May 8th, 2007

The incredible shrinking (or is it growing?) al Qaeda

Al Qaeda is a secret organization. It doesn’t publish statistics on how many members it has, and if it did we wouldn’t believe them anyway, because for al Qaeda propaganda trumps veracity every time.

And yet lack of specific knowledge doesn’t stop commentators from tossing out pronouncements, not only about al Qaeda’s size and its recent growth or lack thereof, but also about the reasons behind said expansion.

From the NY Times, here (from the serendipitously named Clark Kent Ervin) is a good example of the sort of thing one reads almost on a daily basis:

While many of [al Qaeda’s] operatives have been killed or captured since 9/11, the supply of young people who are willing and even eager to attack Americans seems limitless. Our disastrous misadventure in Iraq has only increased that desire. Al Qaeda has reconstituted itself in Pakistan and is trying to reclaim Afghanistan.

I recall first hearing the “al Qaeda and the Taliban are back in control in Afghanistan” meme a few weeks after the Afghan War ended. And, although I have no reason to doubt that they continue to be a force to be reckoned with there, and are continually trying to regroup (with some success) there’s been nothing to indicate a major leap in that direction. If you read the previous link you’ll see the general vagueness of all such reports, which tend to go like this: we took out a lot of their leadership, but they’re trying to come back, and the extent to which they have been successful is unknown. Well, of course.

It does seem fairly clear that, like the broomsticks in Disney’s “Fantasia,” al Qaeda has become less centralized over time. Again, it’s hard to see how it could be otherwise; it just makes good sense. Even the absence of a major attack on the US since 9/11 isn’t definitive evidence of anything much; your guess is as good as anyone’s as to whether it’s from lack of opportunity, or a cagey strategy to allow us to destroy ourselves with argument and divisiveness—after all, an attack might actually unite us, even now, even with the dread Bushitler in charge.

Ervin makes the bold assertion that our “disastrous misadventure” in Iraq (well, I guess we know where he stands on that one) has increased the desire of willing young people in the Muslim world to attack Americans. I guess he’s a regular jihadi mindreader, because his statements occurs in the absence of evidence of actual increased attacks.

Maybe he’s right. But perhaps not. The truth is that no matter what we’ve done, the desire of jihadis to attack Americans seems to have been steadily increasing. If Iraq was the cause of an increased increased desire, what was the cause back in the 90’s? Oh, of course, the Gulf War. Or our presence in Saudi Arabia. Or our support of Israel. Or, or, or….as some say, our way of life itself, and the increased exposure of fundamentalist Muslims to that way of life.

The Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, one of al Qaeda’s early inspirations, was scandalized and angered back in the Forties by such American outrages as green lawns and church socials (take a look; I’m not making this stuff up). Jihadis take offense at an awful lot, and we don’t call it a “clash of civilizations” for nothing.

In fact, a good case could be made that the Iraq War has caused a decline in al Qaeda sympathy, at least in Iraq itself, where most of the victims of al Qaeda seem to have been innocent Iraqis. But the truth is, no one knows, and yet that doesn’t stop many people from acting as though they do.

It’s not as though we have a graph to chart the growth of al Qaeda, and can compare the slope of the line before-Iraq and after-Iraq. The 90’s, with training camps in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban, were clearly the growth years. Many of those leaders are now dead, pursued by the US and some of its allies. But, as President Bush said in a speech he gave as long ago and far away as September 20, 2001:

Americans should not expect one battle [against al Qaeda], but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success.

Sometimes I wonder how many were listening, or how many remember, or how many even care.

41 Responses to “The incredible shrinking (or is it growing?) al Qaeda”

  1. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    worldpublicopinion.org”al Qaeda has become less centralized over time…Even the absence of a major attack on the US since 9/11 isn’t definitive evidence of anything much.”

    Actually, the absence of a major attack on the US is probably more evidence for al-Qa’ida’s decentralization – a decentralized organization is harder to locate and destroy, but also lacks the ability to coordinate and focus efforts and resources for major attacks.

    “Ervin makes the bold assertion that our ‘disastrous misadventure’ in Iraq has increased the desire of willing young people in the Muslim world to attack Americans.”

    Well, he’s not exactly wrong, though he could have been more specific. Recent public opinion research throughout the Muslim world indicates that the single biggest correlation to support for terrorism among Muslims is a negative opinion of one’s own government, followed by negative opinions of US foreign policy (see Tessler and Robbins, http://polisci.lsa.umich.edu/documents/TesslerRobbins.pdf).

    That is, most Muslims want things like democracy (see Tessler and Gao, http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_democracy/v016/16.3tessler.html). Arab support for democracy, for example, is so high that high level of popular support for democracy is an indicator that a country is Arab majority. Unfortunately, most Muslims live under highly authoritarian regimes. Even if they don’t want al-Qa’ida to be victorious, or agree with its goals or even its strategy, Muslims will sometimes give al-Qa’ida support because it is essentially the only actor challenging a highly unpopular status quo.

