September 24, 2007
Defeating the Terror BombersBy J.R. Dunn
At last, eight months after the surge began and three months after it went into high gear, we have the first Jihadi response: a bombing. Recently, Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, the Sunni sheik largely responsible for turning Anbar province against Al-Queda, was assassinated near his home in Ramadi, the victim of a roadside bomb.
The murder was obviously intended as a message to other recalcitrant sheiks. Al-Queda had adapted an old Mafia technique: no matter who you are, and however well protected, we can get at you.
Did it work? Not according to reports from Anbar. Local residents took to the streets shouting for the heads of the Al-Queda. The Anbar Awakening Council, the anti-insurgent organization which Sattar helped found, and which has been riven by squabbling in recent weeks, patched up its differences and swore revenge. Sattar's brother has volunteered to take his place, and apparently will be easily elected.
So apart from killing a troublesome opponent, the bombing only antagonized the sheik's tribe, stiffened resistance, and underlined Al-Queda's status as enemy of the Iraqi people.
Similar results followed the last major Jihadi strike, the near-total destruction of the Yazidi village of Qahataniya on August 15. No less than four truck bombs killed at least 411 people and perhaps more than 500, the largest number of casualties in any such attack since the war began. But, horrific as it was, the bombing impressed no one. Not even the Yazidi, an extremely small and less than wildly popular religious minority (they worship a "Peacock Angel" that both Christians and Muslims associate with Lucifer). Is it possible that Jihadi terror tactics have reached the point of diminishing returns?
Over the past several months, the Jihadis have been reduced to operating almost solely as terrorists. Insurgencies such as the 1950s Algerian war of liberation were fought as terror campaigns, and some full-scale wars have featured terror as a substantial element of operations. The Viet Cong were certainly no slouches at the acte gratuite, and the same can be said of the Armed Islamic Group during the recent civil war in unlucky Algeria. But in these cases, terror was ancillary to more aggressive tactics, actions intended to take the fight directly to the enemy.
But in Iraq, few attacks on the standard guerilla model, much less conventional raids, have been taking place. Even the ambush, the sine qua non of guerilla warfare, has become uncommon. The Jihadis seem to be depending largely on bombs, sniping, and assassination, with bombs acting as the weapon of choice.
Bombs have been part of the terrorist arsenal ever since there have been terrorists. They were a major component of the 19th-century anarchist doctrine of "Propaganda of the deed", violent actions carried out to terrorize oppressors and encourage the working classes. That doctrine was introduced to the United States in the Haymarket bombing of May 4, 1886, in which eight policemen overseeing a Chicago labor demonstration were killed. The Haymarket murders succeeded only in destroying the progress achieved by the labor movement up to that time, and such atrocities remained rarities into the 20th century. (The Los Angeles Times bombing of October 1, 1910, which killed 21 people, was one major exception.)
Enter Luigi Galleani, the Ramzi Yousef of his epoch, who emigrated to the U.S. for the sole purpose of creating havoc and killing people. Galleani organized an anarchist group composed almost exclusively of Italians and active throughout the northeast. Galleani's campaign opened up in late April 1919, when bombs disguised as shipments from Gimbel's department store appeared in the mailboxes of public officials across the country. The only person hurt was the black maid of Senator Thomas Hardwick, who lost both hands opening a package.
The campaign entered its next stage on June 2 when bombs exploded in eight major cities, including Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The most spectacular attack occurred in Washington, where Carlo Valdinoci attempted to bomb the home of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Valdinoci stumbled on Palmer's front step and was blown to kingdom come -- assorted pieces were found over a block away. Although his house was half-destroyed, Palmer was unharmed. (Strangely, the incident duplicated almost to the last detail the bombing scene in Joseph Conrad's classic study of anarchism, The Secret Agent, published in 1908.)
Palmer, who had previously ignored calls to crack down on radicals, began a series of raids on anarchists, socialists, and communists, rounding up several thousand and deporting anyone lacking citizenship. (Civil libertarians who hold up the "Palmer Raids" as a classic example of government overreaction almost always fail to mention the bombings.) Among them was Galleani himself, who got a free trip home to sunny Italy. Mussolini, on taking power, immediately tossed him in jail. He was never again a completely free man.
The Galleanist's last shot occurred on September 16, 1920, when Mario Buda parked a cart full of dynamite (a primitive version of the car bomb) on Wall Street outside the Stock Exchange. The explosion killed thirty-three people and wounded close to two hundred. The scars are still visible on the facade of the Exchange. That atrocity marked the end of the Galleanists -- the rest, among them Sacco and Vanzetti, had other worries at that point.
