Is Osama winning? Matt 13 Sep 2005

31 comments Latest by Lonyl

Taking Stock of the Forever War is a bleak assessment of the situation in Iraq and the war on terror by Mark Danner, a professor, author, and expert on the region. The basic gist: Democracy in Iraq is an unattainable fantasy and Osama is getting exactly what he wants.

Iraq has become a grotesque advertisement for the power and efficacy of terror…Nearly two years ago, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a confidential memorandum, posed the central question about the war on terror: “Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?” The answer is clearly no. “We have taken a ball of quicksilver,” says the counterinsurgency specialist John Arquilla, “and hit it with a hammer.”…

Iraq has become a training ground that will temper and prepare the next generation of jihadist terrorists and a televised stage from which the struggle of radical Islam against the “crusader forces” can be broadcast throughout the Islamic world…

Americans confront a stark choice: whether to go on indefinitely fighting a politically self-destructive counterinsurgency war that keeps the jihadists increasingly well supplied with volunteers or to withdraw from a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq that remains chaotic and unstable and beset with civil strife and thereby hand Al Qaeda and its allies a major victory in the war on terror’s “central front.”

Danner also draws some interesting comparisons between current terror tactics and those used by Israelis to drive the British out of Palestine during the mid-1940’s:

The jihadis used terrorism to create a spectacle that would remove this certainty. They were by no means the first guerrilla group to adopt such a strategy. “History and our observation persuaded us,” recalled Menachem Begin, the future Israeli prime minister who used terror with great success to drive the British out of Palestine during the mid-1940’s, “that if we could succeed in destroying the government’s prestige in Eretz Israel, the removal of its rule would follow automatically. Thenceforward, we gave no peace to this weak spot. Throughout all the years of our uprising, we hit at the British government’s prestige, deliberately, tirelessly, unceasingly.” In its most spectacular act, in July 1946, the Irgun guerrilla forces led by Begin bombed the King David Hotel, killing 91 people, most of them civilians.

“With…officials attempting to administrate from behind masses of barbed wire, in heavily defended buildings, and…living in pathetic seclusion in ‘security zones,’ one cannot escape the conclusion that the government…is a hunted organization with little hope of ever being able to cope with conditions in this country as they exist today.” However vividly these words fit contemporary Baghdad, they are in fact drawn from the report of the American consul general in Jerusalem in 1947, describing what Begin’s guerrilla forces achieved in their war against the British. “The very existence of an underground,” as Begin remarked in his memoirs, “must, in the end, undermine the prestige of a colonial regime that lives by the legend of its omnipotence. Every attack which it fails to prevent is a blow to its standing.”

31 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Fred 13 Sep 05

You got me. I clicked on the “terrorists” google ad.

kevin barnes 13 Sep 05

I highly recommend watching PBS’ “The Road To 9/11” here’s the notes:

THE ROAD TO 9/11 is a compelling look at the forces that have shaped the modern Middle East, crafted to give viewers a better understanding of the current crisis. Using narrative history, the program chronicles almost a century of social, political and economic turmoil, the growing power of religious fanaticism and the increasing problem of terrorism. In the process, it makes critical observations around such issues as the treatment of women in many Islamic countries, the rise of extremism and violence, the alliance of clerics and authoritarian regimes funded by oil money, and what many perceive to be the misuse or misinterpretation of the Koran. It features rare footage and extensive interviews with many preeminent Middle Eastern scholars and commentators, including Bernard Lewis of Princeton University, Thomas Friedman of “The New York Times” and Fareed Zakaria.

ek 13 Sep 05

One thing I’m constantly left wondering is why this insistence on maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq?

The Kurds already have a functioning autonomous zone in the north, the Sunnis already occupy most of the center and the Shiites already occupy most of the south.

The Shiites won’t like that because they’ll be left without oil, but, frankly, too bad for them. Same to the Turks, who don’t want an independent Kurdistan for fear of the Kurds in Turkey calling for annexation of part of the country into a greater Kurd nation.

But someone please explain to me how pissing off the Iraqi Shiites and ruffling Turkey’s feathers (how do you like that for a pun?!?) is worse than the failed state that the “unified” Iraq is rapidly devolving into?

