Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Collateral damage and the war of ideas 

Glenn Reynolds links to a New York Sun story about a prominent Saudi cleric who has turned against the jihad:

A prominent Saudi cleric once praised by Osama bin Laden has published an open letter condemning Al Qaeda's violence.

In the long letter published on an Arabic Web site, Cleric Salman al-Awdah calls on Mr. bin Laden to end the killing of innocent Muslims and others in terrorist acts in Iraq and elsewhere around the world.

"How much blood has been spilt? How many innocent people, children, elderly, and women have been killed, dispersed, or evicted in the name of Al-Qa'ida?" the letter says. "My brother Usama Bin Ladin, the image of Islam today is not at its best."

The question, of course, is why has al Qaeda turned to killing "innocent Muslims"? As Glenn and everybody else notices, Arab clerics did not bother to denounce terrorism when Americans were the prominent targets, but regard terrorism much differently when it produces Arab and Muslim victims. Al Qaeda turned to a policy that seemed calculated to alienate the Arab "street." Why?

The best answer, or at least the answer that will best withstand the scrutiny of history, is that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, wittingly or not, put al Qaeda in an almost impossible position. We invaded and occupied a country in the heart of the Arab Middle East. If al Qaeda had railed against the mere presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, the invasion and occupation of Mesopotamia was both intolerable -- al Qaeda's image and self-image could not suffer such a grave indignity -- and a tempting opportunity to humiliate the only remaining "superpower." Al Qaeda had to declare its objective to be the defeat of the United States in Iraq. (This is, by the way, why the characterization of the eventual withdrawal of American troops from Iraq is of strategic importance in and of itself, but that is the subject of another post.)

Of course, Al Qaeda clearly believed that it could drive the United States from Iraq just as Osama bin Laden believed that we would not have the stomach to invade Afghanistan, or that he and his mujahideen could push Saddam's armies out of Kuwait without the help of the Americans. Unfortunately, the army and Marines of the United States and its allies proved to be much harder targets than al Qaeda imagined, and George W. Bush and Tony Blair were more able to withstand domestic political opposition than just about anybody expected they would be. Soon, it became clear that al Qaeda would not be able to drive the Coalition from Iraq no matter how many Sunni Ba'athists it recruited.

Faced with certain defeat (at least if victory for al Qaeda were measured by its declared objective, the ejection of the United States), al Qaeda decided that if it could not do meaningful damage to the United States military it would make Iraq so ungovernable that the United States would withdraw under conditions that looked like defeat (at least if victory for the United States were measured by its declared objective, the establishment of a "free and democratic" Iraq). Al Qaeda blew up the Golden Dome and innocent Muslims in the marketplaces, and thereby lit the kindling of civil war.

Meanwhile, the tactics in Iraq spread like a virus through the region, deployed against "apostate" Arab regimes such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia who also turned out to be much harder targets than described in al Qaeda's ideology and propaganda. Al Qaeda promoted the learning from Iraq and slaughtered wedding guests, tourists at resorts, and children in schools, all in the hope of destabilizing Arab regimes putatively allied with the United States. In the end, the pointlessness of the death and destruction was not lost even on the famously obtuse "Arab street."

It remains to be seen whether, when the dust literally and figuratively settles, al Qaeda will have succeeded either in rendering Iraq ungovernable under Western norms or in persuading a sufficient number of Americans that we have "lost." It is clear, though, that however much the Arab world may hate the United States for bringing the war into its midst, it is increasingly lining up against al Qaeda in the waging of that war. In the fullness of time history will reveal that the polarization of the Arab and Muslim world against al Qaeda is essential for victory against the transnational jihad, and that it was the direct result of the forward foreign policy of Bush and Blair.


By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Sep 18, 09:18:00 PM:

Extremely appropriate recent articles written by Michael Totten. (whom I highly recommend to all who are interested in the modern Middle East... he actually *goes* to the places in question... with a camera... personally... and writes and records on what he sees and hears. I think he's calling it journalism.)


These particular two concern Anbar province in general, and Ramadi in particular. Very enlightening stuff.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 18, 10:40:00 PM:

I think that many of the Sunni 'elites' thought that raising the Umma and bringing about the new Caliphate would be exciting and romantic (to them).

I think now they are alarmed at the monster they have whistled up.

I think they thought it would be, in the Western vernacular, a cakewalk.

"War is ...Hell"- W.T. Sherman. Funny how we keep forgetting that profound truism.

Funny how reality bites some times.


By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Tue Sep 18, 11:41:00 PM:

20-30 years from now the "Bush mistake" will be viewed as prescient and timely albeit untidy and clumsy.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Sep 19, 01:03:00 AM:

Might i suggest this cleric kep a look out over his shoulder or someone will be out for his head  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Sep 19, 08:26:00 AM:

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! For some months I've been thinking the Dems and media have displayed an extremely myopic view of what they call "Iraq's civil war".

