Tuesday, September 23, 2003


The Winds of Change links to a Braden files reprint of an article by Dr. George Friedman entitled "Two Years into the War" (This kind of link chaining is common on the Internet) The main point of this fascinating article is the argument that September 11 was really an attempt "change the internal dynamics of the Islamic world". America was just a cue ball used to move things around.

Al Qaeda's political objective was to set into motion the process that would replace these governments with Islamist regimes. To achieve this, al Qaeda needed a popular uprising in at least some of these countries. But it reasoned that there could be no rising until the Islamic masses recognized that these governments were simply collaborators and puppets of the Christians, Jews and Hindus.

By attacking America, Al-Qaeda reasoned, the US would respond in ways that would destabilize most Arab governments and set the stage for the re-establishment of the Caliphate. And, since "al Qaeda did not achieve its primary mission -- Sept. 11 did not generate a mass uprising in the Islamic world", the Islamists suffered a strategic defeat. That is the essential point. As to the fighting, Dr. Friedman dismisses it as unimportant and inconclusive. "The United States did not defeat the Taliban; knowing it could not defeat U.S. troops in conventional combat -- the Taliban withdrew, dispersed and reorganized as a guerrilla force in the Afghan countryside". Ditto Iraq. America didn't win there either.

In Iraq, the Islamist forces appear to have followed a similar strategy within a much tighter time frame. Rather than continuing conventional resistance, the Iraqis essentially dispersed a small core of dedicated fighters -- joined by an international cadre of Islamists -- and transitioned into guerrilla warfare in a few short weeks after the cessation of major conventional combat operations.

The Whole Thing also emphasizes the political aspects of Islamic terrorism.

The aims of the Islamists may seem fantastical and absurd to us, but they remain political and strategic: Their primary objectives focus on the Islamic world itself and their position within it against whatever forces of relative moderation. For the longer term vis-a-vis the West, they believe themselves directed to seek the conversion or enslavement of non-Muslims, not genocide for its own sake. Whatever a nuclear-armed Al Qaeda chose for their first "demonstration," it would be for the sake of delivering or reinforcing political demands and advancing a power-political agenda, not merely for the sake of murdering infidels

According to this point of view, Islamic terrorism is not irrational at all. Their actions make perfect sense once the framework is understood. We can reinstate the Rational Actor model, with suitable cultural modifications, and create a politic on those terms. This holds out the hope that a nuclear-armed Islamic terrorism can be managed with many of the traditional diplomatic and economic tools. They don't want to destroy America, at least, not any more than the Soviets did in their heyday. All they want is regional power and the revival of their historical Caliphate.

Mark Helprin at the Claremont Institute (hat tip: Winds of Change) rightly points out that Islam is never listed as a formal belligerent, though of course it is what we are really talking about. He says we should first of all, nerve ourselves to name it, then conciously adopt a strategy to fight it:

The proper strategic objective for the West, therefore, is the suppression of this fire of 'asabiya in the Arab heartland and citadels of militancy—a task of division, temporary domination, and, above all, demoralization. As unattractive as it may seem, in view of the deadly alternative it is the only choice other than to capitulate.

Here, as in the Whole Thing and Friedman the political question is put in the center of the problem. However, Helprin clearly understands that we are at war: that if we do not divide, dominate and demoralize the Islamic world, then we must surrender to it. Here he apparently parts company with Friedman, who seems to regard America as just a means to the final end in an internal struggle for the domination of the Islamic world. However, Helprin's recipe for overawing the Islamic world is a little short on detail. It reproduced here in its entirety so that the reader can make of it what they will.

The war in Iraq was a war of sufficiency when what was needed was a war of surplus, for the proper objective should have been not merely to drive to Baghdad but to engage and impress the imagination of the Arab and Islamic worlds on the scale of the thousand-year war that is to them, if not to us, still ongoing. Had the United States delivered a coup de main soon after September 11 and, on an appropriate scale, had the president asked Congress on the 12th for a declaration of war and all he needed to wage war, and had this country risen to the occasion as it has done so often, the war on terrorism would now be largely over.

These points of view may well be right. It would be comforting if they were. And perhaps they are. If a little more diplomacy, a few regional security pacts and well-timed shock-and-awe will quell the fires of militancy, then we can put this incident behind us before the second quarter of the 21st century and go on to curing disease and exploring the secrets of the universe. Certainly the War on Terror cannot be won by arms alone, and as Helprin says, not before naming the foe. So can we dismiss James Lilek's fear of the annihilation of an American city yet? Hopefully ... but there is always something a little dangerous about dismissing a foe's stated intent or underestimating his will to achieve it. Amir Taheri points out that Al-Qaeda's stated intent is crystal clear: converting all humanity to Islam and effacing the final traces of all other religions, creeds and ideologies. What part of that don't we understand and what part of that can we safely ignore?