Sunday, December 31, 2006

Islamic Jihadists and George Bush: Common Ground?

I somehow missed a New Yorker article by Lawrence Wright titled "The Master Plan." Subtitled, "For the new theorists of jihad, Al Qaeda is just the beginning," the piece appeared in the September 11, 2006 issue of the magazine. In it, Wright, author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11," basically says that Al Qaeda is defunct, or at least irrelevant, because even though the U.S. failed to capture bin Laden and even, for all practical purposes, abandoned its search, the type of indiscriminate slaughter espoused by Al Qaeda type groups is seen by jihadist ideologues as counter-productive. The jihadists have extended plans for action that cause less collateral damage and destroy the economy of the infidels.

One of these "new theorists," Abu Musab al-Suri, is certainly not "new" to Al Qaeda or bin Laden. In fact, the Syrian-born jihadist has been a member of the organization's "inner council," but he has deeply-held differences with Al Qaeda on how to proceed. He also has a shrewd take on U.S. policies and goals in the region. For example, he claims that the American attack on Afghanistan was, in Wright's words, "not really aimed at capturing or killing bin Laden; its true goal was to sweep away the Taliban and eliminate the rule of Islamic law" -- Shari'a. Since Suri published his sixteen hundred page book, Call for Worldwide Islamic Resistence, on the Internet in 2004, he already knew about the invasion of Iraq the previous year, so his views don't exactly qualify as prescience, but history has nevertheless born out their truth. In fact, one of the primary flaws even Americans found in the Bush Doctrine was its eagerness to abandon the search for bin Laden and withdraw significant numbers of American troops from Afghanistan for re-deployment in Iraq.

Wright further portrays Suri as viewing the invasion of Iraq as "pos[ing] a dilemma for Al Qaeda. Iraq is a largely Shiite nation, and Al Qaeda is composed of Sunnis who believe that the Shia are heretics." In retrospect, this gives lie to the claims of Cheney and the rest of the neo-con team who justified the offensive incursion by claiming a Saddam-Al Qaeda link. Our politicians should have known better. (Is Hillary Clinton so ignorant about what is going on in the Mideast, and especially among Islamic peoples? She must be. She voted for the war.)

Another of the jihadist ideologues is Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a Palestinian sheikh, who mentored the bloodthirsty, cruel killer, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but disagreed with him on such tactics as suicide bombings, like the one in Madrid, in which Zarqawi had a hand. Maqdisi condemned "vengeful acts which terrify people, provoke the entire world against mujahideen, and prompt the world to fight them" and advised jihadists to steer clear of Iraq. Jihadist involvement in the Iraqi civil war would, in Maqdisi's words, be an " God, the biggest catastrophe." To which warning Zarqawi responded that he took orders only from God. And this, as Sam Harris and others have observed, just happens to be the same claim made by George Bush. In a world where everyone and his brother commits slaughter on orders from God, somebody's got to be lying.

Abu Bakr Naji, another jihadist theorist, actually draws sustenance from Western thinkers, including a Yale historian named Paul Kennedy. It seems that Naji has quoted Kennedy in an Al Qaeda website article based in part on the professor's book, Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. In this 1987 tome, Kennedy observed that imperial overreach leads to the downfall of empires. If the semi-literate Bush had read enough history, he might have revisited Tsar Nicholas and the conditions in imperial Russia prior to the Bolshevik Revolution. Nicholas's downfall -- indeed, the end of Tsarist Russia altogether -- was brought about by preemptive, offensive, and above all costly foreign incursions, first in the East, then in Europe. He bankrupted Russia and brought about mass starvation and political unrest, leading ultimately to his undoing. But, no, Bush knows nothing and doesn't want to learn anything either. Early on, commentators fretted over his "total lack of curiosity," but they scarcely could have anticipated Bush's "reading contest" with Karl Rove! When Bush announced he was reading Herman Hesse, I had to laugh. Reading is one thing. Understanding is something else.

Finally, there is Fouad Hussein, who met both Zarqawi and Maqdisi in a Jordanian prison, interviewed them extensively (I mean, what else is there to do?!), and ended up writing what Wright terms a book about Al Qaeda's "apocalyptic agenda." It is indeed scary. The key to Al Qaeda's strategy, Hussein says, is "dragging Iran into conflict with the United States," since
"[e]xtending the area of conflict in the Middle East will cause the U.S. to overextend its forces." In turn, in retaliation, Iran will likely cripple or destroy oil installations in the Persian Gulf, "which would cut off sixty percent of the world's oil supplies, destabilizing Western economies." That scenario seems right out of Doctor Strangelove.

But that's not all. It gets even more nightmarish. In fact, Al Qaeda almost seems to be maneuvering American foreign policy in the Mideast. Hussein predicts that the U.S. and Israel will first rid the region of Hezbollah, then go after Iran on one front and Syria on the other, Syria being "Iran's principal ally in the region...." It seems that Al Qaeda has long wanted to infiltrate Syria, so removal of the Assad regime, "a longtime goal of jihadis," will at long last put them in proximity to Israel. Knowing this, how can the Bush administration continue to ignore those who, like James A. Baker and the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, argue that it's time we involved both Syria and Iran in our discussions of the Iraqi situation. Both nations have vested interests in the outcome of the situation at hand. But, no, Bush stubbornly continues, ostrich-like, to stick his head in the ground and go his own
way. He reminds me of the old laundry detergent ad depicting a young man whose mother keeps trying to help him wash his clothes. Frustrated, he says, "Mother! I'd rather do it myself!"