Apart from various one-off attempts, the country was blessedly spared political bombings for another half-century. The next major campaign involved the Weathermen, the ugly endpoint of the Vietnam antiwar movement. (If they were revived today, they'd have to be called the "Weatherpersons".) A violent offshoot, the Weather Underground, set off more than 300 bombs in banks, corporate offices, and other targets "implicated" in U.S. "war crimes" in Southeast Asia in 1969-1970. At first, the group struck after hours and caused no casualties, but they were preparing to bomb a servicemen's dance at Fort Dix, N.J. when, in one of the few bright miracles of the era, the bomb went off in the group's Greenwich Village brownstone, killing the bomb-maker and several other Weathercreatures and saving who knows how many innocent lives. (One of the group's ringleaders, Bill Ayers, is today a respectable university professor. A few years ago, he wrote his memoirs in an effort at personal and political rehabilitation, closely coordinated with such media outlets as The New York Times. The attempt was derailed by other events occurring the morning of the book's publication date, September 11, 2001.)
None of these campaigns accomplished anything of note. The labor bombers simply embarrassed their movement. Galleani and his goons destroyed radicalism in the U.S. for a decade or more. The Weathermen, if anything, guaranteed the continuation of the Vietnam War due to public repugnance at their actions. Clearly, political bombing is a failure in its own terms. So dismal is the record as to strongly suggest that the actual motives for such campaigns lie in vicious thrills or the satisfying of psychopathic urges.
The same lesson is apparent on the international stage. The most comprehensive and lengthy bombing campaign was carried out by the Irish Republican Army. Beginning with a revenge strike for the Derry Massacre against Protestant targets in Belfast on July 21, 1972 (22 bombs were set off in little more than an hour, killing 9 people and injuring over130), the IRA continued bombing for two decades and more. Over 650 people were killed, among them Lord Mountbatten and Ross McWhirter, of the famed Guinness clan. Lady Thatcher nearly joined that number in 1984 when the IRA bombed her hotel in Brighton during a Conservative Party convention.
And yet the IRA, and its political wing Sinn Fein, got nowhere until they declared a cease-fire in the mid-90s and settled down for serious talks with the British government. The bombings, aimed at a people who a generation earlier had defied Hitler's Luftwaffe and V-weapons, aroused only contempt and hatred of all things Irish, freezing the Northern Ireland question where it had stood in the late 60s.
The Basque ETA, the Tamil Tigers, the Baader-Meinhof gang -- none has ever achieved its goal through bombing. (The Madrid bombing, aided by incompetent handling and Socialist pusillanimity, is the exception that proves the rule.) Political bombing is one of those programs that make perfect sense, that are logically consistent, and that simply don't work.
The Jihadis, with the assistance of the Iranians and Syrians, have undoubtedly carried the technique of the terror bomb to an entirely new level. Such innovations as tanker bombs, chlorine bombs, and armor-piercing IEDs have endowed bomb-making with a sophistication never before seen. The number of victims dwarfs that of other such campaigns. If nothing else, the Jihadis can legitimately claim to have pushed terror bombing technology to the limits of its subnuclear capability.
But what, exactly, do they have to show for it?
In four years, the Jihadis have accounted for 3783 fatalities among U.S. troops. It in no way degrades the nobility of this sacrifice to say that these are pretty miserable numbers for an all-out war. Analysts such as Victor Davis Hanson have pointed out that this total is a minuscule percentage of the casualties suffered in the Civil War or WW II. They certainly wouldn't impress a professional military force like the Imperial Japanese Army or the Chinese People's Liberation Army, which were used to inflicting such casualties within a matter of weeks.
Civilian casualties are another story. Jihadi policy has deliberately maximized such deaths though strikes on marketplaces, religious processions, and funerals. A hundred or more deaths per bombing were not at all uncommon before the surge began. But can this in any way be termed a "success"? One fact that can't be repeated often enough (since it's never mentioned at all in the legacy media) is that the Jihadis have repeatedly violated the basic maxim of guerilla warfare: do not alienate the civilian population. The Jihadis, as we well know, have done nothing but. As a result, indifference and even open support have been transformed into virulent hatred. Al-Queda and its associates sowed the wind, and are now reaping the whirlwind.
(Further evidence, if such is needed, can be found in recent poll results revealing strong Muslim disapproval of bomb attacks against civilians.)
Up to this point, the Jihadi experience matches the historical record established by previous bombers. The question remains as to why. Vicious as they may be, the Jihadis are in no way stupid. They are able organizers, in easy command of such challenging aspects of insurgent warfare as intelligence, re-supply, and recruitment. How could they fall for such a transparently flawed strategy?