Christ, the country as is is simply the product of arbitrary lines drawn on a map by a bunch of self-serving British and French diplomats.

Does anyone honestly think that that place is going to stay together without the brutality of an iron-fisted dictator? Didn’t happen in the former Yugoslavia, why in the world would the post-Hussein Iraq with much deeper sectarian differences be any different?

The place is just a tinderbox waiting to explode and we’re out there trying to piss the fire out. It ain’t gonna happen is what I think.

So break it up — that’s the “third way,” the alternative not mentioned by Danner and, in my opinion, the only reasonable solution to the problem.

Darrel 13 Sep 05

�We have taken a ball of quicksilver,� says the counterinsurgency specialist John Arquilla, �and hit it with a hammer.�

Wow. That sums up things nicely.

sb 13 Sep 05

having spent some time in the middle east, talking with regular folks, etc. i am of the opinion that many countries don’t want democracy. at least that was my take on the UAE. in a nutshell, what i heard over and over again was, “what makes you think democracy is so great? things work fine the way they are. why is the US trying to force everyone into their model of government?”

and i agree that there should be the third option on iraq. it’s going to be nearly impossible to unify a part of the world that is inherently segmented based on arbitrary boundaries. iraq (babylon) has long been a hot spot for conflict due to its location, and that was before the oil boom.

Benjy 13 Sep 05

ek, I agree. I just don’t understand why the U.S., the UN, etc. insist on keeping existing borders when they are relatively modern creations of imperial expansion. They were at the root of the problem in the former Yugoslavia, they’re the source of much conflict in Africa, and they’re going to cause chaos in Iraq for years.

As much as idealists might like to think that a multi-ethic democracy can develop in Iraq, that really isn’t likely. There are too many instances of ethnic-based acts, jealousy, revenge, etc. that will keep the groups from cooperating for the greater good of Iraq at the expense of their group.

David 13 Sep 05

When you use Ajax, the terrorists already win. ;)

Christopher Fahey 13 Sep 05

Remember when Bush said that the new policy was to attack the terrorists no matter where they are? What happened to that plan, crafted right after 9/11, aka the “Bush Doctrine”?

Where, besides Afghanistan (which was a no-brainer) and Iraq (which doesn’t count at all, IMHO), have we attacked any terrorists at all since 9/11?

Aren’t we aware of terrorist hideouts and camps in Pakistan, Indonesia, Syria, and a half-dozen other countries? Before the Iraq War debacle, if we had any evidence of such facilities we could easily have taken them out without controversy. Now, nobody will trust the Administration if they say they need to attack a terrorist camp in the mountains of Pakistan or in a cave in East Africa — not even the American people.

For whatever reason (*cough* Iraq!), the “Bush Doctrine” seems not existent. As far as anybody can tell, we really aren’t hunting international terrorists much at all.

Michael 13 Sep 05

I agree with ek.

JohnO 13 Sep 05

Breaking up the borders of the surrounding countries is equally problematic. That very same manuever years ago led to the war in the Balkans of the last decade. To maintain the seperation of people from their land, requires a zeal in the people, most inspired by a good leader (which the entire region hasn’t had for hundreds of years.

Kirk Franklin 13 Sep 05

I wish 37signals wouldn’t post political items (even though I may agree with them). I used to enjoy reading another design weblog before it was ruined by political posts.

Christopher Fahey 13 Sep 05

Benjy, the potential regional conflicts within Iraq that you mention are precisely the reason why almost nobody favors a breakup: If the nation were broken up, MORE chaos would occur (at least that’s what almost all foreign policy experts seem to say, in what is about as close to a consensus opinion about the Iraq problem as you’ll ever find). Iran might invade or foment sympathetic rebellion in the Shiite portion, Turkey might invade or exert control of the threatening nationalist identity emerging in the Kurdish region, and Saudi Arabia might lay claim to the weak, vulnerable Sunni part. There will cease to be synchronization between these rival states regarding oil production and the economic greater good. They could fight each other just as brutally as separate countries as they would as provinces in the same country, probably more so if they were able to get support from different opposing allies.