But wait, there's more! Attacks on the Mideastern petroleum industry will continue as the circle of confrontation will expand. Eventually, Al Qaeda will destroy our electronic infrastructure by hacking into government and banking websites and undermining our economy world-wide. By then, secular Arab governments will be under attack or already dismantled, Turkey dealt the same fate as Syria and the final conflict with Israel begun. Such plotting alarms European jihad-watchers; for example, the Dutch, following the jihadist assassination of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, launched exhaustive studies of radical Islamist plans for world domination. One of the Dutch studies, titled "From Dawa to Jihad," classifies radical Islamics to include a "new generation" whose ideology "is alarmingly vague" but includes a facile division of the world into "sons of darkness" and "sons of light."

Jihadists also believe that a fight to the finish between these two groups "is the will of God." Now, the parallel to Bush is complete. Although he may not be a member of the same whacko fundamentalist sect taking the supposed eschatology of The Revelations of John quite literally (unless I am mistaken, former Rep. Tom DeLay belongs to the group), Bush nevertheless espouses a "born-again" or evangelical belief system. Just like this new generation of jihadists, such people believe in the inevitability of the Apocalypse. No matter that sane people think -- i.e. those who do not believe in Santa Claus, much less the elves -- such views are only held by loonies. Unfortunately, we're helpless to stop the march of the monotheists' self-fulfilling prophecies. As Sam Harris has argued in his insightful, brilliant The End of Faith, the world's monotheisms all have ulterior motives for bringing about The Final Conflict. To the Christers, it is the Rapture. To jihadists, it's virgins in Paradise.

Wright concludes with the scariest realization of all: "Although American and European intelligence communities are aware of the jihadi texts, the works of these ideologues often reads like a playbook that U.S. policymakers have been slavishly, if inadvertently, following...."

Oh? Really? How "inadvertently"?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The President's Analyst?

One of the vogue definitions of insanity is repeatedly performing the same task and expecting a different result. George W. Bush needs a psychiatrist. He appears to be the only guy in the world who actually thinks "victory" is possible in Iraq. And he refuses to follow the sage advice of a non-partisan blue ribbon investigatory committee joining those who say that it is time to get out of Iraq. Bush appears to be getting truly desperate, employing an old Vietnam era trick designed to convince the skeptics that the war is winable: the body count.

Standing in front of the joint chiefs in the Pentagon press room, Bush announced that during a ten-week period from October, 2006, until the second week of December, some 5,900 enemy had been killed. He did not say who had killed them -- U.S. troops, Iraqi forces, Shiite militiamen, or Baghdad's pathetic police. This is critical in that without knowing the political alliances of those who died and who, exactly, pulled the trigger, there is no way for us to know whether the feckless Iraqi government played any part soever in the kill. As any trial attorney knows, sometimes a half truth is the worst form of lie.

Worse, body counts proved counterproductive in Vietnam. For one thing, as the My Lai massacre demonstrated, soldiers saddled with a phoney goal of wiping out just so many enemy troops are much more likely to shoot first and find out who's been killed later on. Routinely, collaterals are counted right along with the insurgents and al-Quaida types, just to satisfy the quota. The tendency of Vietnam officers to inflate the figures became almost legendary. Fibbing about the kill was the norm rather than the exception.

It also spawned perhaps the only levity to come from the Vietnam war, the spoofing of the military leadership by merry jesters who'd turn up at sit-in's, peace rallies, and even Renaissance Pleasure Faires. I personally met two of these Dadaist clowns: "Gen. Wastemoreland" and "General Hersheybar," after the commanding officer in Vietnam (Westmoreland) and the chief draft architect (Hershey), respectively. Dressed up like South American dictators bearing so many ribbons and medals you wondered how they walked, they would show up at any gathering where they could expect to boost the morale of the anti-war forces. At first, the latter were mostly dope-smoking longhairs, peaceniks. Later, though, especially after the Kent State "police riot" and, later still, Walter Cronkite's reports on what he'd seen overseas, the numbers included all manner of consciencious citizens. It was a genuine pleasure, and a great honor, to meet these generals poseurs.

But the falsifying of numbers is also redolent in a way of another, earlier ugly episode in our policitical history: the McCarthy era. Will Bush be telling the press tomorrow that, during the same period, "over 6,000 enemy were killed," and, in January, that during the same period "9,000 enemy were killed" -- during the same ten weeks? There's no sure way to "prove" that exactly 5,900 "enemy" were killed, nor do we know, from Bush, who is or is not an "enemy." In the kind of civil war going on now in Iraq, everyone would seem to be an "enemy" under a given set of circumstances.

As for Bush, I say the guy's a certifiable looney. I might advocate having him committed to a mental institution were I not more eager to see Congress bringing articles of impeachment. Among the grounds they might allege, I would certainly include the fact that he has failed to learn the lessons of history, for by such willful ignorance, Bush has condemned the American people to relive it.