March 21, 2006
Prospects of Terror: An Inquiry into Jihadi Alternatives (1)By J.R. Dunn
The first campaigns of the Long War are drawing to a close. The Jihadis have lost the opening rounds. What next?
There's an unconscious conviction that what happens next is... nothing. We go back to everyday life, the way things were before all that unpleasantness in lower Manhattan and Washington those long years ago. We shut out the harmful, hateful world once again, go our own way, and forget about jihads, and suicide belts, and dirty bombs, and beheadings, and all the other nightmares that have filled our days since 2001.�
Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be in the cards.
What happened on 9/11 was not an earthquake, over and done quickly, but a long, slow and complete reshuffling of the tectonic plates that comprise human civilization; something comparable to the deaths of empires and the passing of eras. Such events are not over in a day, or a year, or a decade. They take their time. And when it ends at last the world will be a different place, in ways that we now have no way of knowing. But the part we have played in it will, in some shape or form, match our position when it's all over, American or European or Arab, Muslim or Christian or Secular.
We are still amid early days, roughly the days of Midway and Guadalcanal and El Alamein in a previous great struggle. 'Not the beginning of the end,' as Churchill put it, 'but the end of the beginning.'�
The Jihadis have lost Iraq and Afghanistan. It's true that fighting continues in both countries, but at this point it's effectively theater. It can't be repeated often enough that the type of war we are involved in is as much political as it is military. By any political measure, the Jihadis have been routed. Their only chance of prevailing was to appeal to the Iraqis and Afghans as a viable alternative to elected democratic governments. No such attempt was ever made. Instead, the Jihadis have relentlessly made the Iraqis and Afghans suffer. Their final chance in Iraq lay in derailing the political process last year. They failed at this, and now it is over. Not the violence — there will be car bombs going off in Iraq for years to come, unfortunately. But any opportunity of a Jihadi victory is gone.�
(Skepticism on this point is understandable, considering the circumstances. Doubters are encouraged to read any of the myriad milblogs written by
The Jihadis must change or fade
The Islamists now have a choice of either changing or fading out the way the Anarchists did early in the last century. Like the Jihadis, the Anarchist followers of Bakunin and Galliani, no more than a vague memory today, were an international terror network bent on converting the world to their ideology. They had a good long run, set off a lot of bombs, and killed a lot of
It's doubtful that the Jihadis will fade out yet, not after spending over twenty years organizing and laying the groundwork. They may be hurt, but they still have a punch. According to the Defense Department, at least eighteen distinct groups, active throughout the Islamic world, are currently operating under the Al—Queda umbrella. Organizing has been detected in Europe and elsewhere. Al—Queda has settled into Gaza (and probably the West Bank), and has been detected in Beirut. A lot of activity in a lot of places, in no way emblematic of a movement ready to give up.
But if the Jihadis want to continue, they'll need to adapt a strategy. Not modify the current one — they have never, up to this point, displayed the least signs of ever having one. Osama bin Laden's concept of action appears to have been to make his move, then sit back and wait for Allah to handle the rest. Allah has been disinclined to do any such thing. (In fact, if ObL actually believed that Allah's will is revealed in the course of events, he'd more than likely be devoting the rest of his days to prayer and repentance above all else.)
His followers and disciples have acted on the same principle, carrying out isolated actions in London, Madrid, or Bali, uncoordinated with each other and with a steadily decreasing effect. This randomness has been so striking as to lead some observers to postulate a deep and ornate plan beneath the surface irregularity. But after four years with no sign of such a thing, it's safe to say that a Jihadi uberplan does not exist.
This may change in the future. The intercepted letter�from Ayman al—Zawahiri to Abu Musab al—Zarqawi suggests that deep thinking has been going on concerning the trend of Islamist fortunes. Many of the movement's wild men have been killed off by U.S. and Coalition action. The remainder will be more thoughtful, balanced, and cautious. Some will have had actual military training and experience. These last will be unwilling to take action only out of religious zeal, without a workable goal and a clear method of getting there — a strategy.
Actually, they would need three strategies, since their major targets — the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. — differ so much as to require separate plans for each.