    The US gets some of the hate for the same reason – we’re seen as the primary backer of the status quo. Our support for authoritarian regimes from Egypt to Saudi Arabia to Uzbekistan has had the side effect of generating popular support for terrorist groups that attack us, regardless of whether those publics support the terrorists’ goals or methods. Attacks against US forces are seen as attacks against an unpopular political status quo. Again, recent public opinion research indicates this – large Muslim majorities oppose attacks against civilians and view them as violating Islamic principles, but support attacks against US troops in Muslim countries and believe the US is in the region to undermine Islam, rather than to bring democracy (see Kull, http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/apr07/START_Apr07_rpt.pdf).

    The problem with the “Clash of Civilizations” thesis (of which there are many, but I’ll mention just one) is that it obscures what Clausewitz pointed out a long time ago: war is politics by other means. Resorting to explanations of culture, tribe, ethnicity, etc., obscures the political dynamics, conflicts, and struggles that generate or sustain insurgencies like al-Qa’ida.

    Qutb, for example, was something of a nut. But would he have ever written Ma’alim fi’l Tariq if, instead of being thrown in jail and tortured, he had simply been appointed Minister of Education by Nasser, as he originally intended?

  2. gcotharn Says:

    Here’s what has always struck me about the “creating terrorists” argument:

    Are we creating terrorists? Or, are we giving existing terrorists an easier opportunity to act?

    If these young men were not attacking us in Afgah/Iraq, would they be tending vegetable gardens and advocating calm understanding between peoples?

    I think not. More than “creating” new terrorists, we are giving existing terrorist mindsets an opportunity to show themselves, and to be gloriously dispatched to Allah. In a tragic, yet very real way, it’s win/win.

  3. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    I know a US Army special forces officer who served in western Iraq during the invasion. He framed the dynamic of counterinsurgency for me in a way I found particularly insightful. He said that, in counterinsurgency, all of the kinetic aspects – firing bullets, shooting bombs, etc. – that we normally think of as “going on the offensive” amount to, in a strategic sense, a defense.

    Going on the offense in a counterinsurgency requires one to challenge the ways in which the insurgents are able to generate popular support. If you spend all your time trying to kill insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan, you’re not spending time or energy attempting to stop them in Egypt or Indonesia, where they are busy telling the locals that yes, there is a Clash of Civilizations, just look at Iraq, the Americans have come to destroy us, and you need to fight back.

    That is, if you actually care about winning, then you have to recognize that successful counterinsurgency requires 20% hard power, 80% soft power. It’s about, to use an awkward phrase, winning hearts and minds. And for us, in part, this means taking a serious look at whether our strategic relationships with authoritarian Muslim regimes like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Uzbekistan are worth the hostility this generates among Muslim populations towards us, and the support this generates for actors, like al-Qa’ida, that challenge the status quo.

  4. OverGourd Says:

    What we are seeing is “Al Qaeda Release 3.0”; Open Source Terrorism. Anybody can log on the ‘Net and join in the fun. Then get your friends together and play paint ball in the woods.

    The point is that these doofesses were dumb and have been caught in the mesh of their own stupidity. But, how many more of them are out there in onesies, twosies and moresies, somewhat smarter and not fixated on auto weapons with kewl banana clips. Recall the DC snipers and the havoc they caused with more easily available weapons and recall the VT killer with a puny little 9mm and a .22. Also recall the Jeep Jihadi and the kid who blew himself up, by accident, outside the football stadium.

    These guys were only the scum that rose quickly to the surface. How many more are there gestating down in the dark depths?

  5. Sally Says:

    Resorting to explanations of culture, tribe, ethnicity, etc., obscures the political dynamics, conflicts, and struggles that generate or sustain insurgencies like al-Qa’ida.

    No, it’s the opposite: getting lost in internecine “political dynamics, conflicts, and struggles” is a classic way to miss the forest for the trees. There are deeper currents involved here than factional and/or doctrinal disputes, and they involve the modern world and its discontents. Arrayed against that world is a fundamentally medieval and fascist mindset (they appeal to similar strains) — but, ironically, one that is able to take very effective advantage of a number of characteristics of the modern world, including not just its dependence on oil, and its advanced technology, but also of course its openness, tolerance, and freedom.

    So we should, by all means, make use of “political dynamics”, etc. where the opportunity presents itself, but we should never deceive ourselves as to the “root causes” of the deeper struggle.

  6. Ymarsakar Says:

    blackfive.netI don’t know why, but there are too many people with Spank’s standard operating procedure. Where you take something that is useful and true, and make it into something that is totally useless and a hinderance.

    There is no magic formula to counter-insurgency, just as there is no magic formula between how many patrols, supply runs, and High value targets you should nab, to be successful.

    Grim of course, actually talked about all this.

