This is some pretty great analysis per usual from Billmon at the "Whiskey Bar" Blog. Really clears alot of things up for me, gives such a great overview of the war. Not a whole lot of new information, but this really is a perspective that has been lost but needs to be regained. I read him quite a bit and don't always agree with him (usually his spur of the moment posts) but his in depth posts are always winners and this one really hit home for me. Beyond the obvious criticisms of the administration, it sums up how misguided the "War on Terror" has been fought so far.
It gets especially good halfway through.
(and no, I'm not gonna bold shit)
It gets especially good halfway through.
(and no, I'm not gonna bold shit)
The Far Enemy
"Our job is not merely to recite our political program to the people . . . (we must) transform the political mobilization for the war into a regular movement. This is a matter of the first magnitude on which the victory primarily depends."
Quoted in: The Evolution of War: The Fourth Generation
Marine Corps Gazette
As part of its saturation bombardment of the airwaves over the past several weeks, the Cheney Administration has repeatedly taken credit for the fact that no terrorist attack has occurred on American soil since 9/11/2001. This, the propaganda maestros insist, is tangible evidence that the good guys are winning -- although, of course, that certainly doesn't mean the huddled masses can relax and do something rash like vote for a Democrat.
As the catch phrase goes: "While America is safer, we are not yet safe" (and if Karl Rove has anything to say about it, we never will be.)
Still, making allowances for exaggeration (and ignoring the anthrax letters of October 2001, which haven't been definitively traced to a terrorist group) it must be conceded that the Chenyites are, just this once, telling the truth. We have indeed gone five years without a domestic attack -- flashing yellow and orange alerts notwithstanding.
But it is ironic, on many levels, that the Vice President and his sidekick are offering this up as proof of their success in the global war on terrorism/long war/war against violent extremism/war to save civilization from the Islamofascist menace -- or whatever Bush's speechwriters are calling it today. It's also completely false to do so, for reasons the Cheneyites and Rovians themselves have repeated endlessly over the past five years.
How many times, for example, have heard an administration official or media surrogate sneer at the "law enforcement model" of counterterrorism? As the White House's latest talking points (masquarading as an anti-terrorism strategy) put it:
We have broken old orthodoxies that once confined our counterterrorism efforts primarily to the criminal justice domain.
This in itself is a self-serving lie. No administration, not even the hated Clintonites, has ever treated terrorism as simply a great big game of cops and robbers. Nor, for that matter, have any of them paid much attention to the legal niceties. Bill's CIA renditioned with the best of them.
But the fact remains that most of the successes Cheney and Bush are bragging about -- the ones that have largely broken the old Al Qaeda network -- are products of the "orthodox" techniques they seem to hold in such contempt. Covert surveillance, wiretaps, informants, interrogations (brutal ones), following the money trail, raiding safe houses -- these are not exactly unknown methods to law enforcement professionals, even if the CIA, the NSA and the Treasury Department can get away with things the NYPD couldn't or wouldn't try. Hell, thanks to the New Yorker, we now know that Uncle Sam even has a witness protection program for Al Qaeda stool pigeons. What's so unorthodox about that?
The real irony, though, is that the administration is talking up its ability to play defense even though it has insisted, over and over again, that the key to victory is a good offense -- i.e. taking the fight to the enemy, a forward strategy for freedom, etc. But by that measure, the war is on its way to being lost -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and not least in the hearts and minds of the Islamic world, which is the war's true center of gravity. (Even the Cheneyites acknowledge this, if only with boilerplate lip service.)
What's alarming (or encouraging, from bin Ladin's point of view) is that the original covert war against a transnational terrorist group appears to have morphed into a connected set of traditional Third World insurgencies, in which Islamist guerrilla fighters have managed to find or create relatively secure bases -- the Taliban in Afghanistan's Orzugan and northern Helmand provinces, the core of the old Al Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas and, just perhaps, Al Qaeda in Iraq in Anbar Province.
Col. Pat Lang, a former Middle East desk officer for the DIA, calls these "redoubt areas" -- perhaps harking back to the so-called Iron Triangle, an expanse of rubber plantations northwest of Saigon that was one of the Viet Cong's favorite stomping grounds. (Che Guevara's old concept of revolutionary foci might also apply.)