What follows is not a prediction, or advice, but something of the nature of what Einstein called a thought experiment. An attempt to envision the strategies a Jihadi and his allies might choose for the Long War's next campaign, and what moves should be taken to counteract them.�
(I should mention here that you will find little concerning '4th Generation Warfare' —— usually abbreviated to '4GW' —— or 'Asymmetrical Warfare'. Both have deteriorated into fads with more noise than content. 4GW has gotten a lot of mileage by claiming, on little evidence, that terrorism is something other than what it actually is. Asymmetrical Warfare addresses a real phenomenon but the term has in recent years been abused to the point of near meaninglessness.
The first campaign has been a complete, if not unqualified success for the West. But this war will continue for a long time, and to assure that the campaigns to come end the same way, we must be well prepared. Because the Islamists certainly will be.�
MidEast — Rollback
The Iraq War has been a serious embarrassment for the Jihadis. They had two goals in Iraq: to hand the U.S. a Vietnam—style humiliation and to prevent the creation of a working government. They have failed at both.
The roots of this failure lie in the fact that terror is not a strategy. That, in a nutshell, is what went wrong with the Islamist effort in Iraq. If killing a lot of people in novel ways was a war—winning plan, the Jihadis would have prevailed. Fortunately, there's a little more to it.
Terror has its uses in the type of campaign being fought in Iraq. But it also has limitations, overlooked for many years, limitations that the Jihadi leadership, in particular Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al—Zarqawi, have been slow to recognize.
Iraqi insurgents transferred the Palestinian Intifada model of random bombings intact to Iraq (Zarqawi himself is a Palestinian), evidently expecting similar results. But conditions in Iraq were not quite the same. Unlike helpless Israeli civilians, many of the targets in Iraq were able to shoot back, and the resulting losses to no effect forced a switch to the roadside bomb or IED, the Jihadi's single innovation.
The IED reduced Jihadi strategy to one of pure attrition. IEDs were effective at causing casualties but little else. They were not adaptable to any other role besides the booby trap, and despite occasional spectacular hits, were useless at maneuver, engaging the enemy, taking and holding territory, or anything else a military asset is expected to do. (Early attempts at ambushes and holding cities and neighborhoods were dropped after it became apparent that Jihadi forces could not stand up against conventional infantry.) Nor did the insurgents see anything wrong with this. They viewed warfare as a terror operation writ large. And there was no one, evidently, not even Saddam Hussein's ex—army officers, to tell them otherwise.
The Western media, as ignorant of military affairs as the Islamists, played a large role in Jihadi self—deception by covering each explosion as if it were Stalingrad in and of itself. By this time, the insurgents must know better. But it's too late to do anything about it. (The destruction of Samarra's Golden Mosque has all the qualities of a last—ditch desperation move, and may well turn out to be exactly that.) Dependence on the IED deprived the Jihadis of any opportunity of adapting their tactics to the actual situation.
Another drawback of relying on the Palestinian model involved the Jihadis' lack of a political goal. Ouster of the Israelis, by any means necessary, was a goal shared by virtually all Palestinians, creating a level of support that Zarqawi's gangs could only dream of. Al Fatah and Hamas could persuade anyone from fathers of young families to teenage schoolgirls to sacrifice themselves in suicide bombings. In contrast, the Baathists and Al—Queda were operating in an environment where support was a wasting asset, with each attack further eroding� the trust of the populace. (Victor Davis Hanson points out that much of the 'insurgent' violence occurring in Iraq actually originates with the 100,000 criminals released by Saddam Hussein just prior to his downfall. The fact that Zarqawi allowed Jihadi actions to become identified with criminal activity, to a point where no differentiation was possible, speaks volumes about Jihadi political judgment.)�
What, precisely, could the Baathists and Al—Queda offer the Iraqi people? A return to Saddamist dictatorship, or a Taliban—style theocracy? The lack of a viable political program crippled the insurgency. Mao's theory of people's war,
The U.S., on the other hand, was carrying out an exercise in grand strategy. What is the distinction between grand strategy and strategy per se? Grand strategy is the strategy of the long view, derived from national policy, involving a nation's long—term goals, its ideals, and its place in the world. As defined by B.H. Liddell—Hart, grand strategy involves
Grand strategy sets the goals; strategy fulfills them.�
It is a bold concept, as sweeping as anything that has occurred in the Middle East since the collapse of the Ottomans. Its execution will require years, if not decades — it's no accident that the administration has taken to calling the effort 'the Long War.'