They viewed the chaos as a sign of defeat (as al Queda meant them to). I always saw it as a possibly necessary phase we HAD to go through before Arab eyes would open and see the "evil doers" for what they are.

Had AQ and the insurgents limited their attacks to U.S. forces, Iraqis might never have come to appreciate U.S. forces as defenders and a true civil war would almost certainly have developed. As it is now, they see where their best options lie...an outcome al Queda didn't count on.

Once again, our useless mainstream media is behind the curve of history.  

By Blogger Charlie, at Wed Sep 19, 08:35:00 AM:

Anonymous @ 10:40...

You really don't think President Bush's war efforts will be considered tidy, like President Madison's wife's careful removal of paintings from a burning White House or Lincoln's almost bloodless quelling of the Southern Insurrection? Or McKinley railroaded into declaring war on Spain or, skipping ahead, Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs, Johnson and Nixon and that eloquent little dustup in Southeasst Asia? Then how about Carter's stalwart moves to free our hostages from Iran or Reagan in Lebanon or Clinton in Somalia?

The Pantheon of US Presidents who fought tidy and unclumsy wars features zero of them. Hell, son, Roosevelt saw more of our troops killed in training accidents than Bush has seen in total!  

By Blogger Steverino, at Wed Sep 19, 09:04:00 AM:


I think your analysis is too hopeful in that it assumes Muslims have foresworn violence in general. I read the Saudi cleric's appeal differently, as an appeal to stop killing Muslims and doing violence in the Muslim world, not necessarily the non-Muslim world.

Muslims see the world split in half, with a dar as salaam or "house of peace" that is the Muslim domain and a dar al harb or "house of war" which is the domain of infidels. It is forbidden to kill fellow Muslims in general and to make war in the house of peace. By contrast, it is virtuous to wage jihad in the house of war to expand the domain of Islam by the classic Koranic injunction to convert, subjugate, or kill infidels. This fulfills the mandate of Mohammed to fight every man until all the world submits to Islam.

This model has worked well for Muslims. Waging jihad in the house of war is how the Muslims conquered the Christian coasts of the the southern Mediterranean from the Balkans clockwise through Turkey, Lebanon, North Africa, to Spain. It continues today.

The Saudi cleric's statement does not read to me as an apology for Muslim barbarism on Sep 11, an attack which most of the Muslim world celebrated as a step toward the day of a worldwide Caliphate. It reads to me as a reprimand to Bin Laden for waging an improper jihad in the house of peace which undermines Muslim power and kills Muslim lives.

There is nothing in this statement that would lead me to believe that this Saudi cleric believes further terror attacks on the house of war are wrong. One might infer that the Saudi is nudging Bin Laden to redirect his jihad to the house of war. The Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia explicitly name the US as Satan in their holiest rituals. To them, the fact that the US is the world's superpower is unnatural, flying in the face of their religion which simply can not stand infidels holding such power and dominating the world. In their view, Islam and Muslims should reign supreme.

It's futile to look for good intentions in the fatwas of Wahhabi clerics. They have none. They will continue their jihad against us from their sanctuary in Saudi Arabia until we bring fire down upon their heads with such terrible force that it breaks their will to fight, just as we did with the Japanese.  

By Blogger Charlie, at Wed Sep 19, 09:18:00 AM:

You know, come to think of it, given the history of war in general and our nation's and my own (as a supporter) projections of the dire cost that our interventions into Afghanistan and Iraq would likely incur, George W. may well go down as our most brilliant war-manager. Just consider...

* Over six years of conflict, casualty rates have been below that of the peacetime army under the preceding administration and the total was eclipsed on many single days during WWII. At the same time, almost as many millions have been liberated by our efforts as in WWII.

* We are occupying countries with cultures radically different from and largely opposed to our own, which had been widely demonized prior to our arrival.

* Rogue and beligerant neighboring regimes have been kept at bay and perhaps even put on the verge of collapse.

* A nuclear ally with a population that is largely Islamist and pro-al Qaida has been sustained.

* A rogue nuclear regime in North Korea has been cornered and marginalized.

* Further attacks on our homeland, despite the enemy's obvious and stated attempt to commit them, have been thwarted.

* An army built around the concept of symmetrical warfare with large industrial powers has been successfully revamped on the fly to be masters of counterinsurgency and a "Peace Corp with muscle."

