"In a September 2007 video, al-Qaeda's third-highest leader, Sheikh Abu Yahya al-Libi, published a strategy, largely based on al-Qaeda errors in Iraq, showing how the West can fight and win its "war of ideas." Why would he do this? That is unclear. Al-Libi may have believed that the United States lags so far behind the global jihadist movement that al-Qaeda has little to fear.6 In any event, his six-part strategy for the West focuses almost exclusively on countering al-Qaeda's narrative:
- Amplify cases of ex-jihadis who have renounced armed action;
- Fabricate stories about jihadi mistakes and exaggerate actual mistakes;
- Prompt Muslim clerics to issue fatwas that incriminate the jihadi movement;
- Support Islamic movements that disavow terrorist violence, particularly those with a democratic approach;
- Aggressively neutralize or discredit the jihadi movement's guiding thinkers; and
- Spin minor disagreements among jihadi leaders into major doctrinal or methodological disputes.
This actually strikes me as a pretty good list. As to why a jihadist cleric would issue this, it seems pretty simple to me. I've seen more than a few "beware of the following dirty tricks from the other side, so you're prepared" pieces among political partisans. Why not among theocrats, for whom religion is politics and vice-versa?
Back in 2004, I wrote "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mubarak?." It was about 2 things, and one of them was acceptance of reality's limits on our options. Within which, I believe American could have done some good in shaping what would eventually come. It ended as follows:
"The bottom line is simple: Egypt has to change. We have to promote effective pathways to liberty, using pressure and/or confrontation on our own timetable, all the while strengthening the real champions of liberty and weakening the poseurs and the malevolent.
It's a tall order. It won't always be satisfying. And it may take time. Fortunately, time is an option we can afford in Egypt. The only thing we can't afford, is failure."
Time was an option we could afford in Egypt. But here's the thing... eventually, it runs out. And like all seemingly stable systems with major foundational cracks (vid. also, and still, global financial system, and debt supportability above key levels like 90% of GDP), it may not take a very big shock to set the endgame in motion.
We're in motion, now, in Egypt. And if America faced limits before, those limits are sharper. The Muslim Brotherhood is still the evil organization it has always been, complete with Nazi origins, and retaining its jihadist core. But Mubarak is toast, and America must now make clear choices... if its President can manage that.
I have nothing to add to Ralph Peters' current advice. I hope my country takes it.
"One of the disturbing and little noticed events of recent weeks was the crash (or destruction) of a Boeing 727 in the desert of Mali.
The crash is disturbing for many reasons, among them these three: 1) the aircraft was carrying between 2 to 3 tons of cocaine, far more than other, smaller aircraft and boats that have been detected in recent months, indicating an escalation of the trade through the Trans-Sahel region; 2) The region where the aircraft was found, most likely torched by its crew to destroy evidence, in a area of heavy operation of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM); and 3) the aircraft departed from Venezuela, now Latin America's primary transshipment hub from Latin America to West Africa, and source of all the major air shipments of cocaine that have been interdicted in West Africa."
Unsurprising. Given the number of Cuban DGI agents in Venezuela, this is that state's future, whether Chavez eats a bullet tomorrow or not. Note, also, the incidental al-Qaeda opportunity to pick up the high value part of the pipeline moving the shipped drugs north to Europe.
While searching for something totally different online, I came across a Commentary blog post by Peter Wehner, which touts a New Yorker article by Lawrence Wright, author of the recommended book "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11." I own that book, so dropping that name definitely sent me hurrying over to read a June 2009 New Yorker article titled "The Rebellion Within."
It's a worthy read. Sems that one of al-Qaeda's most influential jihad theorists and Islamic jurists has been rethinking his positions, and is publishing a book called "Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World." Uncharacteristically, that title is meant as a criticism, not a mission statement.