This political goal set the agenda for the conduct of operations. The Coalition made few of the errors customary for a large army enmeshed in an insurgency — the mistakes of Vietnam were not repeated. Iraqis did not become 'gooks'; their customs and culture remained respected. No free—fire zones were set up in the countryside. Apart from isolated imbecilities like Abu Ghraib, there was no brutality. Reprisals were avoided, as were deliberate attacks on civilians.
The Coalition displayed considerable adaptability once it became clear that insurgency was not simply gangs of stay—behinds but a broad and well—organized threat. Critics of the Coalition's performance in Iraq rarely mention that U.S. forces switched with no preparation or warning from a maneuver warfare campaign to a urban combat scenario (known by the unlovely acronym MOUT —— Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain), and in truth one of the most difficult — battling an insurrection hiding among a friendly civilian population. The credit for this generally smooth transition goes to outstanding training and excellent commanders — the success of Gen. David Petraeus of the 101st Airborne in pacifying Mosul and that of Col. H.R. McMaster's 3rd Armored Combat� Regiment in Tal Afar will be studied for years to come.
By locking himself into a strategy of attrition, Zarqawi enabled U.S. forces to vary their tactics in a search for what would work in the novel and complex Iraqi environment, an approach that might have been fatal against a nimbler opponent. Failed initiatives (e.g., the useless "Fallujah Brigade") were dropped, and the final strategy of 'clear and hold', introduced in Fallujah in November
The Jihadi response was an increase in bomb size and what the Germans call
Losing among the Iraqis
As 2005 progressed, the operations of al—Qaeda in Iraq took on a form chillingly suggestive of the 'disorderly' phase of psychopathic breakdown, with killings occurring with no rhyme or reason, as if the sole purpose was to pile the bodies high. When Zarqawi's allies among the Sunnis began to distance themselves, he struck out at them as well, assassinating four respected sheiks in Anbar Province,� his stronghold, along with others elsewhere, in the process triggering feuds that continue to this day. The bloody walpurgisnacht culminated in an inexplicable attack on three Jordanian hotels��(one of which was hosting a wedding party), resulting in near—universal obloquy throughout the Middle East. Lost amid all the bloodshed was any sign of the strategy that many onlookers claimed to detect — an attempt to trigger a civil war between Sunni and Shi'ite factions.�
Faced with a choice between men who killed children and men who built schools, the Iraqis made the rational decision. The triple votes — two elections and a constitutional referendum —— comprising the Purple Revolution were carried out peacefully, on schedule, and with acceptable results. Territory and bases were turned over to the newly—formed Iraqi military, and the police force, long the Achille's heel of government efforts, began to come together. As 2006 opens, the Coalition's political program is achieving its goals, as revealed by the response to the Golden Mosque bombing, in which security forces stood firm and Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds joined to halt a potential catastrophic break. (It's telling that even the thuggish Moqtada al—Sadr, whose militias were responsible for most of the killings that occurred, felt compelled to make overtures to his Sunni foes.) Recent reports�tell of Sunni tribal fighters working with government troops to clean out the more troublesome provinces, which could well mean the end of Al—Queda in Iraq as a viable force. The Coalition effort has not been without errors and setbacks, but has been
Having failed in their two primary aims, the single Jihadi alternative is to roll back the Coalition program at any cost. What are their chances of bringing this off?
The Jihadis now face a serious dilemma. Their chosen weapon, the bomb, in its various manifestations, is losing effectiveness as Iraqi forces begin taking the lead. In short order, they'll be killing only Muslims, which is unacceptable to the Iraqi populace. (Recent polls�among Iraqis reveal that up to 94% oppose attacks on Iraqi security forces while 97% oppose attacks on civilians. Oposition to attacks on foreigners is much lower.)
But fight on they must, or give up their dream of a new caliphate, of a return to a 'purified' Islam, of a world in which they are dominant. The Zawahiri letter touches gingerly on this problem. (How else would one reproach a man like Zarqawi?)