    Gravity Well

    Comment below written by: Grim

    With the exception, John, that we’re not talking about winning their hearts and minds ourselves. We’re talking about finding existing things — tribes, religious organizations, governments, etc — that already have the capacity to sway them. Then, what we’d like to do is boost the credibility of those organizations. The best way to do that isn’t by being nice (i.e., ‘winning hearts and minds’), but by the appearance that we can be swayed by the arguments of nonviolent organizations. If terrorists succeed only in drawing down fire, but nonviolent organizations can get results, those who think America is a problem will trend toward the nonviolent organizations.

    If we let the violent ones achieve their policy goals against us, by the same token, more people will join (or form new) violent organizations. There’s no special reason this mode of insurgency has to belong to al Qaeda or Muslims; it is available to anyone with a grudge. If it works, we’ll see more of it — and not just in the Middle East.

    If we don’t want that, we’d better make sure it doesn’t work.

    Posted by: Grim | Apr 24, 2007 10:10:59 AM

    Getting it half-right is even more dangerous than not getting it at all.

    The only reason y anon is putting it as 80% like some chemical formula, is because of his political beliefs and desires. Not any hard requirement that is hard coded and requires that it be such and such percent.

    Is war a quota, where we have to have 80% of these types of things and 20% of these types of things? Might as well have the race academics run it then.

    That is, if you actually care about winning, then you have to recognize that successful counterinsurgency requires 20% hard power, 80% soft power.

    It sounds reasonable, but that’s the catch. Most sales pitches do sound reasonable. On the basis that if you really really care about your family, then you’ll buy my life insurance. No.

    I think people need to stop playing these con games they pull over folks. y anon is making the promise that he can win it for you if you only do what he says, is not exactly apparent. Except perhaps he wants you to do what he wants you to do… What else is there.

  7. subadei Says:

    I found Ervin’s article to be, in effect, a lesson in how not to get wet during a rain storm. Painfully obvious and hopelessly relevant in only the utmost “here’s what we should have done” mentality. In effect his “solutions” lead us into an endeavor in which we defend ourselves against attacks that have already occured rather than concentrating on building a modus to react to the attacks that will occur. Such forward and horizontal thinking shouldn’t be caged by the static mindset, rather the intuitive mind set.

  8. Synova Says:

    That’s probably the central difference between law enforcement and war. In war (and other foreign relations tools) we’re allowed to work pro-actively instead of waiting for a strike to justify retaliation.

    (I’d also point out that waiting for a strike to justify retaliation is not *defensive*.)

  9. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    Ymarsakar, you should know I just skim over your posts. If you start writing coherently, rather than just putting out jibberish (do you believe that I was literally suggesting that the hard/soft ratio be numerically defined, rather than illustrating the relative efforts?), I’ll start reading. You don’t even have to be right, you just have to be coherent.

    Anyway, with regard to political vs. cultural: let’s use the example of Egypt. The source of the insurgency was not in culture, but instead in the politics of 1950s Egypt. When the Free Officers overthrew the monarchy, they had almost no popular support. They were only able to come to power with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had widespread popular support and had turned against the monarchy after being repressed as a movement. Shortly after coming to power, the Officers used an assassination attempt against Nasser to ban the Brotherhood yet again – I think this was in 1954. Thousands were arrested, many were tortured, many were executed. This included Qutb, the insurgency’s intellectual father.

    Sadat was widely suspected of either being a member of the Brotherhood or at least of being a sympathizer, and released many of the still-imprisoned leadership when he became president. Despite these concessions, the younger leadership of the Brotherhood turned hostile – they had seen peaceful participation in the political process rewarded with imprisonment and torture, and saw the older leadership, who counceled peaceful participation, as having been broken by Nasser. So, some of them rejected the Brotherhood and started the insurgency.

    So here we have a very clear political origin of the insurgency: an utter inability to make any change through peaceful participation in Egyptian politics led a small minority of the Brotherhood to take up arms. And it was small: al-Jihad numbered in the hundreds, while al-Gama’a numbered in the low thousands, out of a population of 70-80 million. If it had been “cultural,” somehow rooted in Islam or some other aspect of Egyptian culture, wouldn’t you have expected more people to take up arms?

    Important to note are the socioeconomic aspects of the insurgency. The price of bread, for example, was a good indicator of the frequency of insurgent attacks. A major division in Egyptian society is between northerners and southerners, or sa’idis, who are generally poorer and are highly marginalized by the Egyptian government. Al-Gama’a, the larger insurgent faction, was primarily composed of sa’ides, as there were more willing to take up arms, even if they represent only about 20% of the population. When the government (belatedly) undertook development projects in the south, the insurgency dropped off. So while religion might have been an important aspect of the insurgents’ conception of themselves, economics were a prime underpinning of the insurgency.

    Perhaps there is, in all insurgencies, a hard core of “true believers” for whom violence is the only response, but the vast majority of insurgents were motivated by a complex mix of religion, politics, economics, regional identity, and so forth.

