Amir Taheri: Qaeda's new course
Thanks to Occam's Toothbrush for the link!
STILL smarting from the blows it has received in the past two years, the Islamist terror movement is debating a new strategy. Conducted in Islamist circles in Pakistan, the Middle East and Europe, and echoed in numerous Web sites and newssheets, the debate centers on a key question: Which should be our priority target - the United States and its Western allies, or the fragile Muslim states where we could come to power in a reasonable time frame?
Some argue that the 9/11 attack against the United States was "premature."
Assuming there's a strategy behind the attacks, it was horribly "premature," like by 50 or 60 years. It accomplished nothing but to make us mad enough to actually do something about terrorism. It was an act of war with inadequate force to back it up. Subverting Pakistan is a more achievable goal.
They insist that the Islamist movement should have first seized power in several Muslim countries and dotted itself with nuclear weapons before taking on America, which is regarded as "the last champion of unbelief in the world."
That's Pakland. There aren't any others — yet.
Supporters of that view cite the position the Prophet took in the last year of his life, when he led a large Muslim army against the Byzantine Empire. On reaching the border between Arabia and Byzantium, the Prophet halted his army to have a good look at the forces of Emperor Heraclius (Hirqil in Arabic). The Prophet was impressed: He saw that the Byzantine army would be no pushover. He ordered his own host to march back home without a single engagement. Although criticized by some Arab commanders at the time, the Prophet's decision to retreat was quickly endorsed by God Himself through a message relayed by Archangel Gabriel.
Convenient, that.
The lesson was that Muslims should not become involved in suicidal operations against a far stronger foe. That was the position that Abdallah Azzam, the Palestinian ideologist of al Qaeda, took in the autumn of 1989. The question then was whether the Islamist movement, having helped drive out the Red Army from Afghanistan, should immediately move to attack the United States, whose support had been crucial for the Soviet defeat.
All the money, arms and ammunition had come through the Paks. There wasn't any infidel tinge to it. They could pretend they'd done it all on their own...
Azzam delivered his answer in a sermon in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Where else?
It was simple: The movement must consolidate its position in Afghanistan, seize control of Pakistan, capture the Arabian Peninsula and, having created a solid power base, liberate Kashmir and then-Soviet-held Central Asia before attacking the United States.
That actually would have been doable at the time. I don't think it'll succeed now, not when they've screwed up so spectacularly...
A few days after that sermon, Azzam was killed in a car bomb attack.
That's called an exchange of opinion in Islamist circles...
At the time, the murder was blamed on Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian who later became al Qaeda's No. 2. The two men had fought an ideological duel for months. Al-Zawahiri had accused Azzam of "localism," and dismissed the strategy of focusing on the region as "cat's p-ss politics." The Egyptian argued that the time had come for a frontal attack against the United States, that driving the Americans back into their neck of the woods would lead to the domino-like collapse of those Muslim states backed by Washington.
"But I ain't in the mood for discussion. Mahmoud, mine his car!"
The al-Zawahiri-Azzam ideological duel was arbitrated by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire through whom funds for the movement were channeled from the oil-rich Arab states. Days after bin Laden had decided that al-Zawahiri was right, Azzam was dead. Having won the argument, al-Zawahiri tested it with two attacks inside America, first in 1993, against the World Trade Center in New York, and then in September 2001.
Two attacks on the same place, two different results...
Last week, however, al-Zawahiri, making an ideological U-turn, unveiled a new strategy that sounds like a rehash of that envisaged by Azzam. In a taped message, played in Islamist cells all over the world and broadcast in part by two Arab satellite-TV channels, the Egyptian (believed to be hiding either in Pakistan or in Iran) presents the strategy in three segments.
* First, he calls on "brothers in Jihad" to try to seize power in Muslim countries where the present regimes are regarded as weak. He singles out Pakistan as "ripe for liberation." Al-Zawahiri's analysis is based on the assumption that the pro-Jihad elements in the Pakistani army and secret services would help the radicals win power in Islamabad. As the only Muslim country with an acknowledged nuclear arsenal, Pakistan could put the Jihadists in a new league.

* The second segment of al-Zawahiri's strategy is focused on what he calls "lands of war," meaning Afghanistan and Iraq. There, he envisages years, if not decades, of war pitting the United States against Jihadists. The aim is to weaken America in preparation for its eventual fall. Reading between the lines, it is clear that al-Zawahiri hopes that a future U.S. administration would get tired of involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and withdraw from both. And if and when that happens, the only organized force capable of seizing power in Baghdad and Kabul would be the Jihadists.

* The strategy's third segment focuses on what al-Zawahiri regards as unstable Muslim countries, including Indonesia, Yemen and Somalia. All three suffer from tribal, ethnic and sectarian feuds dating back centuries - feuds that Islamists could exploit to weaken the established order before administering the coup de grace.
There are two omissions in al-Zawahiri's worldview. The first is his native Egypt - where the Jihadist movement appears to have suffered its first major political defeat, followed by mass defections. Virtually the whole of the Gamaa-Islamiyah (Islamic Society) leadership has publicly renounced violence in the past year or so. The dominant theme in the Egyptian Islamist movement now is "the re-Islamicization of society through preaching and example" rather than armed action. It may well be that the ideological swamps in which terrorists thrived have been drained, at least for the time being.
I'd say they've decided to retrench and try and sieze power by at least semi-legitimate means. The jihad will go on, but it'll be more subtle, unless they get flustered...
Al-Zawahiri also omits the oil-rich Arab states of the Persian Gulf. This may be because al-Zawahiri does not want to frighten the golden goose. With the bulk of Jihad funds coming from those states, al-Zawahiri may have decided it unwise to target them publicly. There is also the fact that, since 2001, the Jihadists have suffered many defections in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Al-Zawahiri's new strategy does not mean that there will be no terror attacks in America or Western Europe. The global Islamist movement consists of numerous groups with independent sources of finance and strategies. They were never totally controlled by al Qaeda and are less so today if only because al-Zawahiri and his gang are forced to spend the bulk of their energies avoiding capture.
The ball's been started rolling and it'll go on after Ayman's dead, and Binny as well, which he probably is now. Instead of a single enemy (actually two, since Iran's an independent actor) now there are many loosely connected big chunks. It will be aggravating to stamp them out, but they're not as powerful as they would be if they were a single coordinated group...
Al Zawahiri's conversion to the doctrine of his dead rival may have come too late. His strategy ignores one important fact: What happened on 9/11 changed the parameters of global politics.

That's the key. Before, we had a one-way declaration of war. They'd declared war against us, but we didn't take it seriously. Now we're fighting back. The other side doesn't represent a productive society; in fact, it's the least productive society in the world. The wealth that supports the Bad Guys comes mostly from oil, and the weapons the wealth buys are designed and mostly manufactured in the target countries. Assuming they would be able to subvert Pakistan, they'd still be little better off than they are now, as we see in these pages day after day. The only thing they have going for them is the assumption that we're going to lose our political will and let them regroup. If Bush wins the election next year, they're in real trouble for at least four more years.

If not, we're in trouble. It's not the economy, stoopid. Next year will be a one-issue election, as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by: Fred Pruitt 2003-10-03