America was targeted for attack because...
Harper writes, "The goal of al-Qaida is to re-establish the caliphate across the entire Islamic world"
Yes and specific American foreign polices prevent bin Laden from doing so. THAT is why we are targeted, NOT "because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world."
It is the interference of specific US foreign policies in the Middle East that motivates them, NOT the fact we are sitting here in America enjoying our freedoms and they can't stand it. The specific US foreign policies are seen, correctly, as blocking their attempts at self determination and wronging them, which they do. When al-qeada recruits they ask Muslims if they are upset about specific US foreign policies , they DON'T ask, "do you hate America being so free over there?" It is the wrongs against them that MOTIVATE the terrorists.
By the way, responding to the wrongs is the driving force behind al-Qeada. The grievances are shared by many, many people. Those very frustrated with being wronged resort to joining al-qeada since it is in their eyes their only champion. The only resistance they see as an option. It is the shared grievances the motivates the terrorists, individuals who may not even want the specific vision of fundamentalism that bin Laden calls for. But they can see they are being wronged and they are motivated to fight back.
you wrote, "If the question is, "Why did they attack?", the answer is simply, "In order to kill as many of us as they could." The only agenda here is to kill Americans. Unless I've missed something, this is in fact exactly what al-Qaeda says. (It's certainly what they say in the February 1998 fatwa.) I see no reason to believe they're lying. "
I have to inform you that you have been manipulated. Pundits and politicians want you to miss osmething and take way the impression that you have. These people have taken a key sentence from the 1998 fatwa and suppressed half of it in order to create the false impression you expressed. I explain in detail here showing how it is done: 9/11 Intelligence Report, basically when Tenet and others quote the key sentence, they only quote half of it and leave off the part that states the motives. Here it is (the part in black is often quoted, the part in red is often suppressed):
"The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim."
Al-qeada does not attack to "simply kill Americans", the policy goals are the motive and still are the motive. Pundits and politicians deceive the public in order to serve special interests who don't want the specific foreign policies to be examined or changed. It is a very ugly thing to do to the American people to deceive them about why they are targeted but pundits and politicians don't have any scruples.
You wrote, "Thanks for drawing my attention to the line in the 1998 fatwa that I overlooked. I'll contemplate that, but I'm still not convinced that this is really just about getting the American military out of Arabia."
No it isn't only about the US military in Arabia, even the key sentence I quoted doesn't restict itself just to that. Please note that the first thing mentioned is "to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque" which is in Jerusalem. Soon after 9/11, ABC's Chris Bury managed to report correctly, "The US support of Israel tops the list of objections to American foreign policy. Indeed, some of the political grievances outlined by radicals, including Osama bin Laden, are shared even by a mainstream public that detests his murderous methods. In this view the US is not hated for the freedoms we enjoy, as the President suggested, but instead is seen as being hypocritical about them."
"because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world" is NOT a "shorter, simpler version" of the 9/11 motives, it is a lie. It is a crude and ridiculous lie that robs the people of the right to know the truth and to exercise their political rights to challenge policies that endanger their lives. It is one of the lowest and nastiest things a politician could do to those he supposedly represents. It is a grotesque violation of the public's rights. To lie to the American people about why their lives are in harm's way and to fool them into thinking that policy changes can't make them less of a target is disgusting. The lie serves special interests who don't want the policies changed, special interests that clearly don't give a damn about the American people.