Sunday, June 20, 2004

Phase 2

Reader DL asks whether the simultaneous upsurge of attacks in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan is a sign of increasing Al Qaeda strength. From the very beginning there has been a debate within Al Qaeda over whether Osama's method of challenging America directly by attacking New York and Washington DC was correct or whether the alternative method of seizing power in one or more Muslim countries was the true path to victory. Michael Ledeen, in his book The War Against the Terror Masters observed that the wells of Islamic fundamentalism flow strongest in "moderate" countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, who are nominally American allies and weakest in places like Afghanistan and Iran. In the former it represents an idealized future to those disenchanted with their repressive and corrupt governments; but in the latter it is an all too real and despised quantity.

Walid Phares seems to believe that the polarizing effects of America's War on Terror has lent the Al Qaeda new strength in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda's ideology, he argues, is not only shared by a large section of the general Saudi citizenry but also by influential factions of the Saudi power structure. While Osama's direct challenge to America met with miserable failure, it had the unintended effect of making the second route to Islamic fundamentalist triumph -- the seizure of power in Islamic countries -- apparently more feasible.

One more time most of the press run headlines such as "Killing Arabs signals chaos within al Qaeda." One more time, the authors of these analyses fail miserably to comprehend what’s really going on. ... The Monarchy is shaken, its emirs promise punishment, but its Achilles’ heel is now revealed. ...Early in 2004, Abdul Aziz al Maqri, al Qaeda's regional commander, launched his Spring offensive. With al Zarqawi pounding Iraq and threatening Jordan, the Jihad in Saudi Arabia crossed one line after another. Al Maqri's men attacked Saudi security headquarters and finally landed in Khubar, the capital of Saudi oil. With high ideological precision, the terrorists struck twice: first against the nerve sensitive web of Petro-dollars and then against the "infidels." In a sinister reminder of the Nazi onslaught against the Jews during WWII, the armed men applied the teachings of Wahabism: "The world is divided in two: Muslims and Infidels." Ethnicity and language cannot help any more. During the killings, a Jordanian Christian and a family of Lebanese Christians had to lie about their religions to avoid execution.

The Arab world unanimously criticized these operations and stood firmly by the Saudi regime. But in the underworld of the radical clerics and the Jihadists, the "amalya" (operation) was a success. Some Imams-on-line (or so they define themselves) called for more and more, till the monarchy comes back to “the rule of Allah.” It is difficult for Americans, and many others in the international community, to fathom the nuances of the Wahabi paradigm. I was asked one day in the classroom: "If the Wahabis want a fundamentalist state, what do the neo-Wahabis want?" I answered without hesitation: The neo-Wahabis want it now and at any cost.

The truce between the Pakistani ruling classes and the Islamists may also be ending. The Washington Post reports on how the Islamists are now directly challenging the hand that used to feed them.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Recent high-profile attacks by Islamic militants on government targets, including a nearly successful assassination attempt on a senior army general last week, are pushing security forces into an escalating confrontation with extremist groups they once embraced as instruments of state policy, according to diplomats and analysts.Until recently, Pakistani militants have avoided direct confrontation with the army, whose Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, has a long history of association with radical groups. The militants have seemed to distinguish between security forces and President Pervez Musharraf, an army general and supporter of the U.S.-led war on terrorism whom they twice tried to kill last December.

Over the past few months, however, some Islamic extremists now are seen to be broadening their anti-government campaign, according to the sources, staging frequent ambushes of army troops in the rugged borderlands near Afghanistan. In one high-profile attack on the morning of June 10, assailants sprayed automatic-weapons fire at the motorcade of Lt. Gen. Ahsan Saleem Hayat as he commuted to his office in downtown Karachi. Ten Pakistanis, including the alleged ringleader, have been arrested in connection with that attempt, which was described by a Western diplomat as a "qualitative step up" in the nature of extremist violence in Pakistan.

From this point of view, the Islamists can regard the new Iraqi regime represents as precisely the kind of "moderate", nominally American ally they can subvert in the same way as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Where better to generate hate for America, whether in the Middle East or in Europe, than within an "allied" nation? Yet from another perspective, this strategy constitutes a transformation from direct confrontation between Muslim and non-Muslim into a struggle within the fundamentalist heartland itself; it marks a tacit admission that America cannot be tipped into defeat by one or two spectacular blows. Whatever their shortcomings, the US campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have returned the battleground to its native soil. After all, terrorism was never going to be finally defeated in Iraq or Afghanistan for as long as its roots remained untouched in the KSA and Pakistan. It is there and Iran where the final conflict will be waged.

Yet if the US Armed Forces were at least superficially suited to the Iraqi and Afghan campaigns, America singularly lacks a mechanism for swaying the hidden struggles which the War on Terror is now evolving into. Traditionally, the action space between a diplomatic protest and a Marine amphibious landing has been filled by clandestine action by the Central Intelligence Agency. But although that agency is supposed to have been revamped and strengthened after September 11, it is unclear whether it alone can bear the burden of the clandestine and twilight struggle within Islamic World. By charter and culture it fundamentally remains an intelligence gathering apparatus and not a secret army. America had a ready answer to Osama's direct challenge. But it is still evolving a response to the bid for power between vicious and still more vicious factions within Muslim countries.

The public agenda too will have to adjust. The bulk of Western media attention has been focused on Iraq and Afghanistan and on curious side-shows like Abu Ghraib while Al Qaeda makes a bid for Pakistan, with its nuclear weapons and Saudi Arabia with its oil. The press cannot recognize these events as a long-held alternative Islamist strategy to power because it would undermine their principal contention that all terrorist events the world over are consequent to the Iraqi campaign; that Operation Iraqi Freedom represents the Year Zero, before which nothing happened and after which all terrorist history began.

The big battles in the War on Terror involving large regular formations may be over. The field itself may shifting to capitals of the Middle East and South Asia that have never seen an American tank. Fox news is reporting new developments on the Paul Johnson murder, "... the Al Qaeda cell behind Johnson's killing ...(said) ... it was helped by sympathizers within the Saudi  security forces."  The House of Saud becomes the House of Usher. President Bush was correct, but poorly served by the phrase that "major combat operations" had ended in Iraq.  He should have quoted Winston Churchill after a British victory over the Afrika Korps:

Now this is not the end.
It is not even the beginning of the end.
But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.