It's possible that they had no other choice -- that a terror campaign was the only way to get at Coalition forces. We also can't overlook the psychological explanation -- men who amuse themselves by chopping heads would obviously lean toward random bombing.
But it's the third explanation that's the most compelling: that the Jihadis were actually aiming at a target well beyond the borders of Iraq. That the bombing campaign was intended to destroy American support for the war effort through a neverending series of atrocities.
This is a version of the North Vietnamese post-Tet strategy. The disastrous Tet offensive of 1968, in which Communist forces lost over 60,000 troops, conclusively demonstrated that South Vietnam could not be taken by main force. But confused and ill-informed reporters portrayed the offensive as a U.S. defeat, never adequately correcting the record even after the facts emerged. For the next four years, the North Vietnamese, working closely with American antiwar groups, utilized the defeatist media to manipulate U.S. public opinion. Although Allied forces had cleared much of South Vietnam of Communist troops by 1970, the war effort was portrayed as a failure, with a corresponding erosion of public support. In the end, the war was lost not through military defeat but due to interference by American politicians convinced of the futility of further action.
This "Fifth Column" strategy (In 1939, Emilio Mola, one of Franco's generals, was asked which of his four columns would take Madrid. He answered, "My fifth column" -- in other words, traitors among the city's population.) has also worked for the Jihadis. The western media have recapitulated much of the reportage of the Vietnam War -- for instance, the omnipresent galleries of U.S. casualties on such news sites as Reuters and Newsday, which copy a 1970 effort in which an entire issue of Life magazine was devoted to photos of American troops killed that week. Another such element is the assumption, illogical but not subject to clear refutation, that all the deaths occurring in Iraq are the responsibility of the U.S. If not for "Bush's War", those people would be alive. QED -- Bush is to blame for their deaths.
So the motivation behind the apparently self-defeating Jihadi bombing strategy becomes evident. It doesn't matter how many are killed in each strike, it doesn't matter if they're women, children, or fellow Muslims. What matters is that they will, each sad battered soul, end up attributed to the evil George W. Bush. Media coverage, as currently constituted, will see to that.
Consider the Yazidi story. The attack was played in the media as a resounding blow against the surge, incontrovertible evidence that the effort had failed. The Time magazine story was titled "The Surge's Short Shelf Life".
In truth, the Yazidi strike had little to do with the war. A few months previously, a gang of Yazidi men had beaten to death a young girl who had the effrontery to fall in love with a Muslim youth. (This incident suggests that "honor killing" is not, as some claim, a Muslim pathology but a Middle Eastern problem.) This ghastly killing was recorded and relayed worldwide over the Internet only days before the bombing took place. This is asking too much of coincidence; clearly, the attack was a revenge strike against the Yazidi, possibly using assets prepared for use against other targets. It makes sense to remove it from the war roster altogether, and view it instead as an example of Iraqi domestic violence.
The Jihadis are utilizing the international media as a force-multiplier, an asset that amplifies their efforts far beyond their actual effects in the field. Each American combat death looms larger than ten in Vietnam, a hundred in WW II. Each massacre is another Dresden or Hiroshima. This campaign has been, if anything, even more effective than that of the North Vietnamese.
Until Gen. David Petreaus and Ryan Crocker put an end to it for now at the Congressional hearings last week.
An administration blamed for mounting civilian deaths will also get the credit when such deaths begin to fall. Petreaus and Crocker were able to establish exactly that. Large-scale atrocities like the Yazidi attack, so common in 2006, have become rare. Attacks in general are down 50%, sectarian attacks down close to 75%. One of the most disturbing elements of the entire Iraq situation - the horrifying and meaningless deaths of innocent civilian bystanders -- has been brought under control. And brought under control by means of the surge. It follows that to curtail the surge would be to risk another rise in those deaths - and who (apart from John Murtha) is willing to risk that?
It may turn out that the easing of Jihadi bombings was one of the most important turning points of the war. A critical element in any counterinsurgency campaign is the demonstration that loyal forces can provide security. This is what the surge has done. We are likely to see more worthwhile results from this, in the form of civilians turning on the Jihadis and giving their allegiance to the government, than any other single factor.
As for the Jihadis -- they appear to have trapped themselves. Their attempt to manipulate the world at large has made them utterly despised figures among the Iraqis. While there may be some route back from this, nobody else has ever found it. The Jihadis will have to figure it out for themselves. More likely, they will take their place beside the Haymarket bomber (whoever he was -- he was never found, and the four men hanged for the crime were very likely innocent), and Luigi Galleani as proof that the random bomb is not a useful weapon.
Now, if we can just figure out what to do with the media....
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.