with readers. He repudiated the 9/11 attackers. He denounced the Taliban for putting women in burqas, explaining that the practice has no precedent in Islam and that “education is mandatory on every Muslim male and female.” He chatted about the “inter-faith services held in our mosque and around the greater DC area and in all over the country” and proclaimed: “We definitely need more mutual understanding.” While explaining his opposition to the war in Afghanistan, he proudly invoked what he thought (mistakenly, as it turns out) was his right of free speech as an American: “Even though this is a dissenting view nowadays[,] as an American I do have the right to have a contrary opinion.” And he announced that “the greatest sin in Islam after associating other gods besides Allah is killing an innocent soul.”
So what happened? When exactly did Awlaki become “The Next bin Laden”? Al-Jazeera has an interview with him where he explains exactly what happened:
I have been seeing my brothers being killed in Palestine for more than 60 years, and others being killed in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And in my tribe too, US missiles have killed 17 women and 23 children, so do not ask me if al-Qaeda has killed or blown up a US civil jet after all this. The 300 Americans are nothing comparing to the thousands of Muslims who have been killed.
The “collateral damage” that we ignore creates the very entities that we’re fighting. Every time we drop a bomb on a child, that child’s mother, father, brothers, sisters, friends and extended family come to hate us just a little more. There is only so far you can push a person before they (justly or not) snap and resort to violence.
There was a point where I naively thought that this was by mistake, that Government officials couldn’t possibly understand the consequences of their policy. With the information that Al-Qaeda is on the verge of collapse, however, and the knowledge that the military spending is at least 5% of our GDP, the military industrial complex is a powerful political entity, and that George Bush, our former president is quoted as saying ”The best way to revitalize the economy is war, and the U.S. has grown stronger with war,” I am led to the conclusion that what we call “collateral damage” is just a tool to create more imaginary villains for us to spend money fighting.