This is just more evidence that Iraq was a hornet’s nest that did not need to be shaken up, and that the Administration didn’t have any plans or ideas about this phase whatsoever.

kmilden 13 Sep 05

The whole mission isn’t about terrorism, democracy, or anything like that. It’s about protecting the oil fields from China when their middle-class will need the resource.

Invasions and occupations to win the hearts and minds never work - didn’t work for the british, the french or the germans and it probably won’t work for the US either.

The terrorist threat is B.S. There is virtually nothing the average American can do about it. Your more likely to die of heart disease from fast food than a terrorist attack. Where is the daily news report about that?

Jay Reding 13 Sep 05

I have a degree in political science with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies. I’ve done years of research on democratization and Islam. So when I say that the conclusions of that article are wrong, it’s not just speaking out of my posterior.

The only “solutions” to this conflict are A) kill everyone in the Middle East who thinks about threatening us or B) try to eradicate the cultural problems that spawn terrorism in the first place. Option A remains on the table, but no one should want that option to be exercised unless it absolutely must - which would mean that a major American (or European) city has been utterly wiped out.

It is crucial to understand that negotiation is not and never has been an option. The goal of Islamism is not to have the Middle East simply be left alone - the radical Islamist ideology divides the world into “dar al-Islam” (The House of Submission) and “dar al-Harb” (The House of War). The goal of the radical Islamist is to bring the entire world under shari’a law. The father of the radical Islamist movement, Sayyid Qutb wrote the following in “Milestones”:

�It is immaterial whether the homeland of Islam - in the true Islamic sense, Dar ul-Islam - is in a condition of peace or whether it is threatened by its neighbors. When Islam strives for peace, its objective is not that superficial peace which requires that only that part of the earth where the followers of Islam are residing remain secure. The peace which Islam desires is that the religion (i.e. the Law of the society) be purified for God, that the obedience of all people be for God alone.�

�With these verses from the Qur�an and with many Traditions of the Prophet - peace be on him - in praise of Jihaad, and with the entire history of Islam, which is full of Jihaad, the heart of every Muslim rejects that explanation of jihaad invented by those people whose minds have accepted defeat under unfavorable conditions and under the attacks on Islamic Jihaad by the shrewd orientalists.�

�What kind of a man is it who, after listening to the commandment of God and the Traditions of the Prophet - peace be on him-and after reading about the events which occurred during the Islamic Jihaad, still thinks that it is a temporary injunction related to transient conditions and that it is concerned only with the defense of the borders?�

The reason why Iraq was the right choice in the long term is because the locus of terrorism is in the Levant - the heart of the Arab world. Afghanistan isn’t an Arab state, and al-Qaeda’s sole reason for being there is because it was a convenient failed state where training camps could be built without fear of attack. Attacking Saudi Arabia would be viewed as an attack on Islam itself - such an action would be incredibly foolish. Iran is Persian, not Arab, and while a state sponsor of terrorism there is no reasonable causus belli for an attack against them. The same applies to Syria.

Iraq is geographically central to the region. It has a population that has been somewhat shielded from radical Islam. The Shi’ite holy city of Najaf is home to a moderate strain of Shi’a Islam that interprets the Islamic “velayat i-faqih” as meaning that Islamic clerics should not interfere in temporal affairs. (Essentially, they believe in the separation of mosque and state, but for the opposite reasons as the West does - not that religion will corrupt the state, but that secular power corrupts religious authority). Iraq had some measure of civil society before Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi people tend to be more educated than most in the region.

In order to understand Iraq, one has to understand that the goal of removing Saddam Hussein is much longer term than 2 years. The Iraqi people do not sympathize with the terrorists. The Iraqis are more often than not the target of terrorism in Iraq. Al-Qaeda’s actions have forever shattered their image in the Arab world - they can no longer say they believe in pan-Islamic unity when they’re slaughtering innocent Muslims by the hundreds.

The recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey showed a marked decrease in support for terrorism across the Islamic world. Polls in Iraq have shown strong support for a pluralist democracy. Walid Jumblatt, a Lebanese opposition leader stated quite bluntly that the fall of Saddam Hussein was the Arab world’s equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and was directly responsible for the Cedar Revolution and the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.