Al-Qaeda's #2 (or #1, depending on who you talk to) Zawahiri had to devote a 200 page work ("The Exoneration"; formally "Treatise Exonerating the Nation of the Pen and the Sword from the Blemish of Weakness and Fatigue") to directly opposing and refuting "Dr. Fadl," which is interesting and noteworthy in and of itself.
Ultimately, in a post-proliferation world, Belmont Club's "3 conjectures" assertion that "If Islam desires the secret of the stars it must embrace the kuffar as its brother -- or die" remains fundamentally true. Is Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, aka. Dr. Fadl, someone I can ever call my friend? I'm not sure. To the extent that he represents a shift in the tectonic plates of Islamic thought, however, as the war comes home to them instead of just killing infidels of of other faiths, his writings are an important and positive development.
Johann Hari's article in The Independent, "Renouncing Islamism: To the brink and back again," is the result of his interviews with some unusual people - British Muslims who first joined violent global jihad, then very publicly abandoned and began to battle against Islamism.
Some interesting passages. This one, about the impellers that led them into violent jihad as an identity:
"As children and teenagers, the ex-jihadis felt Britain was a valueless vacuum, where they were floating free of any identity.
Ed Husain, a former leader of HT, says: "On a basic level, we didn't know who we were. People need a sense of feeling part of a group - but who was our group?".... From the right, there was the brutal nativist cry of "Go back where you came from!" But from the left, there was its mirror-image: a gooey multicultural sense that immigrants didn't want liberal democratic values and should be exempted from them. Again and again, they described how at school they were treated as "the funny foreign child", and told to "explain their customs" to the class. It patronised them into alienation.
"Nobody ever said - you're equal to us, you're one of us, and we'll hold you to the same standards," says Husain. "Nobody had the courage to stand up for liberal democracy without qualms. When people like us at [Newham] College were holding events against women and against gay people, where were our college principals and teachers, challenging us?"
Without an identity, they created their own."
Hari also talks about the effects of both foreign policy and domestic protest on their journey in and out, and it's a mixed bag. My nagging concern is that for someone like Hari, who writes from a Euston Manifesto leftist perspective, the things he takes away confirm a bit too closely to his own beliefs. That may in fact be the picture he's given - but I'd feel better if I saw a few things in these accounts that would be apt to upset him on a personal level. That comes out of Totten's reports from the Middle East, for instance, and seeing that acknowledgment from him is part of what tells me he's a (rare) reporter, instead of an advocate.
I'll throw in one more Hari excerpt:
"Just as their journeys into the jihad were strikingly similar, so were their journeys out. All of them said doubt began to seep in because they couldn't shake certain basic realities from their minds. The first and plainest was that ordinary Westerners were not the evil, Muslim-hating cardboard kaffir presented by the Wahabis. Usman, for one, finally stopped wanting to be a suicide bomber because of the kindness of an old white man.... Many of the ex-Islamists discovered they couldn't ignore the fact that whenever Islamists won a military victory, they didn't build a paradise, but hell.
At the same time, they began to balk at the mechanistic nature of Wahabism. Usman says he had become a "papier-mâché Muslim", defining his faith entirely by his actions, while being empty inside. "Wahabis are great at painting themselves [an Islamic] green on the outside, but when it comes to that internal aspect, it's not there. You pray five times a day, but why? Because God's told you to pray five times a day. You pay your charity - why? Because God's told you to pay your charity. This God of yours is telling you a lot. And why does he tell you to do that? Because if you don't do it, you'll end up in a fire. It's all based on being frightened. There's nothing to nourish you."
If this sounds a lot like the ex-communists that played such an important role in throwing the religion of 100 million skulls on the hell-heap of history, well, that isn't a coincidence. Modern Islamism borrows very strongly from 20th century totalitarianism, on a number of levels. Unsurprisingly, it shares some of its predecessor's faults, to go along with its unique characteristics and dynamics.
It was the Islamic Sufi scholar Rabi'a al-Adawiyya of Basra who called on Muslims to join her in serving Allah without fear of hell, or expectation of heaven, but out of love alone.