    But more important: if the insurgency was about deep currents in Islam or whatever, why would the vast majority of Egyptians, including the Muslim Brotherhood, condemn the insurgency? Why would recent PIPA polling indicate that 88% of Egyptians view attacks against civilians as violating Islamic principles? Why would the vast majority of Egyptians support democracy in Egypt? Etc, etc, etc.

    So the question becomes – why do people who object to the insurgency’s tactics and reject its goals support attacks against a government those people hate because it represses them and denies them basic political rights? Because, well, I suspect that’s what most people would do in that situation.

  10. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    Also, it’s very easy to look at conflicts that involve non-whites or non-Christians – Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, whatever – and say, well, that’s a tribal/ethnic/cultura/civilizational/whatever conflict. But what does that mean? That these are primitive ape-like people who can barely control their baser instincts and atavistic passions?

    Clausewitz said: dass der Krieg nichts ist als die fortgesetzte Staatspolitik mit anderen Mitteln, or “war is nothing more than the continuation of politics with other means.” At the root of each of these conflicts and all others is a political contest: who gets to rule which territory or people, and so on. It’s not only bigoted to assume that certain peoples are incapable of having civilized wars for civilized reasons, and instead fight over primitive tribal passions, but also immensely counterproductive when fighting a counterinsurgency and attempting to identify what, exactly, is motivating people to fight.

  11. Sally Says:

    Also, it’s very easy to look at conflicts that involve non-whites or non-Christians – Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, whatever – and say, well, that’s a tribal/ethnic/cultura/civilizational/whatever conflict. But what does that mean? That these are primitive ape-like people who can barely control their baser instincts and atavistic passions?

    Oh, please. Again with the “look what a good non-racist I am” drivel. This may feed some sort of inner need, Annony, but it’s really just irrelevant moral preening. The only types talking about “ape like people” that I know of are those poor, politically oppressed islamists when they talk about Jews.

    No, we really are dealing with something a little more momentous than just another third world dictatorship. The tipping point for any individual terrorist can be anything, from an insulting policeman to a nagging mother, but what creates and sustains a movement that murders film-makers in broad daylight, blows up trains, planes, and subways, flies jets into tall buildings, threatens novelists and cartoonists anywhere in the world, and aims at a theocratic fascism more oppressive than anything we’ve seen to date — isn’t just “the price of bread”. And nor is it some silly “baser instincts”. It’s a fundamental fear and hatred of a world in which an individual is undefined and unlimited by family or tribe or caste or gender or class or race or religion. No doubt, in that sense, it is “atavistic”, but in that sense it’s just another version of an atavism we’ve seen, and seen the end of, a couple of times in the last century. We need to see it for what it is this century.

  12. Thinkaloud Says:

    While I believe jihadists will attack us regardless of what we do, I also believe it’s possible to make things worse.

    (Dropping a 5000 pound bomb on Mecca would probably do it)

  13. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    business.otago.ac.nzActually, Sally, with regard to the Egyptian insurgency – the same insurgency that produced al-Zawahiri – the price of bread was very important. There were, of course, other factors, but it’s impossible to disregard the socioeconomic split between Upper and Lower Egypt and still understand the insurgency.

    Let me put it another way, still using the Egyptian insurgency as an example (Egypt is so important because it is not only the largest Arab state, but because the Egyptian insurgency, especially the al-Jihad faction, provided the original core of al-Qa’ida and its ideological program). In Egypt, there is a clear connection between government repression and anti-government violence. For example, there is a strong correlation between the number of civilian casualties caused by government counterinsurgency operations and the subsequent number of police and military casualties in insurgent attacks (see Fielding and Shortland, http://www.business.otago.ac.nz/ECON/events/Papers/S8_Fielding.pdf). The government rounded up tens of thousands of people, torturing and executing many of them, often on pretexts as flimsy as wearing traditional clothing. The insurgency was, in large part, able to recruit because of brutal government repression. As the insurgency only numbered in the thousands, the vast majority of people caught up in government sweeps were innocent of anything; many subsequently joined or gave support to the insurgency when they would not have otherwise.

    But more important that simply avoiding brutal counterinsurgency tactics, or subsidizing the price of bread, the real political issue at the heart of the insurgency was the failure of the government to reward peaceful participation in the political system. This happens repeatedly in Egypt: the Brotherhood grows influential enough to make the small ruling clique, whether under the monarchy or the republic, nervous. The government cracks down on the Brotherhood, often brutally and indiscriminantly. Elements of the Brotherhood take up arms, concluding that there is no other way of achieving their goals. The government fights an insurgency for a few years, wins, and starts the whole process over again. We’re starting to see the same thing happen again: older members of the Brotherhood finding it difficult to keep younger members interested in the Brotherhood’s program of slow and steady electoral gains, now that Mubarak has decided to crack down yet again.

    So, the solution to preventing another Islamist insurgency in Egypt? Reform the political system so that frustration at the slow pace of change does not turn into violence.

