Monday, December 29, 2003

The New Year

The ending threads of 2003 are the frustrated Al Qaeda attack on America, the dual failed assassination attempts on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the Libyan undertaking to dismantle its WMD programs and the capture of Saddam Hussein.

The first two are significant because they didn't happen and the last two because they did. By far the most important was the proof by contradiction that the AQ has failed to keep pace with the United States since September 11. The Belmont Club believed that the AQ must retaliate, if only haphazardly, against the War on Terror, to maintain credibility. The AQ itself had  promised to turn the tables on the US, like Babe Ruth pointing at the stands. And they struck out. Not the attack on Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, or a British Airways jet, or the Vatican or the Queen Mary 2 materialized, though there is still New Year's Eve in the offing.

Despite analysis to contrary, the AQ was never going to seize power in Pakistan, which belongs to factions in the local power elite, especially the army. No Arab will ever be suffered to lead that nation, so AQ participation in the assassination attempts were more an assertion of their king-making abilities rather than in any real expectation of being kings themselves. And there they failed again.

The planned AQ attacks were clearly the culmination of long preparation and a major use of their remaining resources. While not every asset was expended in the attack, the funds used in preparation are irrevocably spent and their best operators now absorbed in evasion or interred into the earth. And because even the most ardent Islamists will be reluctant to support an organization with a record of failure they will find those resources hard to replace.  If reports that the AQ leadership are sheltering in Iran are true, then they have lost their quasi-supranational status. Neither the Pakistani northwestern frontier, North African deserts, Indonesian villages or the backpacker hotels in Thailand proved adequate substitutes for Afghanistan. The American counterstroke on Afghanistan may have wounded Al Qaeda mortally and they have crawled into a cave of vassaldom to die. But Jihadism's other factions still live, regrouping and plotting within Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. Their hurts are grievous, but will heal once the balm of forgetfulness is applied, not to their wounds, but to Western memory.