Just another Reality-based bubble in the foam of the multiverse.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Shell Game With Live Ammunition

The ever vigilant Lambert caught this in Foreign Affairs:

Summary: By rushing into Iraq instead of finishing off the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Washington has unwittingly helped its enemies: al Qaeda has more bases, more partners, and more followers today than it did on the eve of 9/11. Now the group is working to set up networks in the Middle East and Africa -- and may even try to lure the United States into a war with Iran. Washington must focus on attacking al Qaeda's leaders and ideas and altering the local conditions in which they thrive.

Lambert has some choice cuts, and the whole thing is worth reading.

Yes, Virginis, there are some good, competent spooks still working for the Company, despite the best efforts of Bu$hCo-Cheneyburton to get rid of them. You'd best listen to them instead of a bunch of oilmen from Texas if you want to keep your Republic.

Hell, lsten to them if you even want to keep your Empire. From the Soviets to the Romans, history records the fall of most Imperial ambitions once corrupt fundamentalists grab the reins of power.

Let's read some highlights of what Bruce Reidel, an honest Imperialist has to say:

Al Qaeda is a more dangerous enemy today than it has ever been before. It has suffered some setbacks since September 11, 2001: losing its state within a state in Afghanistan, having several of its top operatives killed, failing in its attempts to overthrow the governments of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. But thanks largely to Washington's eagerness to go into Iraq rather than concentrate on hunting down al Qaeda's leaders, the organization now has a solid base of operations in the badlands of Pakistan and an effective franchise in western Iraq. Its reach has spread throughout the Muslim world, where it has developed a large cadre of operatives, and in Europe, where it can claim the support of some disenfranchised Muslim locals and members of the Arab and Asian diasporas. Osama bin Laden has mounted a successful propaganda campaign to make himself and his movement the primary symbols of Islamic resistance worldwide. His ideas now attract more followers than ever.

Bin Laden's goals remain the same, as does his basic strategy. He seeks to, as he puts it, "provoke and bait" the United States into "bleeding wars" throughout the Islamic world; he wants to bankrupt the country much as he helped bankrupt, he claims, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The demoralized "far enemy" would then go home, allowing al Qaeda to focus on destroying its "near enemies," Israel and the "corrupt" regimes of Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. occupation of Iraq helped move his plan along, and bin Laden has worked hard to turn it into a trap for Washington. Now he may be scheming to extend his strategy by exploiting or even triggering a war between the United States and Iran.

Decisively defeating al Qaeda will be more difficult now than it would have been a few years ago. But it can still be done, if Washington and its partners implement a comprehensive strategy over several years, one focused on both attacking al Qaeda's leaders and ideas and altering the local conditions that allow them to thrive. Otherwise, it will only be a matter of time before al Qaeda strikes the U.S. homeland again...

The U.S. invasion of Iraq took the pressure off al Qaeda in the Pakistani badlands and opened new doors for the group in the Middle East. It also played directly into the hands of al Qaeda leaders by seemingly confirming their claim that the United States was an imperialist force, which helped them reinforce various local alliances. In Iraq, Zarqawi adopted a two-pronged strategy to alienate U.S. allies and destabilize the country. He sought to isolate U.S. forces by driving out all other foreign forces with systematic terrorist attacks, most notably the bombings of the United Nations headquarters and the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad in the summer of 2003. More important, he focused on the fault line in Iraqi society -- the divide between Sunnis and Shiites -- with the goal of precipitating a civil war. He launched a series of attacks on the Shiite leadership, holy Shiite sites, and Shiite men and women on the street. He organized the assassination of the senior leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, in the summer of 2003, and the bombings of Shiite shrines in Najaf and Baghdad in March 2004 and in Najaf and Karbala in December 2004. Even by the ruthless standards of al Qaeda, Zarqawi excelled.

Zarqawi's strategy did prompt criticism from other jihadi groups and some second-guessing within al Qaeda, but it nevertheless succeeded brilliantly. In a letter to Zarqawi dated July 9, 2005, Zawahiri questioned the wisdom of igniting Sunni-Shiite hatred in the Muslim world, and Zarqawi became known within the movement as al Gharib (the Stranger) because of his extreme views. Still, he pressed ahead, and the al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan never challenged him publicly. Although he led only a small percentage of the Sunni militants in Iraq, Zarqawi was at the cutting edge of the insurgency, the engine of the civil war. By late 2004, he had formally proclaimed his allegiance to bin Laden, and bin Laden had anointed him "the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq..."

With two new bases secured and local alliances reinforced, al Qaeda has worked to expand its reach beyond Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. To vividly showcase its strength, al Qaeda records most of its operations and transmits the gruesome coverage to jihadi Web sites all over the world. The U.S invasion of Iraq and the chaos that followed were a boon to al Qaeda's propaganda efforts, as they offered tangible evidence, al Qaeda's leaders could argue, both that Washington had imperialist plans and that the jihad against U.S. forces was working.