So what possibilities are left? None open to the Jihadis acting on their own. Like guerillas, terrorists cannot prevail without intervention from an outside force. A coup or an invasion are the sole methods of destroying the budding Iraqi state (apart from the Iraqi's own errors). Both would require the cooperation of the Jihadis' local allies, and it's not at all certain that this would be forthcoming. The Baathist remnants almost certainly have a coup plan worked out and infiltrators in place within the government, army, and police, and Syria and Iran would both be eager to send troops across the border to rescue their lost Islamic brethren.
But Iraq will, for the foreseeable future, remain a protege of the United States, with a U.S. garrison maintained within the country's borders. Complete withdrawal is a fantasy — at least one base (and probably more) will remain, most likely in Kurdistan, with its America—loving population. Such a base would serve a large number of purposes that can't possibly be covered otherwise — air support and logistics, training of Iraqi forces, an intelligence window on Syria and Iran (and possibly a staging area for covert missions), and not the least, a barrier to prevent interference with the fledgling Iraqi state.
So the Jihadi problem may have no easy solution — which may explain why others in the region have been striking out on their own.�
Two of the most surprising developments in the Middle East over the past year may well be responses to American success in Iraq.
The Iranian electoral system is one that fools a lot of people, almost all of whom are eager to claim that the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 'proves' something. In practice, a council of ayatollahs, answerable to no one, selects the candidates, using criteria known only to themselves. In Ahmadinejad's case, they went on to instruct local mullahs to order their flocks to vote for him. That may be an 'election' in some sense of the term, but none that we recognize in this hemisphere.
The question remains as to why. The Iranian president is a figurehead, a mask for a theocratic despotism. Why go to such effort to elect a figurehead?�
Iranian internal politics, the endless battles between 'moderates' and 'hard—liners', can't be ruled out. But we also can't overlook the Iranian view of international affairs. They have not forgotten the phrase 'Axis of Evil', or the fact that Iran is number two on that list behind Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Everywhere they look, Kuwait, Dubai, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq, they find the U.S. military looking back. Under those circumstances, watching American forces at work in Axis Number One only a five—minute Tomahawk flight across the Persian Gulf must have been a sobering experience, particularly as Iraqi progress in 2005 began to free the most powerful land force in the world for potential duties elsewhere.
But the Iranians were also aware of the use to which Axis Number Three, North Korea (with which they had closely collaborated in the development of ballistic missiles), had put their nuclear weapons program. So they reached down into the country's political structure, plucked out the loudest, noisiest blusterer they could find (an ex—Revolutionary Guard and a 'Twelver'�to boot), one who could be depended on not to wilt under the spotlight, and threw him in front of the cameras.�
It's interesting how closely the Iranian propaganda effort has matched that of North Korea's — the same stop and start activities with their nuclear programs, the same empty multinational negotiations, the same headline threats followed by back—door concessions. So far it has worked as well for Iran as it has for North Korea —— Iran has become a problem, but, since the problem involves nuclear weapons, one that must be handled with caution.
Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev did much the same thing in the 1950s, boasting that the Soviets were turning out nuclear—armed rockets 'like sausages' and were simply blazing to fire some and see what they could do. This had results — it dampened any vague Western impulses toward aiding the Hungarian rebels in October 1956,�and at the same time raised second thoughts concerning the Suez incursion.�
It even had an effect on U.S. presidential politics, through the notorious 'missile gap'�that played a large role in the 1960 election.
But in the long run, it didn't work out well for the USSR — the U.S. response was a crash ICBM program which succeeded in deploying over 1,000 missiles by the mid—60s. Something similar is likely for Iran. Ahmadinejad has succeeded in uniting not only the U.S. and Europe, but also, mirabile dictu, the UN. By any rational analysis, Iran is in a worse position than it held last year. But from the point of view of the Iranians, they have bought some time.
