Posted by lex, on July 20, 2008
The sources of Islamic resentment against the West are complex and multi-faceted. Our lofty ideals about democracy were always viewed with suspicion when our actions in the region were to make common cause with oppressive kings and tyrants. The issue of Palestinian statehood and the perceived injustices of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank smolder in hearts throughout the umma, but there is little hope for real compromise when too many Palestinians cherish the dream of destroying their Israeli “peace partners” in detail rather than coming to any form of accomodation with their existence. Even if some way were found to bridge that gap, the al Qaeda jihadis that dream of re-establishing the caliphate seek also to undo the Spanish reconquista along the way – a goal that is probably not worth serious consideration in Spain.
So where are we now?
Tactically. In Iraq we have taken a battle that al Qaeda called a “must-win” and made them lose. When we leave – and leave we will – we will have left behind the nearest approximation to a liberal democracy that the region’s culture will currently support, while demonstrating our capacity to take a blow and return it severalfold. The rats are fleeing the sinking ship:
Al-Qaeda may be considering shifting its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, the top US commander in Iraq has said.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Gen David Petraeus said there was evidence that foreign fighters were being diverted away from Iraq…
He said there were signs that foreign fighters recruited by al-Qaeda to do battle in Iraq were being diverted to the largely ungoverned areas on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
While Jihad, inc. has not entirely abandoned making mayhem in Iraq, weak governments in both Afghanistan and Pakistan leaves the Pakistani FATA as a much more congenial place from whence to plan and execute terroristic savageries. The Iraqi people have seen the Qaeda vision up close and – ultimately choosing to believe that it could be defeated in an alliance of convenience with a coalition unwilling to cut and run – rejected it, opening up for themselves a brighter, more prosperous future. No matter how deeply the current of anti-westernism and anti-Americanism runs in the middle east, it has not escaped local notice that the Iraqi people – faced with the choice between violent and autocratically imposed sharia law and democratic self-determination informed by their cultural character chose the latter, often at hideous personal cost.
We have yet to convince a skeptical Afghan cohort of military aged males that we have both the will to win and the ability to do so without crossing too many of the cultural redlines of pashtunwalli – an ancient, pre-Islamic code of honor and revenge that governs tribal life on the frontier. Fingers are still being wet to the wind in Afghanistan: If the hard core members of taliban/al Qaeda alliance is seen by the Pashtun tribes and clans to be ascendant, many of them will fall in on side in a journeyman way, and the fighting there will continue to be bloody.
Operationally: In response, both presidential candidates are now talking about moving fresh forces to Afghanistan – forces freed from the Iraqi theater of operations by coalition and Iraqi successes. This exchange will be done in a deliberate fashion no matter who wins, since neither will want to be seen as responsible for “losing Iraq” after all the blood and treasure spilt there.
Strategically: Since we’re talking about savagery and the fates of nations, it’s useful to reflect on the fate of the nine citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran who have been sentenced to death by stoning there. From the outside looking in, it’s hard to know what’s worse: That there exists a country and system of “justice” that would enshrine a torturous form of capital punishment that uses rocks “not be large enough to kill the person immediately”, or the fact that there exists within that society private citizens not only willing but eager to help execute that sentence. Taken together, the whole of it simply beggars civilized belief.
A culture is little more than the aggregated beliefs and proclivities of its component members. It is a relatively straight line from the bearded rustic eying his former neighbor buried to her chest while sizing up his stones to a beady-eyed end-timer president rhapsodizing about imams in occultation and pursuing nuclear fuel cycles while entertaining notions about wiping whole nations off the map.
Culture change is inherently wrenching and the kind of change the region needs to join the modern world will not be imposed from without. But the West can help set the conditions for that change by vividly demonstrating the internal and external limits of the jihadist vision.
People often want to know how long this must go on, all of this fighting. It will go on until this dark vision has been defeated. It must.