Friday, July 20, 2007

Draining the jihad 

Richard Fernandez discusses this bit from a post at Strategypage. First, Strategypage:

July 19, 2007: While Saudi Arabia is not happy with how Shia Arabs have taken control of Iraq, and appear able to hold on to it, they are pleased with how the fighting in Iraq has greatly depleted the number of al Qaeda backers inside Saudi Arabia. Over 5,000 Saudi Islamic radicals are believed to have died in Iraq so far. For the last four years, up to half the suicide bombers have been Saudis, and about half the 135 foreigners currently held in U.S. military prisons over there, are Saudis. Currently, American intelligence believes about 45 percent of the foreign fighters (less than ten percent of all terrorists there) are Saudis. The next largest group is Syrians and Lebanese (15 percent), followed by North Africans (10 percent). The other 30 percent are from all over, including Europe.

The Saudis themselves are coy about how all those Saudi Islamic radicals got into Iraq. The Saudi border with Iraq is heavily patrolled, and not easy to get across, no matter which direction you are going. But the Saudis have refused calls to crack down on their young men going to Syria or Jordan, and crossing from there into Iraq.

This is not the first time that the Saudis have been accused of using a foreign war to drain off the radicals. A friend of mine with extremely deep contacts in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, says that during the Gulf War the Saudis quite consciously concentrated "the beards" in front line units in the unspoken hope that Saddam's army would kill a lot of them. I have never seen that written anywhere, but the linked Strategypage post boosts the story's credibility.

In any case, Richard Fernandez likens this Saudi tactic to "social dumping" (the practice by which one society shifts its negative externalities on another, such as when rich country industry moves production to poor countries with lax environmental and labor standards):
Maybe America should charge the UN for services rendered and not the other way around. It provides global security behind which the free-riders of Europe can pretend to defend themselves with barricades of treaties. It takes out the trash for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and employs everyone who the elites of Mexico find no use for.

Far be it from me to defend the Saudis, but they did break their long truce with al Qaeda in May 2003 and have been waging a rather aggressive war against it since. One can justly accuse them of fostering radical Islamism, rather than discouraging it, over the long term, but they have been quite delighted to kill actual jihadis for four years now. They are entitled to be happy that other violent young Saudi men have bought the oasis in Iraq.

There is something else interesting here, though. The Saudis know a lot more about combating Sunni jihadism than most Americans, including virtually everybody in the chattering classes. If the Stratgypage post is accurate, they believe that Iraq is in fact draining away their most violent radicals. Is that not evidence for the view that the jihad's huge casualties in Iraq are weakening Sunni jihadi organizations, rather than strengthening them?


By Blogger Reliapundit, at Fri Jul 20, 12:17:00 PM:

i [popsted on this before strategypage, glenn, or you or richard:


By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Fri Jul 20, 01:14:00 PM:

Let's say you know (or the military has an estimate) for the rate at which Jihadis are dying in Iraq. Let's say you also have an estimate for how fast they are being replenished from the madrassas in the ME, and further, you have some idea of what the current number of Jihadis in Iraq is. If you believe Iraq is the "magnet" for Jihad, My questions to the generals currently in command of OIF would be:

1. Is the rate at which we are killing Jihadis in Iraq faster than the rate at which they are replenished in the ME region (since you think they are coming from all over the ME to fight there)?

2. By what fraction have we reduced the number of Jihadis in Iraq since the occupation started?

3. How long would we have to continue the occupation at the current operational tempo in order to reduce the number of Jihadis to 75% of current levels? 50%? 5%?

Obviously these questions are somewhat simplistic since you don't need to have great numbers to terrorize a population, but it would still be interesting to know.

(Hope your not getting sick of all my comments recently!)  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Fri Jul 20, 01:15:00 PM:

ack your=you're  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Fri Jul 20, 02:24:00 PM:

I think the flypaper theory works for Saudi Arabia from the perspective of getting rid of jihadists that want to die in combat in short order - better in Iraq than at home. As for those who want to wage long-term struggle for a new Caliphate, I doubt the Saudis can fool themselves into thinking that Iraq is a good way to deal with those folks - many will survive, and they will know how to be a serious problem when they return  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Jul 20, 02:36:00 PM:

Playing the numbers game like this is an exercise in futility. The jihadis will always be able to find more troops. The Arab world is notoriously youthful and a few hundred thousand potential new recruits come of age every year. And they, being the natives, don't need nearly as many as we do to be effective. Taking out a hundred front line jihadis, while a good thing, is only a temporary setback for them. There are always more men willing to become martyrs.

What actually hurts them is nailing the more experienced terrorists, the ones who've survived US raids and know how to plan operations with some degree of sophistication, and the logistical supporters, including arms suppliers and financiers. Key personnel who cannot be replaced by the next volunteer off the bus and whose loss hurts the whole effort.