The Cartoon Jihad
The other development is the Danish cartoon jihad. Despite inept mass media coverage, it's now widely understood that the scandal was a put—up job from first to last. But it's still unrecognized how broad—based the operation was. According to Amir Taheri,�it involved the Arab League, the Muslim Brotherhood (the granddaddy of all Islamic terror organizations), the Islamic Liberation Party, the Movement of the Exiles, Al Jazeera, half a dozen Middle Eastern governments, and the Syrian and Iranian secret police. And the web may very well extend farther — Abu Laban, the Danish mullah who got the ball rolling, is an old associate of Ayman al Zawahiri.
This is an outlandishly large conspiracy for the sole purpose of embarrassing the mighty Danes. So the question arises once again: why? Why dig up a four—month—old provocation from a paper in Denmark, of all the innocuous places, and turn it into an international, umma—wide cause celebre? What got all these important figures involved? Why all the effort?�
Taheri points out that the Syrians and Iranians had their reasons: Syria is under
A glance at the Middle Eastern timeline for late last year offers an explanation: what was the major event in the region between late September, when the cartoons first appeared to a universal yawn, and late January, when the mobs began howling? The answer: the December 15 parliamentary elections in Iraq, the keystone of� U.S. efforts in the Middle East.
Clearly, the Danish cartoons are a pretext. Any other insult would have worked just as well. The actual target is the liberation of Iraq, and all that it portends for the region. The intended audience not the West, but the Muslim umma.
Viewed from that angle, it's no surprise that such heavy hitters became involved. American strategy embodies a threat to them all, Jihadis, religious throwbacks, and secular dictators alike. The advent of democracy marks the end of their way of doing business. What better method of forcing it back than to call on Muslim religious solidarity?� Portraying the cartoons as an attack on Islam undercuts the attractions of democracy, drives an even wider wedge between Muslim states and the West, and characterizes the new Iraqi government as deluded servants of the Infidel, while the U.S. slips into its customary role as the Great Satan.
Several observers, among them Professor Sari Hanafi of American University in Beirut, concur, viewing the scandal as an attempt to limit the spread of democracy: '...you had regimes taking advantage saying, 'Look, this is the democracy they're talking about."
(The cartoon uproar scarcely registered in Iraq. The sole responses, some defiant talk from the minister of transport�and a single demonstration in Baghdad, were instigated by Moqtadr al—Sadr, a man who would throw himself into a volcano if that would get him into the papers.)�
There's an endless number of ways such campaigns can be played. More public scandals can be cooked up (or else pulled from the Western media — recall the Koran—in—the—toilet uproar, which may well have inspired Laban in the first place.), each portraying democracy and the West at large as inveterate enemies of the Muslim umma, aided by the fact that Europe—based Muslims like Laban know exactly what buttons to push on both sides. The Iraqi insurrection can be characterized as a battle to save Iraqi Muslims from a depraved, secular West, with the Jihadis taking the role of defenders of Islam.
The sole drawbacks are that such campaigns are obviously a sign of Muslim weakness, not strength. It's also doubtful how far they can be taken — there's no such thing as keeping a population at constant fever pitch. Eventually the effort will reach a point of diminishing returns.�
But these examples do suggest that the struggle in the Middle East has mutated, with the Islamists and their allies —— the Arab nationalists and the old regimes —— adapting a new strategy: the struggle to halt reform in the Middle East is no longer, for the moment, a military effort, but a political one.
A political attack requires a political response. Not that military efforts can be dropped — not while the Jihadis remain active in Iraq and the Iranians still present a threat. But the major effort for the near future will occur on the political plane. As for countermoves, three approaches suggest themselves.
The first is a more effective method of fighting public convulsions of the cartoon intifada type. The cartoon tempest was essentially a conspiracy involving individuals, NGOs, and governments. All of them can be targeted in one way or another, to clarify the point that any repetition will have a price. A first step would be the immediate expulsion of Abu Laban, who at last report was still roaming around Copenhagen. News comes today that Denmark has arrested� Fadi Abdullatif� for
Also advisable would be the defunding of Yusuf al Qaradawi, the popular mullah (he has his own show on Al Jazeera) who signed the fatwa against Denmark, and whose branch of the Muslim Brotherhood is financed by none other than the EU. (I have racked my brains for some rational explanation for this, and have come up with nothing.)�
Above all, the response must be consistent. This was not a conspiracy against Denmark, but against the West and all its values. The only way to face such provocations is with a united front. European attitudes toward such matters — the mixture of frivolity, fatalism, and avarice that has marked all their recent dealings with the Middle East —— must in particular be brought up short.This may in fact be occurring in response to events.