In 1943, two years into the Pacific Theater of the Second World War, the US was engaged in bloody and dangerous fighting for control of a few islands. In the last two years in Iraq, Saddam has fallen, a new government has been created, and a Constitution is being debated.

The war in Iraq is about a long-term effort to change the culture in the Arab world to one that fights rather than supports terrorism. It is a project that will last much longer than two years, and already has created results. It’s sad that the poisonous political atmosphere in America is diverting the attention towards petty partisan politics and away from the bigger picture - a failure that plays directly into the playbook of the enemy.

Jay Reding 13 Sep 05

Christopher Fahey: In answer to your question, US forces are deployed all over the globe. We do have forces in East Africa, Indonesia, and the Philippines. US Special Forces have been fighting (the unfortunately acronymed) MILF in the Philippines for several years. We do have forces in East Africa supporting both humanitarian missions into Darfur, but also keeping an eye on the growing Islamist threat there.

It’s important to understand that this war is like an iceberg - the parts that are at the surface represent only a small fraction of what’s really going on. There are a number of smaller operations that receive much less attention, and there are some we may not even know about for years.

Christopher Fahey 13 Sep 05

The terrorist threat is B.S…

It’s true that the likelihood of getting killed by a terrorist is next to nil. But the impact of a terrorist attack, even a small one, can be massive. Financially, culturally, etc. I hope you’re not saying that it’s not worth our time to hunt down terrorists.

Jay Reding:
US forces are deployed all over the globe…

I know that. But can you cite a reference to an example of where we have attacked actual terrorists somewhere besides Iraq and Afghanistan? Can you cite an example of where our committment to pursuing terrorists has been so great that we’ve gone into countries and regions where we weren’t invited, as the “Bush Doctrine” would suggest we should do?

It�s important to understand that this war is like an iceberg…

Your iceberg argument holds little weight with me. Remember, the evidence of WMDs in Iraq presented to the American people and the world was also supposedly just the tip of the iceberg, and supposedly the Administration had tons and tons of additional intelligence and evidence that they could not present for supposed security reasons. Do you really think that if the Bush Administration had a major success in striking at the heart of Al Qaeda or any other terrorist operation that they wouldn’t tell us about it? They’re constantly scraping the bottom of the barrel for evidence of success (like the “75% of the leadership” has been captured story, which is nonsense when you consider that it’s really 75 out of each 100 people we know about, not the thousands of others who we still dont know about, Rummy’s unknown unknowns).

If you’re betting that the Bush Administration has important and convincing facts and evidence that would make it look really competant and successful and that would support their agendas and tactics, but that it’s keeping these facts secret for national security reasons, well, you’re making a fool’s bet. We have to base our opinions on the governments policies on the facts we can see. We can’t evaluate our government’s decisions based on a faith in something that we hope is there. That’s not even democracy.

Jay Reding 13 Sep 05

Christopher: We captured Khalid Sheik Mohammad in Pakistan, with the help of the Pakistani government. We took out Abu Ali in Yemen using a Predator UAV. We’ve captured/killed several members of Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. In Indonesia we captured al-Qaeda Southeast Asia Operations head Hambali with the cooperation of Indonesian police. Thanks to the pressure but on Qadafi after the fall of Saddam, we were able to defeat the nuclear proliferation network of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan - that victory alone is one of the single most important victories of the past four years, and is virtually forgotten today. Dr. Khan was instrumental in establishing North Korea and Iran’s nuclear efforts - and thankfully he’s no longer proliferating nuclear technology to unstable regimes.

The fact is that the vast majority of the American public doesn’t spend a significant fraction of their time reading through obscure newspapers and defense journals, which is the only way to piece together a more coherent picture of the actual shape of this war. Nor should they expected to. However, just because something is happening largely behind the scenes does not in any way mean that it isn’t happening at all.

Jason 13 Sep 05

Holy Lincoln’s beard, talk about an echo chamber in here.