  14. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    I’d also like to point out that the insurgency in Egypt is, almost entirely, over. This was the result of several factors: successful government development projects that reduced the number of potential recruits; government brutality that killed off most of its active leadership, Egypt’s limiting geography, etc. But perhaps most importantly was the widespread backlash after the Luxor attack in 1997. The vast majority of Egyptians were appalled and public opinion turned decidedly and irreversibly against the insurgency. The leadership of al-Gama’a admitted that it had miscalculated and declared a ceasefire. The government, in return, released thousands of al-Gama’a prisoners as a reward. Al-Jihad, seeing the deal, then declared a ceasefire as well, and insurgent violence came to an end. So you have a situation in which rational calculations about popular support and amnesty were made, not one in which a hatred of modernity was whipping people into a wild and irrational frenzy.

    The government, after unsuccessfully pursuing only violence as a counterinsurgency policy, successfully implemented such “soft” policies as development projects, selective amnesties to reward cooperation, and so forth. If the government had only pursued violence, it very likely would still be facing an insurgency, because a) its violent repression was generating more support for the insurgency as an anti-status quo actor, and b) because it would never have looked at the political dynamic that had generated the insurgency in the first place.

  15. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    cbc.caglobalsecurity.org***

    “And yet lack of specific knowledge [about al Qaeda’s expansion and reasons for it] doesn’t stop commentators from tossing out pronouncements…”

    Ervin makes the bold assertion that our “disastrous misadventure” in Iraq (well, I guess we know where he stands on that one) has increased the desire of willing young people in the Muslim world to attack Americans. I guess he’s a regular jihadi mindreader, because his statements occurs in the absence of evidence of actual increased attacks.”

    “In the absence of evidence of actual increased attacks.” How can you seriously make a statement like that?

    Terrorist attacks worldwide shot up by 25 per cent between 2005 and last year, killing 40 per cent more people as extremists used increasingly lethal means to carry out high casualty hits, the U.S. State Department says.

    As for al Qaeda and the effect of the Iraq war on it’s membership, maybe “Clark Kent” (—not a professional Bush hater working for the MSM, by the way, but “the former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security”) has just been keeping up with our own National Inteligence Estimates?

    Excerpts from “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States”

    “Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.

    Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit.

    “The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.”

    In fact, a good case could be made that the Iraq War has caused a decline in al Qaeda sympathy, at least in Iraq itself…

    A decline in support from pre-2003 levels? It’s a possibility, I suppose. I would be curious to see that case made. I know there has been some disillusionment with al Qaeda in Iraq in al Anbar province, which is positive. But AQI is just one small piece of Iraq’s security problems. And what about outside of Iraq, where is the evidence for that?

  16. stumbley Says:

    “Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit.”

    So tell me again why trying to bring democracy to Iraq is a bad thing….?

  17. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    So tell me again why trying to bring democracy to Iraq is a bad thing….?

    Stumbley, there you go again. I simply never made the argument that “bringing democracy to Iraq” was a bad idea.

    Do I think attacking and occupying Iraq in order to do so, while at the same time hoping to diminish fundamentalist islamic terrorists, was extremely ill-advised? Yes.

    That’s not called “playing with words.” It’s called “reading comprehension.”

    Why not take your quote though and ask Sally where she gets the data to insist that :

    “…what creates and sustains a [terrorist] movement [is] a fundamental fear and hatred of a world in which an individual is undefined and unlimited by family or tribe or caste or gender or class or race or religion.”

  18. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    “While I believe jihadists will attack us regardless of what we do, I also believe it’s possible to make things worse.”

    It’s important to understand that the US was targeted largely for two reason:

    First, after the failure of al-Zawahiri to topple the Egyptian government, he concluded that the Egyptian government was too strong to be overthrown because of the support it receives from outside powers, namely the US. The origin of the concept of “near” and “far” enemies derives primarily from the mid-1990s, when most of the Egyptian insurgency’s hardcore leadership had fled overseas and when the insurgency within Egypt was dying down. The Egyptians, whose ideology is essentially the ideology of al-Qa’ida, were extremely influential in driving this shift from attempting to overthrow Muslim governments to attacking the US in order to dissuade it from supporting those governments.

    Second, al-Zawahiri realized that Qutb had been fundamentally wrong about something. In Ma’alim fi’l-Tariq, Qutb wrote that Muslims were ready to rise up and overthrow the apostate regimes that ruled them, but just needed someone to show them the way. Once a vanguard was established, Muslims would flock to them. The Egyptian insurgency believed this and repeatedly tried to stage small-scale attacks they believed would magically lead to victory. In 1981, for example, after Sadat’s assassination, 50 insurgents armed with 20 rifles (rifles being too expensive on the black market to arm more than that) attempted to seize control of the southern city of Assyut. They assumed that the people would see their example, rise up with them, and overthrow the government. They were wrong and they were massacred as a result. al-Zawahiri later admitted that they had been foolish and arrogant, and that they needed a different strategy. From his book, Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner:

    “The one slogan that has been well understood by the nation and to which it has been responding for the past 50 years is the call for the jihad against Israel. In addition to this slogan, the nation in this decade is geared against the US presence. It has responded favorably to the call for the jihad against the Americans. ”

    Further, he wrote that

    “If the shrapnel from the battle reach their [Americans] homes and bodies, they will trade accusation with their agents about who is responsible for this. In that case, they will face one of two bitter choices: either personally wage the battle against the Muslims, which means that the battle will turn into a clear-cut jihad against the infidels, or they reconsider their plans after acknowledging the failure of the brute and violent confrontation against Muslims.”

