Monday, December 08, 2003

Follow The Money

Monopoly Money: the grand strategic level

The theological role which doctrine of the Jihad played in the development of Islam must be left to the divines. But from a historical and military perspective, the answer must in part have to do with money. One recurrent theme in Islamic history has been its ability to transform marauding societies, be they Arab caravan raiders, Hulagu Khan's hordes, or Turkic nomads into the Faithful -- without altering their martial proclivities in the least, as a list of Islamic battles illustrates. The Mongols who sacked Baghdad in 1258 and killed the Caliph of Islam were themselves converted less than a hundred years later and remain so to this day.

John Keegan, writing for the Daily Telegraph (whose article sadly, has been archived and must be quoted from elsewhere) remarked on the ability of Islam to redirect the terrifying ferocity of raiding societies:

The Arabs were horse-riding raiders before Mohammed. His religion, Islam, inspired the raiding Arabs to become conquerors of terrifying power, able to overthrow the ancient empires both of Byzantium and Persia and to take possession of huge areas of Asia, Africa and Europe. It was only very gradually that the historic settled people, the Chinese, the Western Europeans, learnt the military methods necessary to overcome the nomads. They were the methods of the Greeks, above all drill and discipline. The last exponents of nomadic warfare, the Turks, were not turned back from the frontiers of Europe until the 17th century.

When the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wistfully considered harnessing the power of love, he forgot the alternative: greed. But Islam's worldly men, its viziers and generals, were not so remiss. They saw how the doctrine of Jihad -- or their interpretation of it -- could feasibly redirect raiding societies outward at the Dar al Harb recirculating the pickings inward to the Dar al Islam. Europeans gazing the other way proved the thinking symmetrical. When Elizabethan admirals faced the problem of destroying Spanish commerce in the New World nearly 800 years later, they adopted the same approach by issuing Letters of Marque to pirates, converting them to privateers at the stroke of a pen, harnessing outlawry in the cause of the state. Yet violence, like fire, must be handled carefully. The problem of how to define, harness and regulate the Jihad occupied Islam from the earliest times. Under the modification of historical events, scholarly writing and political calculation, a variety concepts emerged ranging from Jihad as "a vast system of outdoor relief" for restless young Islamic men; to Ibn Tayamiyya's belief in an "active Jihad" that would cease only with a world under Islam; to the Sufi concept of Jihad as an inner struggle against the base instincts of the body and the corruption of the soul.

In practice the doctrinal disputes little concerned the common Muslim, any more than debates over Transubstantiation disturbed the average churchgoer -- until it was time to dust off the Jihad in the service of a political cause. Time and again differing attitudes toward the nature of Jihad characterized the sectarian, political and monetary agendas of factions within the Islamic world, serving as a shorthand; a rendition in code, of their ultimate goals. The scientific and economic collapse of the Islamic world in the last two centuries dammed up an enormous tension; and the release offered up by ambitious demagogues has always contained a large pinch of active Jihad. Yet money if at the root, must never predominate; never in particular be allowed to disturb the order within Dar al Islam. One disillusioned jihadi belatedly realized that the rewards of Paradise were not equally distrubuted within the Ummah. "Have you ever noticed that ... jihadis, ... come from the rural areas? The recruitment of Karachiites is strictly discouraged ... because ... the army establishment needs jihadis with below-average intelligence." A worldly reward for the Pakistani officers; 72 virgins and a cheap commemorative video for the martyrs. Thus had it ever been; a desert couch for the lowly soldier; the vizier to his palace; and the grave the last resting place for the infidel, under the banner of holy war. The Jihad is different things to different people; in one respect a civil war within Islam, with Saudi Arabia and Iran contending for supremacy, and the Dar al Harb, as always, footing the bill.

If America is to win the War on Terror at the grand strategic level, not for a generation, but for time to come, it must help Muslims alter the very nature of Islam itself. Until Muslims bring the mutable concept of Jihad under control and forever forswear the kuffar as an object of conquest, it will always remain a spring under tension waiting to be harnessed by unscrupulous men, whether Pakistani officers, corrupt Iranian Mullahs or oily Saudi princes. Secretary Rumsfeld recently asked, "how many young people are being taught to go out as suicide bombers and ... how does that ... get reduced?" And the answer, is in part to make it un-Islamic.

The Color of Money: the operational level

So much for the principle. But the operational flow of money needed to destroy the Dar al Harb and direct it into the coffers of Dar al Islam takes several forms, or colors. The largest inflow from the Dar al Harb to the Dar al Islam consists principally oil revenues to Islamic states. A large part of it is directly recycled into the Jihad. US News and World Report describes how more than $70 billion was paid to terrorist groups by Saudi-controlled Islamic charities, a mere keeping up with Joneses to prevent the Iranians from wresting the leadership of the militant Islamism from Wahabism.