I have a great deal of respect for 37Signals’ business practices and products, so here’s the opinion of one of your customers:

Please, from now on, keep the dangerously uninformed political opinions out of your web/business blog.

Tom 13 Sep 05

Hey guys, here’s a feature request. Please don’t post political garbage on your site. It detracts. So you quote some professor who’s an “expert.” There’s a thousand other experts—Iraqi citizens, government officals and soldiers—who REALLY know what’s going over there. Their voice is far more relevant. I like you a lot less when you post this kind of junk. Sure it’s your blog and I can take a flying leap. I know. But you should know you look like dopes for posting something like that.

Christopher Fahey 13 Sep 05

Thanks, Jay, I wasn’t aware of a couple of your examples, in particular the Abu Ali example (pre-Iraq).

The examples that pop up from time to time involving US cooperation with local law enforcement officers (many of whom don’t actually acknowledge any direct boots-on-the-ground cooperation with us, although in some cases I assume we are… in others we’re clearly not, for example Pakistan where I’m not aware a single American soldier has made themselves visible) are, nonetheless, a case in point: I thought the whole point of the Bush Doctrine was to make such efforts even without the cooperation of local authorities. Bush’s core argument for the War on Terror, and indeed the position of most of his supporters (especially before the 2002 and 2004 elections), was that intelligence, law enforcement, and international cooperation were ineffective in fighting terrorism, and that we need to fight it head on by attacking them relentlessly and directly with our military, as exemplified by the initial actions in Afghanistan.

I’m not at all disagreeing with the intelligence, law enforcement, and international cooperation approach, nor with the idea that we can fight terror largely covertly (I think that these methods are almost always the right way to fight terror, in fact), I just wanted to point out that, in practice, the war on terror is being fought right now in exactly the indirect, non-invasion-based fashion that the Republicans said that the Democrats would fight it — indeed, in the very same way the Clinton Administration was doing it pre-9/11. And arguably at a slower pace.

Regarding AQ Khan, don’t you think it might be a good idea if Musharraf would actually arrest and prosecute him? The man is still free as far as I know, and Musharraf hasn’t done much to investigate the extent of the damage or the extent of how much of Khan’s proliferation operation was — or still is — going on. “Stopping” AQ Khan is a mixed win at best, insofar as it’s done as much to create a false sense of security that the threat is over as it has stopped a madman’s proliferation.

I should also note that US pressure against Pakistan to do something about Khan goes back to pre-Bush times, and that many suspect that the reason for Musharraf’s treating Khan with kid gloves is that Musharraf himself is just as deeply involved in the prolferation. The Khan network is a long-term threat that, really, we still haven’t stopped. It’s hardly evidence that the Administration’s strategy is succeeding.

Jay Reding 13 Sep 05

Pakistan’s really the fly in our ointment. We know that Osama bin Laden is almost certainly in the region of Waziristan along the Afghan/Pakistan border. So long as he can get across the border, we can’t get him. If Pakistan didn’t have nukes, we probably would take the risk, but when you have a very strong chance of World War III breaking out between India and Pakistan, you have to tread lightly.

The same hold true with Dr. Khan. In Pakistan, he’s a national hero. Musharraf can’t dare touch him else he’d lose the support of the military - and the Pakistani military is one of the few things keeping the Islamists from taking over the country and getting ahold of its nukes. Pakistan’s no longer sharing nuclear technology with anyone, and Dr. Khan’s network is shut down even if Khan himself has not been punished.

The Bush Doctrine doesn’t say that we have to invade every country that sponsors terrorism. We obviously couldn’t do that, nor would we particularly want to. Iraq is hard enough. What it does say is that we retain the option of doing so if threatened. Law enforcement, intelligence, and international cooperation help fight terrorism, but they’re not enough without a doctrine of preemption. The fundamental problem of terrorism is that it isn’t like other threats. There are no armies amassing at the border, no planes to detect on radar, no missile launches. You can’t play defense because eventually your defenses will fail - all the enemy has to do is get lucky once. You have to combine a strong defense with an even stronger offense. Neither strategy is sufficient on its own.