Still wise words to live by, for any religion.
Many don't, of course. The people Hari interviewed are being threatened, and are seen as apostates by Britain's numerous Islamists (penalty... what else? death), but some of them are also banding together to form The Quilliam Foundation, a think-tank and resource center aimed at countering Isamist radicalization at all levels of society. In its place, they do not offer watered down Islamic supremacism; based on their papers I've read, they're for real - pluralist integrationist, and admirably frank.
Their most recent work has got a fair bit of attention... "Unlocking Al-Qaeda: Islamist extremism in British prisons" says that senior Islamists continue to issue directives and guidance to jihadis from within British prisons. The Times reports that the Ministry of Justice is bureaucratically dismissive, but the report has legs, as well as friends across the political spectrum. I suspect the Ministry will find itself forced to offer more than just airy dismissals before all is said and done.
As Ed Husain notes: "Once a truth is spoken, it takes on its own life." Amidst the avalanche of misunderstanding and outright lies that continue to poison all levels of discourse about Islam and Islamism in our society, The Quilliam Foundation is a badly-needed tonic.
Let us hope it can gather to the level of a therapeutic dose...
Osama bin Laden vowed to destroy Israel.This declaration is less a statement of actual intention than an attempt to rally the Muslim world appearing sympathetic with the one cause, Palestinian-Israel issue, that inflames passions across Islamia.
The fugitive Al-Qaida leader issued an audio recording Saturday in which he came out against Palestinian and other Arab leaders who have recognized the Jewish state.
"I would like to assure our people in Palestine that we will expand our jihad there," Bin Laden said. "We intend to liberate Palestine, the whole of Palestine, from the river to the sea."
"We will not recognize even one inch for Jews in the land of Palestine as other Muslim leaders have," he said.
Al-Qaida is believed to have set up cells in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but its influence is limited given doctrinal opposition from ruling local groups like Islamist Hamas.In his message, Bin Laden also mocked Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, over the fact that the U.N. peacekeeper presence has grown in southern Lebanon since last year's war with Israel. The peacekeepers, Bin Laden said, "protect the Jews."
But I think that few Muslims will fall for bin Laden's latest attempt to play the Pally card. He's tried it before, and it just fell flat. Osama has never had the rep as a Palestinian advocate. Even Yasser Arafat ran away from bin Laden when the latter attempted to connect al Qaeda's cause with the Pallys'. Bin Laden has very little standing as champion of the Palestinians.
Furthermore, it's fairly transparent that bin Laden's tape is focused primarily on his rapidly diminishing prospects in Iraq. In the same tape, bin Laden warns the Iraqis not to join Iraq's unity govermment and says the Sunnis "have betrayed the nation and brought disgrace and shame to their people."Sunni Iraqis have been turning against al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in increasing numbers at least since 2005, resulting in accelerating losses to AQI through capture and death. Sunni areas, especially the Anbar province, were until last year the safest havens in Iraq for the predominantly-foreign al Qaeda fighters. But al Qaeda's indiscriminate killing of those who opposed its radical Islamism, including the murder of Sunni sheiks and the beheading of Sunni children, guaranteed that Sunni tribes would renounce their alliance with al Qaeda. Now, very few Sunni tribes remain friendly to al Qaeda in Iraq, and most of those who broke with AQI actively oppose it. Last August, Michael Totten reported in the NY Daily News:
I spent a week in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, which just four months ago was the most violent place in Iraq. Al Qaeda had taken over and ruled the city through a massive murder and intimidation campaign. Even the Marine Corps, arguably the least defeatist institution in America, wrote off Ramadi as irretrievably lost last August. Then, local tribal leaders and civilians joined the Americans - and helped purge the city of every last terrorist cell. Violence has dropped to near zero. I have photographs of Iraqis hugging American soldiers and of children greeting us with ecstatic joy, as though they had been rescued from Nazis. The Marines are even considering going on patrols without body armor.In fact, al Qaeda passed a "grim milestone" late this month: the 20,000th insurgent died in Iraq. Furthermore, most AQI losses have for several months been inflicted by Sunni militias who were formerly allied with AQI. The "Army of Islam" and the "1920 Revolutionary Brigades," both Sunni militias, are credited with killing more than 5,000 al Qaeda terrorists in just the last two months.