    That is, al-Zawahiri realized that Muslims were not on their side, identified a widely-reviled actor in the Muslim world, the US, and sought to provoke the US into a conflict with Muslims in order to generate popular support for al-Zawahiri and al-Qa’ida. Hence, 9/11. I fully suspect that one of the key reasons we haven’t been attacked since 9/11 is that we don’t have to be; we already did what al-Zawahiri wanted us to do when we sent 160,000 troops into Iraq.

    This is, of course, not an argument against the war in Iraq – the US should not be formulating policy based on what al-Zawahiri wants us to do. But it’s important to understand that, even if al-Qa’ida hates the US, our freedoms, our heresy, etc, they have no interest in attacking us any time soon except insofar that doing so furthers their political agenda in the Muslim world.

  19. stumbley Says:

    UB, I’m comprehending just fine. The quote from the piece you linked that I cited directly states that more responsive government and freedom would “alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit”—the very reasons cited for the “creation of more terrorists.” If this is what’s going to help stem the tide of jihadis, why is it a bad thing that we’re helping Iraq crawl toward democracy? Why should we leave, when we’re helping to do the very thing that will help stop the breeding of terrorists?

    But you were really speaking of “fundamentalist islamic terrorists”, weren’t you—an entirely different animal. Were those goalposts hard to move?

    Or did you mean something else?

  20. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    Stumbley, insisting, wrote:

    “If this is what’s going to help stem the tide of jihadis, why is it a bad thing that we’re helping Iraq crawl toward democracy? Why should we leave, when we’re helping to do the very thing that will help stop the breeding of terrorists?”

    Come on Stumbley, please. It’s a “bad thing” because, as the report also states:

    “The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”

    At this point, whether our presence there is truly “helping Iraq crawl toward democracy” or helping to exacerbate a nascent civil war is debatable.

    But there seems to be no question that our invasion and clumsy occupation of Iraq has created more terrorist problems for us than it solved.

  21. stumbley Says:

    UB, anything is a “cause celebre” for global jihadists: a Sarkozy win in France, cartoons in Denmark, a papal statement in Rome. Whether we were in Iraq or not, they would still hate us. If we withdrew tomorrow, they would still hate us. If we abandoned Israel next Tuesday, they would still hate us. Spain withdrew from Iraq, and look what happened.

    It just doesn’t matter to the jihadists, whose real raison d’etre is Islamic global domination. It’s what they say themselves…why don’t you believe it?

  22. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    It just doesn’t matter to the jihadists, whose real raison d’etre is Islamic global domination. It’s what they say themselves…why don’t you believe it?

    Islamic Global Domination? That’s what *they* say? Can you provide some sources for that?

    Every (legitimate) source I’ve read, plus our own National Intelligence Estimate (cited above), states something like this:

    The jihadists’ greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution — an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari’a-based governance spanning the Muslim world — is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims.

  23. stumbley Says:

    usatoday.comHere’s just one, UB:

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-05-08-hamas-mickey-mouse_N.htm?csp=34

    Quote: “‘You and I are laying the foundation for a world led by Islamists,’ Farfour squeaked on a recent episode of the show, which is calledTomorrow’s Pioneers.”

  24. Sally Says:

    Ah, the “nuanced”, “data-based” lib-left — for them, the whole fuss is over a power struggle in Egypt, and every frown in the West creates more terrorists in the East. But in the real real world:

    – the islamist enemy involves a good deal more than Al Qaeda, and extends beyond the Arab states
    – but corrupt, oil-fueled tyrannies that support or tolerate islamist terrorist groups for any number of reasons, both ideological and opportunistic, are at the heart of the contemporary threat
    – as long as those kinds of states exist, and as long as Western states remain tolerant of them and open to their citizens, the terrorist threat will be real and immanent
    – regardless of what Clausewitz said or meant, not all wars are political (just as not all politics are local, despite Tip O’Neill) — some really are cultural, ideological, civilizational

    The radical left, of course, has long understood the last point at least, and that’s the reason their debased contemporary representatives are often cheered by the mass slaughters of the jihadis. The more nervous contemporary liberals, on the other hand, would much rather not think such thoughts at all, and prefer to lose themselves in quibbles over who has the better hindsight. And then you get the likes of UB, who apparently is able to look right past the Taliban, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the pressure to extend sharia law throughout the muslim world, and wonder about what “data” might support the notion that fear and hatred of the modern individual underlies muslim theocratic fascism! Keep that head buried, there, UB!

