Monday, April 30, 2007



Losing the war on terror

This month's Foreign Affairs has a scary piece from former CIA official Bruce Riedel assessing progress so far in the "war on terror". His assessment? Al Qaeda is winning:

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.

The blame for this can be laid squarely at the feet of George W. Bush - and in particular his decision to take his eye of the ball in Afghanistan in favour of settling old scores in Iraq. This gave Al Qaeda the breathing space it needed to regroup - as well as a second base of operations, an endless supply of recruits, and a guerilla war to train them in. And now, Bush is looking to repeat the process on Iran (and topple another of bin Laden's enemies into the bargain). It's almost enough to make you wonder whose side he's really on...

8 comments:

"The focus of Washington's new strategy must be to target al Qaeda's leaders, who provide the inspiration and direction for the global jihad. As long as they are alive"...

as long as they are alive. It is an excellent article, but fails to appreciate the overall strategy the Americans are following. Focus on Afghanistan alone would merely have attracted all the jihadist attention to Afghanistan. The US et al won the cold war after 70 years of communism. 45 years from the end of the second war and its effective inception.

American presidents come and go. Al Qaeda is reliant on their folk hero Bin Laden. He will die soon and their organisation will slowly crumble.

The Bush strategy of going after the "axis of evil" may be easy to criticise if you ignore the fundamental beliefs that Americans have set out in Paines' "The rights of man". The long term strategy is to bring every nation to liberty and democracy.

A few interesting points to take at face value. "Most of the suicide bombers in Iraq are from Saudi." ie those who have spent their lives being indoctrinated to believe in the 72 virgins, together with a few outsiders who would fit in the category of disturbed glory seekers.

Reidel admits that Al Qaeda has failed to overthow any states or defend what it had.

His solution for Iraq is effectively 3 states and abandoning Baghdad and its surrounds to their fates.

Yet his final sentence "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.
" suggests the solution is for America to provide that sooner rather than fighting to avoid it.

Taking the fight to a weakened enemy is established military doctrine.

He is right that America has failed miserably with the battle of ideas, and keeping the moral high ground.

Think about the result if the Iranian leadership were deposed, whether by military or other means. chaos in Iran and the elimination of the ability to use oil money to cause strife in Iraq, Gaza and elsewhere.

A more compelling article by the former Iraqi finance minister in the weekend IHT suggests that Iraq's problem is that its politicians are too protected from reality to face the necessity for decisions and leadership rather than self serving positional gains.

In that respect the Democratic bill just passed will serve to focus their minds. The protection of American troops for the long term is not guaranteed. And that is a good thing.

So keep using every opportunity to criticise Bush. but I wonder how you can call yourself "irredeemably liberal" when you prefer dictatorship and theocracy to democracy and liberty.

Posted by sagenz : 4/30/2007 08:44:00 AM

If they are winning, why have there been so few attacks in the west? Just two since September 11th, neither of which required any logistical or financial support from a central body. (During the 80s the IRA managed at least one operation a month on the UK mainland with only a few dozen active terrorists).

Possible explanations:
- "Al Qaeda" is purely a propaganda operation. Radical islamist groups are effectively autonomous and while strong in occupied states and the developing world have limited support in the west.

- Radical groups in the west have failed to recruit commited fighters or obtain weaponry.

- A conscious decision has been taken to refrain from action until an attack larger than that of September 11th can be mounted.

Posted by Rich : 4/30/2007 09:12:00 AM

I would have to agree with the previous poster. If the goal of the policy is to protect americans from terrorism, then the fact there have been no mroe attacks on US soil shows there have been some successes from their policy.

I guess there has only been 2 other attacks on western countries, and instead they are focusing on murdering westerners (and their fellow moslems) in moslem countries (like in bali)

Posted by Anonymous : 4/30/2007 09:21:00 AM

If they are winning, why have there been so few attacks in the west?

It's a important question, and speaks volumes about mainstream media coverage of 'the war on terror'. Isn't it strange that people still genuinely don't understand what Al Qaeda wants and how the 9/11 attacks fit into their plans?

Al Qaeda wants to overthrow the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt and establish 'true' Islamic states in those countries. It's leaders have spent most of their lives trying to carry out these goals. Zawahiri has spent much of his life in Egyptian prisons.

Failure to overthrow the 'corrupt, pagan' Mubarak and Saud dictatorships was blamed on US support for these regimes so bin Laden decided to attack 'the far enemy'.

Their attacks on the US - Cole, African embassies, 9/11 - were designed to lure the US into a 'diabolical trap' in which the US would invade Afghanistan and be defeated by Al Qaeda, the same way they defeated the Soviets.

Obviously this plan didn't really work out and Al Qaeda got their asses handed to them, but the US (bafflingly) played into their hands anyway by invading and occupying Iraq.

So Al Qaeda hasn't attacked the US because they don't need to attack the US - they carry out their attacks to achieve strategic goals not to sell newspapers, and their goal of a US occupying army in a muslim country has been achieved, although not in a way bin Laden anticipated.

Posted by Danyl : 4/30/2007 09:31:00 AM

Sagenz wrote:

The long term strategy is to bring every nation to liberty and democracy.

You dont keep up with current events very well do you?

Posted by mikethesofa : 4/30/2007 09:33:00 AM

Rich: If they are winning, why have there been so few attacks in the west?

According to John Mueller in FA last year, it's because there are no terrorists under the bed: "almost no terrorists exist in the United States and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad".

And as Danyl points out, this is because their focus is primarily on Middle Eastern politics

Danyl: Their attacks on the US - Cole, African embassies, 9/11 - were designed to lure the US into a 'diabolical trap' in which the US would invade Afghanistan and be defeated by Al Qaeda, the same way they defeated the Soviets.

As you note, this didn't work (though it has in Iraq) - but the Riedel article also argues that Al Qaeda is currently trying to pull exactly the same stunt over Iran. Bleed the US some more, inflame Muslim opinion some more, and topple an "infidel" government into the bargain. A US attempt at "regime change" looks like a win-win-win for the terrorists.

The worry is that Bush will be stupid enough to fall for it, rather than sitting back and letting democracy in Iran take its course.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/01/2007 04:45:00 PM

"Rich: If they are winning, why have there been so few attacks in the west?

According to John Mueller in FA last year, it's because there are no terrorists under the bed"

A patient answer to a stupid question. I would have said "Rich, I have a rock which is doing a great job keeping dangerous tigers away...see, no tigers around...would you like to buy my rock?"

Posted by Anonymous : 5/01/2007 05:06:00 PM

I think Sunni fascist movement has been quiet lately in its terror attacks in the West for 2 main reasons: (1) It is busy (causing destruction in MidEast, particularly the chaos of Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia & parts of Pakistan and (2) Al Qaeda's interest is to keep head down while the US/UK prepare for war against Al Qaeda's biggest regional challenger: Shiite Iran, and its Syrian & Hezbuallah mates etc.

Once the US/UK do their work on Iran, Syria, Hizbuallah etc., then the Sunni fascist fantatics can get busy filling in the regional vacuum.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/02/2007 10:25:00 PM