At the same time, all the mistakes that have been tagged on Bush--too small a footprint, looting, de-Baathification, etc.--have been shown to be overhyped or have been convincingly refuted. For my money, George W. Bush will go down as our best wartime president ever.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Sep 19, 09:57:00 AM:

I believe Sunni Clerics are now realizing that the end result of Al Queda attacks on Shia may be (a) Dead Sunni Iraqi (b) A Shia Iraq hostile to Sunni and allied with Iran (c) Trouble with Shia/oil sections of Saudi Arabia.

I'm sure at some point the Saudi royals stopped counting oil revenue and made the simple calculation and freaked. Next thing you know a pronouncement againt terrorism (against Muslims) comes out. Sickening that the religion of 'peace through submission' can't churn up the effort to denounce all terrorism.  

By Blogger Scott, at Wed Sep 19, 10:18:00 AM:

Tantor, I don't think the point of Tigerhawk's (salient, IMO) post was to say that Muslims have sworn off violence or that jihadists will stop jihading.

I think the point of his post was that what's going on in Iraq has driven a wedge between al-Qaida and no shortage of people who they've been relying on for the vaunted "hearts and minds."

And I'd agree with that. The facts on the ground are what they are -- and this cleric's apostasy is but the latest sign that AQ is losing favor with the people whose favor they need most.  

By Blogger Scott, at Wed Sep 19, 10:21:00 AM:

I don't know if GWB will go down as a great war manager -- there's simply no question that this has not gone swimmingly well. In hindsight, it's pretty obvious that both Rumsfeld and Casey should've been replaced earlier than they were.

Really, the guy who's looking most prescient here is not Bush or his chief critics: it's John McCain.

McCain took a lot of heat for saying that Rumsfeld should be fired and that we should change not only horses, but strategies. His advice was finally heeded -- more than 3 years after he gave it -- and it appears to be paying dividends.

Still won't make me vote for him -- but he deserves some apologies and kudos.  

By Blogger Ray, at Wed Sep 19, 10:38:00 AM:

In the sense that regular, religious, Sunni Arabs have turned entirely from Al Qaeda (and are now helping our troops kill them across Anbar) is a major victory in the war on terrorism -- if the trend can be sustained.

Regardless of whether Iraq actually succeeds at becoming free and democratic, another major objective -- discrediting Salafi terrorists in the Arab heartland -- has been achieved.

Interesting sidenote on Salman al-Awdah: he's been somewhat humiliated ever since it was revealed back in 2004 that he had, while simultaneously declaring the jihad in Iraq obligatory for all good Muslims, made arrangements with his friends in the Saudi interior ministry to prevent his son from achieving the glory of martyrdom (link).  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Sep 19, 10:42:00 AM:

Moslems, especially Arabs, live in a world of hyperbole, as do the US college students and US "liberals". They assume that what they hear is also hyperbole.

Reality doesn't suck. It's teeth are too sharp for that.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Sep 19, 12:00:00 PM:

"Moslems, especially Arabs, live in a world of hyperbole, as do the US college students and US "liberals"."

Ironically enough, this statement is itself an excellent example of hyperbole.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Sep 19, 12:01:00 PM:

Zogby /Reuters Poll today.. Congress approval at 11% ...it is time and we are justified to have a revolution...this is from the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. It is my contention that when Congree is suppoted by 1 in 10 people they have lost the right to remain in power and should be removed by force if necessary...

"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security . —  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Sep 19, 12:56:00 PM:

–noun Rhetoric.
1. obvious and intentional exaggeration.
2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.”

"Moslems, especially Arabs, live in a world of hyperbole, as do the US college students and US "liberals"."

This has been true in my experience.

There is a book called The Arab Mind, a sociological study originally published some decades ago, and occasionally updated since. There's a whole chapter on Arab language use, specifically on their tendency to exaggerate everything and say things repeatedly that they don't actually mean or intend to do. Everything is huge, dramatic, and emphatic, and lying to get a point across is ok. It's just part of the culture. (which, as you might imagine and I've stated before, is wholly dysfunctional)

Similar story from when I was in college. A collection of fire-breathing youngsters, newly liberated from parental tyrranies and most of whom had only recently become aware of the greater events and causes of the world. So it was all new to them and, therefore, a big deal. But most of them, with experience, (and being wrong a few times... I'm sure some of them are still waiting for the Bushitler police state that the Patriot Act was supposed to be ushering in) grow out of that.

Arabs, however, pass such thinking and behavior onto their kids, along with their famous propensity for conspiracy theories.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Sep 20, 10:30:00 PM:

Very tiresome to hear people give credit to Al Qaeda for the instability in Iraq.

Instability was predicted by anyone with a basic knowled of the area.

You can't have constitutional democracy without significant developments in private property rights and free market. Iraq does not have any of those at this time -- and holding national elections without those institutions was ludicrous.  

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