The second approach should be engagement of Middle Eastern governments and ruling classes to persuade them that democracy is coming, that it cannot be stopped, and that it is not a threat. Apart from the mullahs, these people are the major roadblock to serious reform. They view democracy with deep suspicion, and with some reason. The shabby fate of the Hindu nobility, who willingly gave up their ancestral holdings to the Indian government only to have the promised subsidies cut off a few years later, must always be before their eyes.�
The recently—released Quadrennial Defense Review�envisions a second stage in the war against terror involving active undercutting of AQAM's (al—Qaeda and Affiliated Movements, the military term) appeal to the Muslim populace. Condeleezza Rice's 'transformational diplomacy,' in which crucial assets of the U.S. Foreign Service will be shifted to the Middle East from Europe, is aimed at implementing a democratic program. But it can't simply be left to the Defense and State Departments. (I keep trying to picture Joseph C. Wilson IV carrying out the assignment, but the image simply won't gel.) Such a campaign of influence and persuasion seems tailor—made for NGOs and trade associations in business, the sciences, and the arts and entertainment. It's dismaying to consider how few of this country's resources have actually been brought to bear against the terrorist threat. Many people would be willing to act but lack necessary direction. Some effort must be made to provide this.
The third and most difficult task involves getting through to the Muslim masses. To read the Middle Eastern media is an exercise in despair. Absolutely nothing of the Western or American case gets through. The Muslim worldview is a sad morass of conspiracy theories, ethnic and religious hatreds, and paranoia. (Only a handful of exceptions exist —— the Saudi Arab News and the Beirut Daily Star among them.)
Last year's roadshow led by Karen Hughes�was supposed to help correct this, but went nowhere. Which doesn't mean that it should not be reattempted, with more in the way of resources and imagination. There are plenty of successful, happy, and well—integrated American Muslims. We need to recruit from among them to speak to people of their own backgrounds about the America that they themselves know. More sophisticated approaches can be worked out by bringing together Western figures familiar with the culture and politics of the Middle East, such as Mansoor Ijaz, Salim Mansur, Amir Taheri, Fouad Ajami, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, and for that matter, Bernard Lewis and David Pryce—Jones. The U.S. has a lot to tell the people of the Muslim world. Some, at least, will listen. Every one who does is one less supporter of jihad.
A political solution is necessary to secure the military victories already won. This strategy will require patience, understanding, and willingness to overcome setbacks. Things are going to happen that we do not like. There will be disappointments and failures. These are not products of policy, but aspects of the human condition. None of them will be any reason to turn back or abandon the effort. Errors can corrected, failures can be overcome. And it should never be forgotten that, in the words of Churchill, the ongoing liberation of the Middle East remains 'one of the great unsordid acts of history.'
As it stands, there is little likelihood that the Jihadis will turn back U.S. gains. Al—Qaeda and it allies are paying the price of a flawed strategy. The Jihadis went into this war convinced that terror would carry all before it — a thesis disproven for all time. There is no practical action they can take to recover. (They might begin by replacing Zarqawi, but who would volunteer to bell that cat?) A nuclear—armed Iran would open new vistas, but that's the very reason, among many others, that Iran will not be allowed to procure them in the first place. The Iranian situation is an example of the type that Curtis LeMay used to dismiss with the words, 'No alternative, so no problem.'�
Paradoxically, the Jihadi field of action is more constricted in their own backyard, the Middle East, than elsewhere. Iraq has been a trap for the Islamist cause, costing them well over 50,000 casualties and prisoners. It's difficult to conceive a set of circumstances where it will ever be anything else. The Jihadis, and their allies, are always going to be in a position where resistance will cost them more than they're able to pay. And that's the way you want a war to go.
And besides, there are better targets elsewhere.
Tomorrow: Part Two: Sidelining Europe.
Among many other things, J.R. Dunn was the editor of the International Military Encyclopedia for twelve years.