Such redoubts are essentially no go zones where the "legitimate" government has no presence and occupation troops rarely go (and then only in massive strength). This means they can be used as rear areas by the insurgents -- places to assemble units, rest and refit, build supply dumps, headquarters, hospitals, etc. Locals can be enlisted or dragooned into serving as porters, laborers, spies, etc. Redoubts are what southern Lebanon is to Hizbullah, and like southern Lebanon they may be honeycombed with tunnel complexes, command bunkers and underground ammo dumps and armories -- all the things a guerrilla army needs to survive a war with a vastly superior First World military.
How big a problem is this? Well, if you buy the Cheney administration's premise that the United States cannot allow the creation of sanctuaries that could be used to plan, organize, train and prepare for terrorist attacks on America or its allies, then it's a very big problem. Totally unacceptable. But the threat could be even more serious than even the Cheneyites understand.
To me, it looks like the jihadist movement is using the Maoist instruction manual for prolonged struggle, albeit at a kind of macro, worldwide (or at least Islamic world) level. The step-by-step process usually runs something like this:
Assassinations, terror attacks and "armed propaganda" to demonstrate to the masses that violent resistance is possible and that the colonial power and/or its native puppets are not invulnerable.
Formation of guerrilla units, first at the local and then at regional levels, ultimately leading to the creation of an army of national (or, in this case, religious) liberation.
Hit and run raids to capture weapons and/or gain combat experience, followed by larger attacks aimed at clearing redoubt areas and "rooting out" the government (think of it as the reverse of the "ink blot" strategy the counter insurgency gurus are always talking about).
Formation of larger and heavier units, eventually building up to conventional warfare, the defeat of the puppet government and/or the expulsion of the colonial occupation army.
The traditional Maoist strategy works from the outside in -- using rural liberated zones to encircle and then infiltrate the cities. However, in more urbanized countries, as in Algeria during the war with the French, the cities may be key battlefields from the start, and urban underground networks may be as important as rural redoubts.
But cities are tough. Police and military agents don't stand out, as they do in remote rural communities. Slum dwellers are usually atomized, often apathetic and not as easy for underground movements to control or intimidate. Potential informants are everywhere. Which is why urban guerrillas usually don't last too long. The jihadists certainly have't had much luck with it -- not in Algeria or Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Not even in chaotic hellholes like Karachi and Gaza. (Baghdad may be the exception that proves the rule -- by showing that state authority really has to collapse before cities become hospitable terrain for insurgents.)
But classic, rural-based guerilla warfare appears to play to jihadist strength, not the Pentagon's. Whether that's due to a lack of troops, the cultural and linguistic shortcomings of the U.S. Army, the limitations of air and space-based survelliance systems, the efficiency of extremely decentralized, highly adaptive tactics (John Robb's "global guerrillas" theme) or just the toughness and dedication of the guerrillas involved is, at this point, beside the point. The jihadis seem to have found their forte. On the progression outlined above, they've already moved from step 1 (assassination and terrorism) to step 2 (guerrilla warfare), and are now moving on to step 3 (creating redoubts).
One implication is that by effectively shutting down (or at least crippling) the old Al Qaeda, the US has indeed made Iraq (and southern Afghanistan and the Pakistani border regions) the "central fronts" in the war. But this may have been precisely the evolutionary direction the jihadist movement needed to go in order to become a serious revolutionary threat in the Middle East.
In other words, Uncle Sam and his friends may have been beating the tar out of an empty snake skin, and counting that as a victory, even though the snake has already sllithered out of that skin and moved on to bigger things -- like establishing sanctuaries that can eventually be used not to threaten the U.S. homeland, but rather U.S. puppet govemments in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S.-backed client regimes elsewhere in the region, and/or the decaying Allawite Baathist kleptocracy in Syria.
As I understand it, there has long been a debate in jihadi circles about which target should have primacy: the "near enemy" (the local apostate regimes in the Middle East) or the "far enemy" (Uncle Sam). We may have resolved that debate for them.