In fact, last month the Sunni Islamic Army militia asked American forces to stay away from its planned ambush of AQI fighters, which resulted in 18 AQI KIA and 16 captured.Michael Yon, who has spent more time in Iraq than any other reporter (the bulk of it on combat patrols), just posted a "News flash for Osama bin Laden" in response to bin Laden's audiotape:
I have directly observed how more and more Iraqis have grown to hate al Qaeda as much as Americans do. Al Qaeda has lost all credibility there, both from a religious standpoint as well as strategically. ...I wrote last month that AQI first started losing the logistics war in Iraq and then began just plain losing the war. Unable to prevail in Iraq, where it enjoyed enormous advantages at the outset, does Israel have reason to fear al Qaeda? I say no, although it may succeed in a handful of attacks. If it was all thast eay to defeat Israel, Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah would already have done so. Even the violence of Second Intifada (which has not actually ended) did not bring Israel to its knees but resulted in very strict security measures to keep hostiles out of Israel.
Al Qaeda terrorists can continue to murder Iraqis and Americans at the behest of Osama, but their tactics will only backfire. Osama will no more own Iraq than he will own America. His is a lost cause. Not because of decisive military defeats, (although these have helped) but because decent Iraqi people from all quarters, sects and regions of Iraq have had enough of his people cutting off heads of children.It’s understandable that this turn of events might come as news to Osama, because he cannot set foot in Iraq for fear of his life.
Don't expect hardline Hamas to ally itself with bin Laden, either. While Hamas is virulently anti-Israel, it is even more pro-Hamas. That is, Hamas seeks to destroy Israel but not at the expense of adulterating its own character or sharing the triumph with anyone else, al Qaeda included. Further, al Qaeda doesn't have a winner's rep among Palestinians. Al Qaeda has been battered in Afghanistan, where the Taliban carry the bulk of anti-coalition combat, and is clearly losing in Iraq. There is nowhere of consequence in the world where al Qaeda can claim victory.
Fatah is as equally devoted to Israel's vanquishment as Hamas, differing only in tactics. While radical Islamism in both the West Bank (Fatah/Palestinian Authority) and Gaza (Hamas) is making some gains, Islam in both lands has long been subordinated to to the political end of destroying (Hamas) or ending (Fatah) Israel as a viable Jewish state. Al Qaeda must have a widespread base of support in both places to operate effectively against Israel. But the Pallys know what Israel is capable of doing to protect itself, and do not doubt Israel's will. They are unlikely to ally themselves with al Qaeda. It would be an act of suicide.
Of greater concern to Israel, though, is the rising of Islamism in the Arab countries. In my October visit to Israel's foreign ministry, my study group met with Daniel Taub, deputy legal advisor for counterterrorism, international law, negotiations and humanitarian affairs. He said that many Arab governments are much more moderate regarding Israel, and the Israel-Palestinian issue, than their people are. Israel, he said, is very concerned about the rise of Islamism in Arab clountries, especially in Egypt and Jordan. (Egypt borders Gaza and Jordan borders the West Bank.
Yet even an increasing sympathy among the ummah with Islamist ideology does not necessarily translate into embracing al Qaeda. There are other flavors of Islamism than al Qaeda's. Saudi clerics are the most respected among Muslims because they are seen as keepers of the Two Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina. The Salafi Islam they promote is marginally less strict than Talibanism, but they have issued fatwas against al Qaeda.
