The jihad and Iraq

Posted by lex, on February 14, 2008

In the WaPo today, former CIA analyst Reuel Marc Gerecht makes some interesting observations:

Regarding the Iraq war and jihadism, two facts stand out. First, if we make a comparison with the Soviet-Afghan war of 1979-89, which was the baptismal font for al-Qaeda, what’s most striking is how few foreign holy warriors have gone to Mesopotamia since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Admittedly, we don’t have a perfect grasp of the numbers involved in either conflict. But the figure of 25,000 Arab mujaheddin is probably a decent figure for those who went to Pakistan to fight the Red Army.

Sufficient as they have been to cause misery and mayhem, far fewer jihadis have crossed into Iraq from neighboring countries. The jihadi logistics and support networks that matured during the Afghan campaign still exist, and there are fewer geographic and cultural barriers to entry in Iraq than there were to Afghanistan. Not to mention the fact that Iraq is at the very center of the Arab nation. So what gives?

(One) striking fact about Islamism and the Iraq war is that the arrival of foreign holy warriors is deradicalizing the local population — the exact opposite of what happened in Afghanistan…

In Iraq, as we have seen with the anti-al-Qaeda, Sunni Arab “Awakenings,” Sunni extremism is now in retreat. More important, the gruesome anti-Shiite tactics of extremist groups, combined with the much-quoted statements made by former Sunni insurgents about the positive actions of the United States in Iraq, have caused a great deal of intellectual turbulence in the Arab world.

It’s way too soon to call Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda spiritual outcasts among Arab Muslims, but they have in fact sustained enormous damage throughout the region because of Iraq. The lack of holy-warrior manpower coming from the Muslim Brotherhood is surely, in part, a reflection of this discomfort with al-Qaeda’s violence, the complexity of Iraqi politics and America’s not entirely negative role inside the country. If bin Ladenism is now on the decline — and it may well be among Arabs — then Iraq has played an essential part in battering the movement’s spiritual appeal.

Well, I certainly hope so. After all, that was at least a part of the point.

Saddam’s nasty little WMD guessing game was intolerable enough back when he only used the stuff on his neighbors. Worse still was the notion of triumphal and transnational terror organizations swimming freely in the pool of a resentful and dyspeptic Araby. What 9/11 showed us was that the bloodlust of these terrorists was constrained less by any sense of common human decency than by the scope and scale of the weaponry they could fashion to the purpose.

Policy and intelligence organizations that had famously failed to “connect the dots” in the summer of 2001 had no problem in the spring of 2002 straight-lining a collapsing UN sanctions regime in a still defiant Iraq with resumed WMD production – as Saddam himself admitted was his intent ** – and seeing mushroom clouds where once proud buildings stood. Once the immediate threat was eliminated in the spring of 2003, the mission became first stabilization and then radical transformation of a diseased society.

It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of individual and cultural pride to the Arab nation. Their forefathers hacked out a way of life from the world’s most forbidding wildernesses. For many centuries their contributions to science and culture far outpaced those of the West. From the common era 7th century until the second siege of Vienna in 1683, Islam experienced nothing but expansion, conquest and consolidation. Compared to a millennium on the march, the passage of time from the failure of that siege to the collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1918 – and the subsequent naqba in Mandatory Palestine in 1948 – took place in the blink of a bewildered cultural eye.

Falling ever further behind the West, but eager to avoid what they viewed as the libertine excesses of “Westoxification,” the Arabs have turned variously to pan-Arab nationalism and Ba’athist-style socialism, both of which were evident dead ends. By far the most dangerous and toxic stream of thinking to rise out of the ashes of that dialectic was the militantly anti-modernistic philosophy of bin-Ladenism; that the only path forward for Arab culture lay far in a sere and ascetic past.

There can be no accommodation between bin Laden’s vision and the progressive liberalism of the West, and the world has become too small for us to ignore each other any longer. His way too must be shown to be a dead end, or else we will never know the end of terror.

** 11-10-20 – Original link was to a 01-25-2008 neptunus lex post – Debriefing Saddam – that post is gone – Ed.

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Filed under Carroll "Lex" LeFon, GWOT, Iraq

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