This puts the Iranian provision of training and equipment to our enemies in a bit of a new perspective.

We've never won a war by exterminating everyone on the other side who was willing to fight; rather, we placed ourselves in a position of relative strength and convinced them that they couldn't win.

Well, we're not going to convince true believer Muslim jihadis that they can't win (because God is on their side, and all) but we can degrade and eventually destroy their credibility to new recruits. You can only suffer so many defeats before people start to wonder, "Hmm, is God really with them?" But every victory they win will reverse that thinking and reinvigorate the fighters and potential fighters.  

By Blogger DEC, at Fri Jul 20, 05:14:00 PM:

Excellent comment, Dawnfire82.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Fri Jul 20, 05:21:00 PM:

I agree completely. Essentially the point I made in my "victory conditions" post, published here in times past. That said, it cannot hurt to kill a lot of the newbies, too. The fewer survivers there are to come home and brag about their victories over the infidel, the better.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Fri Jul 20, 06:11:00 PM:

DF82 -

I agree with the vast majority of your post.

Permit me to pick a nit, or ask for clarification:

We've never won a war by exterminating everyone on the other side who was willing to fight; rather, we placed ourselves in a position of relative strength and convinced them that they couldn't win.

There may well have been a few Germans and Japanese who were willing to keep on fighting in 1945, but the physical damage that the U.S. and its allies inflicted on Germany and Japan during that year (causing both civilian and military casualties in very large numbers) left no doubt as to what the result would be if hostilites continued. Everyone understood that the outcome was absolute victory for the Allies. In early 1945, Churchill and FDR (and Stalin) were agreed on the concept that Germany's surrender must be unconditional, and so it was. The German people fully digested this concept by the middle of 1945, and there were no Nazi insurgencies or attacks on occupying Allied troops. I would suggest that the extent of the damage done to the German homeland and to German people had something to do with this realization of utter defeat. German culture was dramatically altered from that point forward -- the Prussian militaristic streak seems to have been altogether eliminated.

I would further suggest that because it is, apparently, no longer consistent with U.S. values to inflict that kind of widespread damage on an adversary (that we always try to be much more precise in the application of lethality because of changes in military technology), that there cannot be any such absolute victory against any enemy force, state or non-state, now or in the future.

What's the fastest and most efficient way to "degrade and eventually destroy their credibility to new recruits?" Or, perhaps the question should be, is there a faster and better way than the methods we are currently employing? The clock is clearly ticking on U.S. involvement in Iraq; the surge appears to be having some success, but most of the U.S. electorate has either tuned out or lost patience with the whole endeavor (or objected to it from the very beginning), so time may be of the essence.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jul 20, 09:14:00 PM:

"We've never won a war by exterminating everyone on the other side who was willing to fight; rather, we placed ourselves in a position of relative strength and convinced them that they couldn't win." - Dawnfire82

You might want to do a serious reading of the sequence of "Indian Wars" that took place on this continent between 1800 and 1880. I don't accuse you of ignorance, but that statement is easily refuted by the cold light of that history.
That was, essentially, a long fight against a native 'insurgency' that alternatively made war and peace as it suited them, only fought when they had superior numbers, otherwise evaded combat, made and broke treaties probably more often than the "white man", and performed numerous acts that in a cold objective light would be called 'atrocities', against both soldiers and non-combatants (and sometimes....each other. It was ....Medieval). Many tribes fought on until they were truly decimated.
Not pretty, but reasonably true in many cases.

With respect to the Germans of WWII, between the immense blood-letting on the Eastern Front and the huge number of prisoners taken there (Stalingrad, etc.) and other places (such as North Africa, where most of the Afika Corps was captured), the Third Reich was scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel by spring of 1945. They were truly running out of men to fight with.

The purpose of the "Terror War" as annunciated by Osama bin Laden and Dr. Zawahiri is to raise the Umma, meaning the whole body of Moslems. This could still happen. Killing the most willing, reckless and stupid of the Umma in Iraq might be only a foretaste of things to come.


By Blogger Escort81, at Fri Jul 20, 10:36:00 PM:

David -

Interesting point on the Indian wars of the 19th century. Since the U.S. kind of appropriated Indian territory (notwithstanding the fact that many tribes didn't recognize "property" or "ownership" in the same sense that we do; and, it's likely that similar inter-tribal appropriation had been going on for centuries), I am not sure how well the analogy translates to Iraq, which is a country that we'd like to extricate ourselves from at some point.

I infer that you are trying to parallel my sentiments on WWII and Germany. There were in fact very large numeric surrenders of portions of the remaining German army before V-E Day and Hitler's death, because the field generals, who by that point were not Hitler's buddies, refused to see their men slaughtered altogether. The German army stood down and did not "melt away" into the background and re-emerge as an insurgency,. Surrender meant exactly that. Now it's just a phase you go through to fight another day.