Bin Laden's greatest weakness is in fact his weakness. Al Qaeda is losing worldwide, not just in Iraq. Bin Laden has a history of boasts of coming calamity for America that have never even been attempted. He has no more credibility now, promising al Qaeda will destroy Israel, than Miami Dolphins' head coach Cam Cameron would have if he promised to win the Super Bowl next month. Ain't. Gonna. Happen.
Years ago, bin Laden called America a "weak horse" and al Qaeda the strong horse. In 2003, his top commander, Abu Salma Al-Hijazi, said that "a huge and very courageous strike" would take place by Ramadan and that more than 100,000 infidels would be killed. Do you remember that attack? Neither do I.
And more importantly, neither do the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab world. Al Qaeda is the weak horse, and the Arabs know it. Israel need not fear bin Laden's bluster.
Kalashnikovs are getting dearer
Darra Adam Khel, a small town in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, 'consists of one main street lined with shops, with some alleys and sidestreets containing workshops'. Almost all the shops and the workshops are involved in the business of small, and not-so-small, arms. Officially, you need a permit to get there. Officially, you will not be issued with one.
Well, the news from Darra is that Kalashnikov prices are going up.
Ordinarily, these rifles are always in demand in the tribal areas as no self-respecting adult Pashtun tribesman dare be seen in public without one. But demand, it turns out, is shooting through the roof. Prices for new rifles has doubled, to Rs 50,000 now. Used Kalashnikovs fetch Rs 35,000. Thanks to the escalation of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, supply of second-hand rifles has petered out and while demand has taken off. Prices of complementary goods have also risen: ammunition, rocket launchers and military apparel have become more expensive.
Americans and insurgencies are good news for Darra. It was, after all, America's first war in Afghanistan helped modernise its arms industry with capital and technology.
Over at Greg Burch's blog Burchismo, grudging admiration for the clever text of the most recent bin Ladin video to surface...
ONE SMART S.O.B.
I've got to hand it to bin Laden. He really is one smart son of a bitch. I just read the transcript of his latest video. I strongly recommend it. He and his close advisers have been studying the West closely. This message is carefully crafted to plug into some very powerful currents in the left -- he uses Islamic rhetoric to push the basic Marxian buttons that lie beneath the ideology of the left in a very deft way. And then he turns and pushes Christian religious buttons. All the while, he plays the parallels to Vietnam, takes a side shot at race-guilt and even gets in a solid reference to the current credit melt-down in Western economies. Brilliant.
Prediction: None of the main organs of leftist communication, whether mainstream or extreme, will call him on the game he's playing here. It's too smooth and, compared to al Qaida's actual action, too gentle.Good job, ObL! As a lawyer, I have to hand it to you.
Greg kindly provided a link to a PDF scan of an English-language translation of Osama's text. I hope a straight ASCII version shows up; I might tackle that myself while I'm doing chores this weekend.
America is ignoring the popular movement against Musharraf to its own disadvantage
PostGlobal's Amar Bakshi is going around the world, lugging a laptop and a camcorder, to get a sense of how people in different countries view America. If he ever makes it to Pakistan, he's likely to find a country where anti-Americanism is rife. Pakistanis have genuine reasons to hold a negative opinion of American foreign policy---though not necessarily for the reasons Americans may be inclined to believe. Right now, they have little reason to nurse good feelings towards America, given Washington's determined refusal to demonstrate the smallest amount of sympathy for democracy and freedom in the ongoing confrontation between the people and the dictator.
It is vital that the United States recognize this as a legitimate and broad-based secular democracy movement in Pakistan — isn’t this what America wants for the Muslim world? ...And Washington would at last be able to expand its friendship, currently restricted to just one Pakistani — Musharraf — to the 160 million other Pakistanis who want to lead a life of dignity in their own country and on the international stage.[CFR/IHT]US policy towards Pakistan is in rigor mortis. Almost six years after 9/11, the substantial failure of the pact with Gen Musharraf is plain for everyone to see. Osama bin Laden remains at large, the Taliban are back in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, the A Q Khan network is believed to be in operation and the one thing the deal was supposed to avoid---severe political instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan---is at hand. Yet, the United States shows no signs of making some deft corrections to its Pakistan policy.