Bin Laden made a landmark video recording in October 2004, in time for the presidential election in the United States, promising to bankrupt Washington in Afghanistan and Iraq. Largely silent in 2005, he made several announcements in 2006. On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, al Qaeda released a major statement entitled "The Manhattan Raid," featuring previously unseen videos of two of the 9/11 pilots and the most extensive discussion yet on the background and purpose of the operation. Zawahiri, al Qaeda's propaganda point man -- whose role is to reassure the faithful that the movement is alive and well -- has also become more prolific; he issued at least 15 messages in 2006. Overall, al Qaeda quadrupled its output of videos between 2005 and 2006 -- all propaganda instruments, of course, but also a means for the organization's leaders to rally its followers and send them instructions. According to one expert, there are also some 4,500 overtly jihadi Web sites that disseminate the al Qaeda leadership's messages.

...Bin Laden might also be nurturing bolder plans, such as exploiting or even triggering an all-out war between the United States and Iran. Indeed, there is evidence that al Qaeda in Iraq -- and elements of the Iraqi Sunni community -- increasingly consider Iran's influence in Iraq to be an even greater problem than the U.S. occupation. Al Qaeda worries about the Sunni minority's future in a Shiite-dominated Iraq after the Americans leave. Propaganda material of Sunni jihadists in Iraq and elsewhere openly discusses their fear that Iran will dominate a postoccupation Iraq and seek to restore the type of regional control that the Persian Empire had in the sixteenth century. In a remarkable statement last November, Zarqawi's successor, Abu Hamza al-Masri, thanked President George W. Bush for sending the U.S. Army to Iraq and thus giving al Qaeda the "great historic opportunity" to engage Americans in direct fighting on Arab ground. (He also said that Bush was "the most stupid and ominous president" in U.S. history.) But he warned that the invasion had "revived the glory of the old Persian Safavid Empire in a very short period of time." Similarly, the self-proclaimed emir of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, issued a statement in February 2007 welcoming news that the U.S. government was considering sending more troops to Iraq and saying that he was eagerly looking forward to an American nuclear attack on Iran.

...Al Qaeda would especially like a full-scale U.S. invasion and occupation of Iran, which would presumably oust the Shiite regime in Tehran, further antagonize Muslims worldwide, and expand al Qaeda's battlefield against the United States so that it extends from Anbar Province in the west to the Khyber Pass in the east. It understands that the U.S. military is already too overstretched to invade Iran, but it expects Washington to use nuclear weapons. Baghdadi has told Sunnis in Iran to evacuate towns close to nuclear installations.

The biggest danger is that al Qaeda will deliberately provoke a war with a "false-flag" operation, say, a terrorist attack carried out in a way that would make it appear as though it were Iran's doing...

No doubt al Qaeda will claim a victory when the United States leaves Iraq. (It already does so at the sheer mention of withdrawal.) But it is unlikely that the Islamic State of Iraq will fare well after the occupation ends. Anbar and adjacent Sunni provinces have little water, few other natural resources, and no access to the outside world except through hostile territory. The Shiites and the Kurdish militias will have no compunction about attacking the Islamic State of Iraq. (Al Qaeda's own propaganda indicates that it fears the Shiites' wrath after the United States' departure more than it fears what would happen if the Americans stayed.)

Another essential aspect of the United States' war against al Qaeda is the war of ideas. Washington must learn to develop more compelling narratives for its actions. Its calls for bringing democracy to Iraq have not resonated, partly because its actions have not matched its rhetoric. Human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have even further sullied the United States' reputation and honor. Washington should emphasize the concrete steps the United States is taking to heal differences between Islam and the West and to bring peace to Palestine and Kashmir, among other areas. Creating a new narrative will probably also require bringing to Washington (and London) new leaders who are untarnished by the events of the last few years.

The repackaging effort will also have to involve concrete actions to address the issues that al Qaeda invokes to win recruits, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict but also the conflict in Kashmir...

t is now fashionable to call the struggle against al Qaeda the long war. It need not be so, even though helping to rebuild Afghanistan will require a long-term commitment. Decisive actions in key arenas could bring significant results in short order, and a focused strategy could eventually destroy the al Qaeda movement. On the other hand, a failure to adjust U.S. strategy would increase the risk that al Qaeda will launch another "raid" on the United States, this time perhaps with a weapon of mass destruction. For the last several years, al Qaeda's priority has been to bleed the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq. Striking on U.S. soil has been a lesser goal. If al Qaeda survives, however, sooner or later it will attack the U.S. homeland again...

Likely some D.o'D. private contractor has nukes for sale at bargain basement prices to a discreet buyer. Why should they go to North Korea when most of the world's plutonium is where they want to detonate it, and under the control of people who value entrepreneurial ambition?

But here's the money quote, right at the end.

...The lesson is clear: al Qaeda is still too weak to overthrow established governments equipped with effective security services; it needs failed states to thrive.

Of course, with the AmeriTaliban from places like Regent University now controlling the administration of our Faith-based government, failed states will continue to bloom, at home and abroad, like madness in the Spring.

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