  25. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    Heaven forbid, Sally, that someone actually cite evidence while making an argument.

    Often, I wonder what the point is of having these discussions.

  26. Engram Says:

    I try to base my opinion of al Qaeda in Iraq on the available evidence. Most Democrats don’t do that. There is a lot of evidence on which to base an opinion. I go through a lot of that evidence here.

  27. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    Stumbley, please. Citing a kid’s show character to represent Islamist thought is bad enough, but in the very next paragraph is says:

    “We will return the Islamic community, to its former greatness, and liberate Jerusalem, God willing, liberate Iraq, God willing, and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers.”

    “The Islamic Community,” “all the countries of the *Muslims,*” Jerusalem and Iraq.

    Where do you get “Global Islamic Domination” from that?

  28. Sally Says:

    Heaven forbid, Sally, that someone actually cite evidence while making an argument.

    Says Anony, looking right past “the Taliban, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the pressure to extend sharia law throughout the muslim world”, AND the citation of “the Taliban, Saudi Arabia”, etc.

    Often, I wonder what the point is of having these discussions.

    Exactly.

    Of course, we’re rapidly approaching the point at which these are not “discussions” at all, but simply obsessive efforts by a couple of commentors to take up space — see their trollish ragging of neo in posts above.

  29. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    “Your search – “hatred of the modern individual” – did not match any documents.”

    Sally, sorry if I’m being too “data-oriented,” but you seem to be the only person on the planet to have ever written that particular combination of words, much less to argue that it underlies anything. Should we just trust you on this one?

  30. Sally Says:

    Should we just trust you on this one?

    No, you should think for yourself. Try it, UB. Running combinations of words through Google doesn’t cut it, and your track record here isn’t encouraging, but don’t give up!

  31. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    “Running combinations of words through Google doesn’t cut it…”

    Oh, just a part of a little thing I like to do called “research.”

    Doesn’t cut it for you? Not surprising, given the almost brutish quality of your opinions on most things.

    (I say “most” because if I recall correctly I think we were of a similar mind on Leonard Cohen.)

  32. Sally Says:

    ‘Your search – “Oh, just a part of a little thing I like to do called “research.”” – did not match any documents. ‘

    But, at least you appreciate Leonard Cohen.

  33. stumbley Says:

    UB, what part of “a world led by Islamists” don’t you understand?

    And you pooh-pooh this because it’s “Citing a kid’s show character to represent Islamist thought”? If it doesn’t represent what they’re trying to do, what does?

    GEEZ! That’s the scary part about it; it’s indoctrination from the cradle! The same type of indoctrination that has “Palestinian” kids running around with AK-47s, and digging in the wreckage of Israeli missile strikes for body parts to hold up. This is normal and okay with you?

  34. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    Ok…here’s a different approach. Sally, I offered a number of links to articles and reports about the Egyptian Islamist insurgency. I then offered an analysis of why I thought that insurgency broke out. You rejected that and listed some words, declaring that to be the sum total of the facts on which you base your disagreement. I wonder: if I provided you with some more background information on the insurgency (all links to papers in various journals), do you think you could read them and then tell me where I went wrong? Because right now, you’re simply asserting that you have facts, we don’t, and that makes you right, but asserting so does not make it so. So I’m really curious, because the idea of a “Clash of Civlizations” seems so bogus I have difficulty understanding why anyone believes in it.

    Actually, have you even read Sam Huntington’s book?

  35. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    fullmoon.nu***

    Yes, I’ll concede it is disturbing, Stumbley, and I apologize for being a bit glib about it.

    But I was expecting a bit more than one sentence from a TV show to support an argument that *they* – that is, the many Islamist terrorist groups operating today – *they say* that their goal is Global Islamic Domination. It makes a good frightening story, but I personally am not convinced.

    There is a nice review of the subject here, which states:

    “…if you go looking for references to ambitions to Islamic Global Domination you will find hundreds or thousands of references to these “well known plans” and hardly any sites at all where these plans are admitted or spelt out. (and, generally speaking, where you find an Islamic site stating its world view, they are not reticent!)”

    “And if you read bin Laden’s declarations he is consistently referring to returning things to the status quo ante – the way the (Islamic) world used to be. For example:

    “From here, today we begin the work, talking and discussing the ways of correcting what had happened to the Islamic world in general, and the Land of the two Holy Places in particular. We wish to study the means that we could follow to return the situation to its’ normal path and return to the people their own rights” (link) (local)

    or

    from Jihad Unspun (local)

    “if America increases or does not reduce the intensity of their aggression, we will respond in an equal manner”

    and

    “(we) will target your economic lifeline until you restrain from your aggression and enmity”

    and finally

    “Our ‘terrorism’ is against America and it is a struggle against an oppressor to stop it from committing oppression, from supporting Israel who is killing our children. Don’t you understand a simple and clear thing?” (link) (local)

    So, yes, there are a small group of Muslims who profess the ambition for a global Islamic State – but don’t appear to advocate violence as a means to achieve it – and there are a separate group of Muslims who essentially want to enforce shariah (local) within the existing Islamic states. They wish to depose the corrupt rulers of those states and to end external – particularly American – influence or interference within those states.”