As for those who object to political topics, just ignore them. However, this is something that has a dramatic effect on our world and us as individuals. It’s a worthy topic of discussion, and so far the discussion here has been absolutely excellent.

ChrisJ 13 Sep 05

Jay, thanks for posting.

Nathan 14 Sep 05

Why do you all think that the “war on terror” has anything to do with “defeating the terrorists”? There is no way a bunch of politicians planning and deliberating on this issue actually think you can defeat terrorists via military action. The very idea of it is absurd. They know this. You should know this. You should also know that they know this. The “war on terror” is a diversion. You’re having the wool pulled over your eyes. Every day your civil liberties are chipped away at as your media spreads your government’s propaganda to fill you with enough fear so that you’ll relinquish your freedoms to your real enemies; those who want to control you. This war is not about terrorism. It’s about taking control through fear and propaganda. And you’re all so blind the you go right along with it. Activists like Michael Moore may sometimes cut the tape and switch bits around, which is sad becomes it saps at their credibility and makes less people hear what they have to say, but their message is still same, and still very valid. Go and watch Fahrenheight 911. Go and watch Alex Jones’ 911: The Road to Tyranny. Go and study the Bush family’s ties to powerful corrupt families around the world. Wake up.

Darrel 14 Sep 05

Yes, the internet is no place to talk about issues like politics. Let’s worry about the important things like gradients on interface icons!

Jason 14 Sep 05


Your clever sarcasm falls completely flat here. See, none of us have said the internet is no place to talk politics. Rather, we’ve expressed our opinions that dangerously oversimplified political commentary has no place ON A WEB DESIGN blog.

As readers of this blog, we have the right to express our feedback about our expectations for the type of content we expect to find here. Not only that, but we also have the right to express our opinions about the types of content we do not expect to find here.

In the context of 37svn, “gradients on interface icons” are quite important to many readers, thank you very much.

I suggest you take your haughty sarcasm over to DailyKos, where it will be embraced as gospel.

jean zaque 14 Sep 05

well, since we’re being so extravagant with our opinions, i have to say that i liked darrel’s clever sarcasm. furthermore, i like svn better when there’s *more* squabbling about politics, world affairs, etc. we’re all adults, we’re all intelligent (in my case, semi-intelligent); i visit every day, in any case.

Darrel 14 Sep 05

has no place ON A WEB DESIGN blog.

Your argument would make sense if this was strictly a web design blog. But it isn’t. As they clearly state.

Anyways, some folks are tired of political comments in here. Some are just as tired of ‘i hate political comments’ comments in here.

As readers of this blog, we have the right to express our feedback

Right. I just did.

BTW, you have a nice site, Jason…though you seem to be doing the very thing you are complaining about in here on your own site.

sloan 14 Sep 05

Jay, your comments are only valid if that is what the neo-con platform was actually about. Which it isn’t. While the current situation may mean that your comments can be put into action, it certainly isn’t the view or agenda of the neo-con administration.

Warren F 17 Sep 05

Mark Danner is a prof in JOURNALISM. This is means he is a better writer than a thinker, an ignoramus regarding history, and knows even less about military science. He also, obviously, can’t write his way out of a torn paper bag.

The people of Iraq have risked their lives to vote and are threaten by a MINORITY of Sadaamists and foreign Islamists who want to return to rule-by-terror and use the oil wealth of Iraq to build a terrist military. The US has started a campaign to replace rule-by-terror with democracy and the people of Iraq are depending on this. If the US cannot finish this job, democracy in the world will be in retreat and the Jihad in ascendancy.

The US loses far more people in traffic accidents each year than it does in Iraq. If Mark Danner wants to do something useful, he can write essays against General Motors, not against democracy and the right of the governed to choose their leaders.

Darrel 19 Sep 05

The US loses far more people in traffic accidents each year than it does in Iraq.

That has to be the best Bush defense yet!


Lonyl 19 Sep 05

Warren F: Having problems reading the New York Times article? It clearly states that Mark Danner is a professor in journalism AND politics.

You’ve killed almost 25.000 civilians in Iraq by now, but then again Iraqi civilians aren’t worth a lot these days. You can buy a handful of them down at the qwickimart for $0.02.