America's handling of the popular movement against Gen Musharraf's dictatorship fits a pattern. If it's not our "son of a bitch" facing a protesting crowds, then you have a "colour revolution", televised for international audiences. Spokesmen from various US government departments express sympathy for the struggle for democracy. But if it's "our son of a bitch", then Washington maintains silence in public, and hopes for a palace coup in private. Better that a dictator is replaced by another, than allow the mob on the streets to cause a new regime to be installed. There is some merit in this approach, especially if it can achieved along with a democratic veneer, but it is also one which America will be unable to take credit for. You won't, for instance, find too many Pakistanis thankful to America for the elections in 1988 that brought Benazir Bhutto to power, would you?
America must show greater sympathy and support for the mass movement against Musharraf. But not merely to become popular with the Pakistani people. Rather because, as Rohit Pradhan argues, the stable, moderate Pakistan that is crucial for international security is impossible unless it is also democratic.
Marc Lynch (Abu Aardvark) has a post up that captures the nub of a problem I've been chewing on for a while. Note that I don't necessarily agree with Marc - but that it's a problem well worth thinking through.
In a nutshell, if we believe that freedom and some form of a democratic / representative government are the keys to dismantling the more violent and hard-to-live-alongside versions of Islamism - how do we deal with the problem that in free elections in much of the Muslim world today, the Islamists - the hard-to-live-alongside ones - would be likely to win?
And what do we do then? Lynch says:
This selective outrage, where Westerners care about one anti-Islamist blogger but can't be bothered about equally arbitrary and illiberal repression of hundreds of Islamists, only reinforces general skepticism that this isn't really about freedom, human rights, or democracy. It's just like the American focus on the release of jailed liberal politician Ayman Nour as a litmus test for the Egyptian regime (one which it continues to fail, by the way, without seeming to suffer the slightest penalty). I can not exaggerate how many times I hear from Arabs and Muslims that America's campaign against Hamas after it won fair elections and its blind eye to Mubarak's campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood proves once and for all the fundamental hypocrisy of its democracy talk. I am not criticizing anyone for rallying to Nabeel's or Nour's defense. They should. But they should also see this as part of a comprehensive regime crackdown on Egyptian political opposition, with the attack on the Muslim Brotherhood the leading edge of the regime's anti-democratic backlash. People who claim to care about Egyptian reform, democratization, and human rights should take a slightly wider view of the problem than the travails of one anti-Islamist blogger or one liberal politician.
I'll discuss this more when I get some time tonight...but the conundrum presented here is a serious one. If we believe we can avoid conflict by doing the right thing, and doing the right thing means handing power to people who are determined to have a conflict with us...there's a good chance we've got issues with the way we're formulating the problem.
What we have seen so far is that bin Laden lashes out spasmodically at targets of opportunity. The United States has been the consistent target of the attacks (though not the only one, of course) but bin Laden’s "strategy" (it can hardly be dignified with the term) is based on a delusion that he has explained many times: when hurt, the United States always cuts and runs. In the Isma'il interview, bin Laden said,
We think that the United States is very much weaker than Russia. Based on the reports we received from our brothers who participated in jihad in Somalia, we learned that they saw the weakness, frailty, and cowardice of US troops. Only 80 US troops were killed. Nonetheless, they fled in the heart of darkness, frustrated, after they had caused great commotion about the new world order.
Bin Laden thought that terrorist violence by itself would cause America to continue to retreat, to withdraw from Saudi Arabi and the rest of the Persian Gulf countries, enabling the Muslim ummah to realize their long-suppressed dream of a true Islamic society (bin Laden having a delusion that ordinary Muslim men and women truly thirsted for a Talibanic society for their own countries). Hurt the Americans enough, he said - more than once, on the record, - and they will flee.