The Wahhabis were but one sect among a back-to-the-roots movement in Islam that had limited attraction overseas. But that began to change, first with the flood of oil money in the 1970s, which filled Saudi coffers with billions of petrodollars. Next came the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in 1979. Most ominously for the Saudis, however, was a third shock that same year: the brief but bloody takeover by militants of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Threatened within the kingdom, and fearful that the radicals in Tehran would assert their own leadership of the Muslim world, the Saudis went on a spending spree. From 1975 through last year, the kingdom spent over $70 billion on overseas aid ... "Islamic activities"--building mosques, religious schools, and Wahhabi religious centers ... the largest worldwide propaganda campaign ever mounted"--dwarfing the Soviets' propaganda efforts at the height of the Cold War.

A more subtle way of siphoning the contents of the kuffar's pocket into the Dar al Islam is through institutionalized discrimination now known as dhimmitude. Under these arrangements non-Muslims are tolerated on condition of accepting second-class citizenship. The non-person status of expatriate workers within Saudi Arabia, especially those from poor countries like the Philippines, is open and well known. But even in Malaysia, with a liberal reputation, the 30-year old bhumiputra policy gives the bare-majority Muslim Malays (53%) preferences over Hindus, Bhuddists and Christians in all aspects of life, from employment to university admission. It is cheerfully described as "affirmative action". Indonesia has for over 50 years conducted a massive program of  transmigration, the state-sponsored resettlement of Muslim Malays onto lands occupied since time immemorial by non-Muslim peoples like the Melanesians. It is robbery with a human, albeit bearded, face.

A third mode, widely practiced in the past and now making a comeback is the exaction of tribute. The Russian state paid tribute to Islamic overlords for over 200 years following their entry into Central Asia in in the 7th and 8th centuries. The exaction of tribute was always the dual of Islamic "tolerance" for other religions; who for so long as they paid were "free" to continue their own "internal life". Even European powers and the new-independent United States paid tribute to the Barbary States in exchange for the right to traverse the oceans, for which Congress appropriated $80,000 in 1784. The Barbary states, which included Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis and Morocco, raided as far as the coasts of Ireland and Iceland,   capturing at one point the entire population of Baltimore, Ireland, of whom but one returned again. The practice came to an end only when the United States launched its first overseas war, memorialized in the Marine Corp's Hymn verse "to the shores of Tripoli". But it has since returned couched in other modern parlance; still money in exchange for suspending mayhem. As part of the Oslo Peace Agreement, the European Union agreed to pay the Palestinian Authority, as an inducement to good behavior, the sum of $7 million a month; which even the EU now fears is being used to fund the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigades. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

To win the War on Terror at the operational level, these funds flows must not only be disrupted, but the incentives to resurrect them permanently destroyed. The first goal would be to adopt the objective of dismantling the Saudi regime and its state religion, Wahabism as national policy. The United States is not yet politically ready to take that step. Until then, the current conflict will merely correspond to Roosevelt's "short of war" Lend-Lease and Neutrality Patrol phases rather than the full-blown Second World War that came later. The true place of 9/11 on the historical timeline may not be with Pearl Harbor but the sinking of the Reuben James. The second step would be a total embargo of funds transfers to groups like the Palestinian Authority in the context of a new Atlantic Charter which would declare all payments of tribute and inducements to dhimmutude now, henceforth and forever illegitimate. This would provide the legal framework for the third step: a series of punitive proceedings of which the $1 trillion lawsuit by the 9/11 survivors against the Saudis would merely be the beginning, a financial judgement at Nuremburg that will be particularized in every country. Like the war crimes tribunal set up in Iraq to punish the torturers of the Saddam regime, the victims of terror in Israel, Lebanon, Algeria and Kashmir; and those who have been deprived of livelihoods in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Sudan should have a venue for redress. Cumulatively, these steps would not only weaken the active jihad, they would destroy all future monetary incentives to wage it.

Blood Money: the tactical level

Whenever a coalition soldier is killed in Iraq, his death is paid for in cash. "The bad guys will kill you for $1,000. That's the bounty on an American soldier's head. Guys are being paid $1,000 to go out and attack American soldiers. It's all about dollars." Estimates of the cash available to Saddam for this purpose range from a low of $132 million, based on a calculation of the residual from the looting of the Iraqi banks to a high of tens of billions, the skimmings of many years of oil revenues carefully deposited in secret accounts all over the world.