My question to DF82 has to do with the notion that, without widespread, civilizational-type physical damage (accompanying the KIA and WIA of actual combatants), how do we get to the point of: we placed ourselves in a position of relative strength and convinced them that they couldn't win with the Iraqi insurgency?  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Jul 21, 12:28:00 AM:

Escort: "There may well have been a few Germans and Japanese who were willing to keep on fighting in 1945"

There were plenty of Germans and Japanese willing to keep fighting in 1945. SS units launched counterattacks against the Soviets wherever possible and old men and Hitler Youth filed into the ranks to defend Berlin (and fought reasonably well) right up until Hitler's death. As for Japan, there was actually an attempted military coup to prevent the Emperor from announcing surrender after the second atomic bomb. (The History Channel did a great program on it, called The Last Mission; the coup failed because the last aerial bombing mission of the war just happened to knock out a certain power station at a critical time)

In either case, it was the political authority who determined upon the course of surrender, not a lack of fighting will amongst the army. (rather like our own Democrats!)

"What's the fastest and most efficient way to "degrade and eventually destroy their credibility to new recruits?""

Don't let them win. Both sides, us and them, have cast down the gauntlet in Mesopotamia. If they can be seen to put forth tremendous effort and faith into a major battle and lose (*ahem* Iraq) then they will be losers whose appeal will decline. If we pick up and walk away, the worldwide jihadi movement will have been seen to have scored a great victory against impossible odds (which will be entirely true) and the movement will strengthen. Everyone loves a winner. Visit Bush's poll numbers circa April 2003 for an example.

But like I said, we're never going to convince the die hards to give up. Ever. We'll have to kill them. But if we can shut off their resource spigots, they'll die a lot more easily.

Because we're not fighting a physical nation with facilities, borders, and the like, it simply isn't necessary to inflict that kind of infrastructural damage that you mentioned to anything. Catastrophic damage against terrorists isn't measured in firebombs against industrial districts, or massed casualties and trench warfare; it's measured in seized laptop computers, frozen bank accounts, and captured high value targets.

"the surge appears to be having some success, but most of the U.S. electorate has either tuned out or lost patience with the whole endeavor (or objected to it from the very beginning), so time may be of the essence."

I humbly submit that the electorate has no say in the matter. There are reasons that military authority is invested in the Executive and not the Legislature, and that Executive has authority throughout his full term. The electorate will matter in November, 2008, and then there's no guarantee that the new President will behave how anyone expects. Actually sitting in the big chair and opening up those "President's Eyes Only" reports seems to have a way of making successors appreciate the policies of their predecessors a bit more.

David: I admit, I'm not well read on the Indian Wars, but I was of the understanding that the objective of them was to force the belligerent tribes to heel, not physically exterminate them. Whenever they were placed in an untenable position, they surrendered, (Geronimo, for example) 'insurgency' tactics or not. In simplest terms, the exact same thing that occurs between warring states. That's what I meant.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 21, 09:54:00 AM:

Our (US Government) tactics against the American Indian tribes varied over time and individual instances.
Some bands of Indians were treated fairly and made a new life on reservations, some were treated very unfairly and nearly exterminated. Andrew Jackson, hero to many "Jacksonian" Americans, was ruthless with the Seminoles in Florida, and later with the Cherokee. The Cherokee tried to organize and behave like the current American culture of the 1820's, but were run off their land and ended up in God-forsaken Oklahoma (the Trail of Tears). Many Americans were rightly appalled at the time.
The Sioux and Apache were petty ruthless in their tactics, and were treated pretty ruthlessly in return. The nomadic Sioux and Apache were not unlike the Beduoin of the Middle East, from whom much of the Arab 'warrior' culture orginated .
My point, is that we have fought a war like this before, and wars like this have been fought before (you should read "The Afghan Campaign" by Steven Pressfield, regarding Alexander's Macedonians in Afghanistan, 2300 years ago).
It's ugly and interminable, with no good outcomes. Regardless of whether we or the Europeans (or perhaps the Chinese) have the fortitude to fight these people, it will go on. There is no elegant strategic solution waiting to be expounded on by clever guys in think tanks. There are good and bad tactics to be discussed, but the larger question is whether we fight them on their ground or sit and watch as the tide of blood flows in, by the Jihadis working to 'raise the Umma'.
I think you are correct in 'don't let them win', in detering their recruitment, but through their own propaganda, they will turn any defeat into some kind of spiritual or metaphysical victory.
By any normal tactical or strategic military evaluation, Saddam got beat bad in Desert Storm ('91), but his propaganda made him look like a winner in the Arabic world, because at the end of the day, he was still standing and in power in Iraq.
Toward the end of the Plains Indians wars, the Sioux were inspired by the Ghost Dancers, who convinced some tribes they could work themselves into a spiritual ecstasy and evade the bullets of the US Army. It didn't work, but THEY were convinced it would.


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