    (By the way, it seems they have pulled that show: “Militant “Mickey Mouse” pulled off air.”

    Not that that proves anything, it’s just interesting.

  36. stumbley Says:

    UB, if I didn’t have real work to do, I’d gladly scour the ‘net for references to Islam’s desire for domination. I picked the “Mickey Mouse” example as a particularly egregious (but unfortunately none-too-rare) one. Try going to memri.org and read a few translations of Islamic sermons.

    Yeah, yeah, I know: memri is run by an Israeli so it can’t possibly be honest.

    You guys will never believe in the threat posed by radical Islam until shari’a rears its ugly head in the U.S.

    I have to say that I’ll forego responding to you or anon in the future; it’s just a waste of time.

  37. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    “You guys will never believe in the threat posed by radical Islam until shari’a rears its ugly head in the U.S.”

    If you think this is a possibility, you don’t have a clear idea of a) America’s strength or b) the extremists’ weakness.

    Yes, it’s true that the ultimate goal of people like Ayman al-Zawahiri is total global domination. But a) there’s a tremendous difference between intentions and capabilities, and b) even if that’s his ultimat egoal, all of his efforts are currently focused on gaining power in a Muslim country.

    What this has to do with “culture” or a “Clash of Civilizations” has not been established.

  38. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    Exactly two references to “global domination” on MEMRI, and neither argues for Islamic domination, they refer to the west.

  39. Lee Says:

    And just exactly how Anon knows Zayman Al-Zawahiri is focusing “all” his effort on gaining power in a muslim country has not been established.

  40. The Jawa Report Says:

    al-Qaeda Shrinking or Growing?…

    Neo-Neocon questions reports that al-Qaeda is growing.Al Qaeda is a secret organization. It doesn’t publish statistics on how many members it has, and if it did we wouldn’t believe them anyway, because for al Qaeda propaganda trumps veracity every ti…

  41. Sally Says:

    Anony: Because right now, you’re simply asserting that you have facts, we don’t, and that makes you right, but asserting so does not make it so. So I’m really curious,…

    No, Anony, I’m not asserting I have facts and you don’t — I’m asserting I have an analysis of facts that makes sense, and you don’t. Get the difference? Remember that forest and trees reference? Do you understand it? If so, reread some of my earlier posts and you might begin to understand why the notion of a clash of civilizations makes sense, why it’s a matter of concern — and why trying to cover over the denial of it with a heap of “data” relating to Egyptian politics may be just a way of avoiding having to deal with a frightening possibility.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
Read More >>






Monthly Archives



Blogroll

Ace (bold)
AmericanDigest (writer’s digest)
AmericanThinker (thought full)
Anchoress (first things first)
AnnAlthouse (more than law)
AtlasShrugs (fearless)
AugeanStables (historian’s task)
Baldilocks (outspoken)
Barcepundit (theBrainInSpain)
Beldar (Texas lawman)
BelmontClub (deep thoughts)
Betsy’sPage (teach)
Bookworm (writingReader)
Breitbart (big)
ChicagoBoyz (boyz will be)
Contentions (CommentaryBlog)
DanielInVenezuela (against tyranny)
DeanEsmay (conservative liberal)
Donklephant (political chimera)
Dr.Helen (rights of man)
Dr.Sanity (thinking shrink)
DreamsToLightening (Asher)
EdDriscoll (market liberal)
Fausta’sBlog (opinionated)
GayPatriot (self-explanatory)
HadEnoughTherapy? (yep)
HotAir (a roomful)
InFromTheCold (once a spook)
InstaPundit (the hub)
JawaReport (the doctor is Rusty)
LegalInsurrection (law prof)
RedState (conservative)
Maggie’sFarm (centrist commune)
MelaniePhillips (formidable)
MerylYourish (centrist)
MichaelTotten (globetrotter)
MichaelYon (War Zones)
Michelle Malkin (clarion pen)
Michelle Obama's Mirror (reflections)
MudvilleGazette (milblog central)
NoPasaran! (behind French facade)
NormanGeras (principled leftist)
OneCosmos (Gagdad Bob’s blog)
PJMedia (comprehensive)
PointOfNoReturn (Jewish refugees)
Powerline (foursight)
ProteinWisdom (wiseguy)
QandO (neolibertarian)
RachelLucas (in Italy)
RogerL.Simon (PJ guy)
SecondDraft (be the judge)
SeekerBlog (inquiring minds)
SisterToldjah (she said)
Sisu (commentary plus cats)
Spengler (Goldman)
TheDoctorIsIn (indeed)
Tigerhawk (eclectic talk)
VictorDavisHanson (prof)
Vodkapundit (drinker-thinker)
Volokh (lawblog)
Zombie (alive)

Regent Badge