The real problem for the Ba'athist high command is conveying funds from a centrally controlled location and converting it to currency in the hands of the assassin. Who holds the money calls the shots and there can be no question of Saddam Hussein entrusting a large percentage of his stash to the field commanders, however this would simplify his cash management problem. James Dunnigan has convincingly argued that the temptation to steal loose cash is the single greatest reason for the decline of terrorist organizations into criminal gangs. If Saddam is to retain control, he must keep his hand on the money.

Still, it would be impractical for Saddam to authorize each individual payment for the the assassination of a coalition soldier or the purchase of individual weapons and other materiel. The likely compromise would be a division of Ba'athist command into a small number of subordinate groups, each allotted a general war aim and a budget. The budget is probably topped up as needed. This in fact appears to be the case. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that:

The Iraqi insurgency in Baghdad appears to have a central leadership that finances attacks in the capital and gives broad orders to eight to 12 rebel bands - some with as many as 100 guerrillas, U.S. Army generals said. "I'm increasingly of the belief that there's central financial control and central communications," said Dempsey, who commands the Army's 1st Armored Division, which controls Baghdad and the surrounding region.

The basic mechanics of disbursement are fixed by two conditions: the funds must be centrally held yet finish up as cash. Consider how Saddam might meet the first condition. He is unlikely to be sitting in a safe house with a huge cube of cash in the back room. He (and the money) would be too immobile and vulnerable to capture. It is therefore overwhelmingly probable that the Ba'athist war chest is secreted in bank accounts, either in the West or neighboring Arab countries. But here it runs up against the second given: that the money must eventually turn up as cash, to be paid to the individual terrorists in relatively petty sums; for their daily flour, beans and olive oil. The conversion of funds into cash; and its storage and transport in the field must be the single hardest command and control problem of the Ba'athist terrorist campaign.

The seizure of a half a billion Iraqi dinars inbound from Pakistan at the port of Umr Qasr in Basra offers a tantalizing glimpse into the logistics of blood money. The money might well have come from the Al Qaeda, which Dan Darling reports as stripping Afghanistan of funds to launch their Iraqi operations. But the cash management problems of Al Qaeda would essentially be identical to those of Saddam and their solutions virtually indistinguishable. They are in a race against time.

US officers in Iraq (hat tip: Andrew Sullivan) have noticed a drop off in recent attacks on US forces.

"Since Operation Iron Hammer, we have seen a drop-off in attacks against us ... All these things may be due to the enemy lying low to see what we're doing; it might be due to us having significantly hurt the enemy during the operations; it could be that the thugs and criminals being paid to conduct the attacks are not up for fighting anymore. And, it might also mean that the average citizen of Baghdad is getting sick of fighting, and that same average citizen is better supporting the coalition (which we believe, from our data). Or, it might mean the enemy is gearing up for another offensive."

There might be an additional factor: the Ba'ath field forces could be running low on cash. This is not the same thing as lacking funds. Funds might exist but ready cash might not, as even the US Army found in the case of the CERP program. Recent American operations like Iron Hammer almost certainly increased the "burn rate" of Ba'athist ready funds, as they were forced to respond to the US offensive. The care of wounded, the shifting of safe houses, the changes of clothing, the disposal of vehicles, the replacement of weapons, the salaries paid to evading personnel -- all this must have dinted the budgetary allotment of Ba'athist subcommands to no small degree. It would naturally compel a slowdown in terrorist operations until their funds can be topped up by operations such as that detected in Um Qasr.

One can compare a cash-driven insurgency to the fuel state of a fighter aircraft. Pilots (and aviators) know that enemy aircraft can sometimes be defeated by forcing them into afterburner. Not all the fuel back at base can help an aircraft whose tanks are dry in the air. If the US can keep up the tempo, it may force the Ba'ath into a chronic state of cash starvation and disintegration if they must burn up money faster than it can be smuggled, laundered and distributed to them. The Reuters disparagement of Secretary Rumsfeld's review of Iraqi forces, who now outnumber US troops, misses what Rumsfeld well knows. Iraqi forces can keep up the tempo on the Ba'ath, leaving US forces to strike pinpoint blows. What is worse for Saddam, the Iraqi forces are connected to a larger fuel tank, as it were, then the Ba'ath. They have access to oil revenues on a volume of more than 2 million barrels exported per day and have no problems cashing checks or making electronic funds transfers.

Show Me the Money

This ends the series of posts on the relationship between money and the global Jihad, and its current manifestation, the War on Terror and the Iraqi pacification campaign. It points out the central role of lucre in the very concept of a global war against the Dar al Harb and sketches out the mechanics of its implementation. Money is a two edged sword; and like all swords, those who live for it may die by it.