Al Qaeda's political objectives were, and remain, well defined: reestablish the Islamic caliphate of yore. Then extend the caliphate into the middle of Africa, South Asia and parts of Europe and Southeast Asia. After that - these are very long-rage objectives - extend the rule of Islam across the entire globe. It matters not at the moment whether these are realistic goals. Islamists think they are.
Today, for both Islamists and the US, Iraq is the main battlefield. Whomsever prevails there will gain the intiative for many years to come, perhaps so strongly that the other side will not be able to take it away.
There are two main al Qaeda objectives to its fighting in Iraq.
1. Prevent the establishment of a democratic government and society there.
2. Compel the United States to withdraw its forces, hence its influence, before a democratic government is soundly established.
Obviously, these are two closely-related objectives. What is the threat to Islamism by democracy? Yussuf al-Ayyeri, one of Osama bin Laden's closest associates since the early 1990s, was killed by Saudi security forces in Riyadh in 2003. He wrote a book published by al Qaeda entitled, The Future of Iraq and The Arabian Peninsula After The Fall of Baghdad. In it Ayyeri wrote, "It is not the American war machine that should be of the utmost concern to Muslims. What threatens the future of Islam, in fact its very survival, is American democracy." Islamic absolutism, Ayyeri wrote, cannot exist inside a society where the people think they can pass their own laws and makes their own rules.
The memo says extremists are failing to enlist support inside the country, and have been unable to scare the Americans into leaving. It even laments Iraq's lack of mountains in which to take refuge. ... [The writer] claims to be impressed by the Americans' resolve. After significant losses, he writes, "America, however, has no intention of leaving, no matter how many wounded nor how bloody it becomes."
Today's sectarian violence in Iraq is no surprise. Even without al Qaeda there, millions of Shiites would have felt they had scores to settle. But in the same captured document, Zarqawi explained that sectarian violence would have to be fomented so that democratic sovereignty cannot take root.
"So the solution, and only God knows, is that we need to bring the Shia into the battle," the writer of the document said. "It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis who are fearful of destruction and death at the hands" of Shiites. ... "You noble brothers, leaders of the jihad [meaning other al Qaeda leaders - DS], we do not consider ourselves people who compete against you, nor would we ever aim to achieve glory for ourselves like you did," the writer says. "So if you agree with it, and are convinced of the idea of killing the perverse sects, we stand ready as an army for you to work under your guidance and yield to your command."
The greatest violence today in Iraq is between Iraqis, not the result of direct al Qaeda attacks. Inculcating sectarian violence has been enormously successful by al Qaeda and stands today as the greatest threat to a unified, democratic Iraq - so much so that serious talk is being given now to the idea of partitioning the country into near-autonomous provinces, demracated by ethnicity or tribal identity or Muslim denomination or some combination of all. Al Qaeda must be licking its chops at that prospect. It would be much more able to infiltrate and dominate weakened provinces seriatim than try to take on the whole country. I wondered a few days ago whether al Qaeda’s smart move would be to stop fighting after America's mid-term election next month. Baathists and sectarians now fighting each other realize, like al Qaeda, that their goals are less attainable as long as powerful US forces remain in the country. They are heartened, opined OpinionJournal, by American domestic political talk of timetables for withdrawals and Iraqi intractability.
The current American panic, by contrast, is precisely what the insurgents intend with their surge of October violence. The Baathists and Sadrists can read the U.S. political calendar, and they'd like nothing better than to feed the perception that the violence is intractable. They want our election to be perceived as a referendum on Iraq that will speed the pace of American withdrawal.
So I wondered whether al Qaeda might decide to sit things out after November, stop stirring the violence pot and hope that the Bush administration starts significant withdrawals well before the 2008 elections. After all, even the US senior commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, tacitly admitted Oct. 24 that the country is embroiled in a civil war: "We've seen the nature of the conflict evolving from what was an insurgency against us to a struggle for the division of political and economic power among the Iraqis." When contending armed groups are fighting over the control of the central government, that's pretty much the definition of civil war.
It may be, though, that al Qaeda's religious ideology of armed jihad means that it cannot lay low even if it might be advantageous. It cannot merely engineer the US withdrawal, it must be known to have done so. So it keeps bombing and shooting.
Except now it may have actually developed a strategy to fight America. This strategy is very simple and has excellent potential that is already being realized.
1. Target American news media, not for attack but for propaganda.
2. Through the media, buttress the idea in the minds of American politicians that Iraq is lost and there is no reasonable recourse but to begin withdrawing as soon as possible.
I would submit that al Qaeda is significantly accomplishing this strategy, so obviously so that I need not offer cites. And let it be remembered that now the calls for withdrawal do not come from only one party.
My colleague, John Krenson, explained what is at stake for America in Iraq. I'll commend his analysis and add that for the US to withdraw before victory would have catastrophic consequences for us. No other enemy - Syria, Iran or North Korea - would give us the slightest credibility. Neither would strategic competitors such as China or Russia. Inside the Middle East, America's reputation as a nation determined to defend its honor would be irretrievably sullied, this in a culture where honor, shame and perception are of primary importance. The perceived honor of al Qaeda would rise dramatically. The shame imputed to America would not reside solely with us. Cooperative Arab governments would also suffer diminished respect by their own people and the hostile regimes named just now. Resistance to Islamism across the Middle East by government such as Jordan's and Egypt's and their peoples would be badly harmed, perhaps even fatally. Such developments would only encourage Iranianand Syrian adventurism, spell violent trouble for Israel and endanger the ruling bodies of Arab governments friendly or neutral toward the United States. Precipitant withdrawal from Iraq would be a prescription for a much more violent world.What has this to do with November's elections? Mark Steyn conducted a little mind experiment not long ago.
But suppose the "Anyone But Bush" bumper-sticker set got their way; suppose he and Cheney and Rummy and all the minor supporting warmongers down to yours truly were suddenly vaporized in 20 seconds' time. What then? Nothing, that's what. The jihad's still there. Kim Jong Il's still there. The Iranian nukes are still there. The slyer Islamist subversion from south-east Asia to the Balkans to northern England goes on, day after day after day.
Would al Qaeda set down its AK-47s and TNT and take up watercolor? Or would they simply see the disappearance as a sign of Allah's favor and so redouble their efforts to bring us death and misery?
You know the answer.
There are legitimate criticisms of the way the Bush administration has waged the war in Iraq. I've made some myself. But Bush and Cheney are Rumsfeld are not the problem America faces. Al Qaeda is. The administration's critics claim, and some portions of the National Intelligence Estimate say, that the fighting in Iraq has increased al Qaeda recruiting. Probably so - even evildoers "rally 'round the flag."
If you think al Qaeda's recruitment and capability for violence is profiting from America's continued presence in Iraq, just wait until we prematurely withdraw. As Steyn continued, "And one morning we'll switch on the TV and the smoke and flames will be on this side of the Atlantic... ."Endnote: Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek about to make a way forward. The heart of the issue:
All sides in Iraq are preparing for the day the United States leaves. They are already engaged in a power struggle for control of the post-American Iraq. The Kurds have ensured that their autonomous region is governed essentially as a separate country with its own army. The largest Shia parties want to maintain their militias to bolster their own power base, independent of the state. And the Sunnis do not want to wind down the insurgency, for fear that they will be impoverished or killed in the new Iraq. Nobody believes that, after the Americans, this power struggle will be resolved with ballots. So they are all keeping their bullets. ... If the United States were to leave Iraq tomorrow, it is virtually certain that the bloodletting would spread like a virus. ...
As long as that is true - and it will be true for a long time to come - al Qaeda's main goal to prevent democracy in Iraq will be achieved. Zakaria's piece is long but well worth the read.
Related: Should Cheney and Rumsfeld be fired to set Iraq's course aright?