Now the Middle East and South Asia are both huge places, and most of the regimes in those regions have well-honed security forces and well-developed instincts for survival. Ethnic and religious rivalries provide many opportunities for neocolonialists to divide and conquer, if not divide and rule. These are all crucial disadvantages for the jihadis. But the biggest disadvantage, at least so far, has been their failure to present an realistic political program -- other than pie-in-the-sky fantasies about recreating the Abbasid Caliphate.
This, in my opinion, is a potentially fatal flaw. The Maoist strategy, after all, was as much political as military (or more so), and depended entirely on the mobilizing not just the loyalty but the active and organized cooperation of the masses. There's a reason why it was called people's war. Successful insurgencies (in China, Vietnam, Cuba, Algeria, Somoza's Nicaragua) usually won because they attracted at least the temporary support of a broad cross-section of society -- even if the real power actually resided in a narrow cadre of ideologues.
But so far the jihadis have shown a knack for making political and religious enemies, not building popular fronts. Abu Zarqawi's genocidal hatred of the Shi'a was only the most extreme example. Even in Anbar, Al Qaeda in Iraq has frequently pursued self-defeating policies. When foreign fighters temporarily held Haditha and a few other Euphrates towns in the summer of 2004, they seemed to do a pretty good job of alienating people with their bloody executions and Taliban-style attacks on local folk ways and religious customs. Since then, there have been some reports of clashes between AQI fighters and Iraqi tribal militias and insurgent groups.
Until now, my impression had been that the Baathists and the native Islamists had AQI well contained, and may even have been running it as a false flag operation. But if that's not true, if the post-Zarqawi AQI has changed its ways and improved its political position in Anbar (which seems to be the gist of the intelligence report leaked to the Post) then the jihadist internationale has scored a major success. If Al Qaeda were to root itself into Anbar and develop widespread popular support, it could take years, if not decades, to uproot it again. You only have to look at a map to see what a nightmare that could be for every regime in the neighborhood.
How likely is that scenario? I don't know, and I don't know if anyone does know. But the Cheney Administrations seem determined to improve the odds by helping the jihadist movement overcome its ideological deficiencies.
Like most extreme reactionary movements, Al Qaeda has no meaningful economic or political program (Land to the Tillers, All Power to the Soviets) to offer the Islamic masses. It's call for the strictest possible interpretation of Shari'a law is divisive and repels rather than attracts international sympathy. But what it does have going for it are wide and deep fears of cultural penetration and Western domination, and the ancient religious duty of all Muslims to defend Islam and the community of believers.
These are precisely the fears the administration and the neocons appear determined to stoke with their sweeping demands for "democratic" but slavishly pro-American regimes, privatization, women's rights, Western-style individualism, etc. Even worse, instead of using public diplomacy to highlight and, where possible, promote the enormous diversity of Islam, the Cheneyites are now doing precisely the opposite. They're conjuring up the spectre of a vast, monolithic and powerful Islamic fundamentalist movement, implacably hostile to the West. They're implicitly and even explicitly defining all who oppose their maximum program for a "new" Middle East as extremists -- the enemies of civilization.
They should be more careful what they wish for, because they might actually get it. This latest turn towards fear-mongering rhetoric is practically an open invitation to any Sunni Muslim who supports "traditional values" to line up with Al Qaeda. The Cheneyites are going to great lengths to alienate people who might otherwise find the jihadist ideology too radical and too destructive.
I realize administration's fear campaign is designed for a domestic audience -- to rally disaffected voters to support the war in Iraq and vote Republican in November (not necessarily in that order). But it's idiotic to believe the fallout can be kept within U.S. borders. So idiotic, in fact, that I have trouble believing even the Cheneyites could fail to understand the potential consequences. Setting billmonesque hyperbole aside for a second, it really does seem sometimes like the Cheney Administration is deliberately trying to set the Middle East in flames. Why? What possible benefit could they or America derive from the bonfire that would justify the costs?
Again, I don't know. But the results of the administration's increasingly hysterical rhetoric could be a windfall for Al Qaeda and the jihadist movement as a whole -- at a time when it is already gaining or expanding crucial toeholds in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
One can only hope the inherent limitations of the jihadist ideology will outweigh even the Cheney Administration's mind-boggling blunders. After all, if Hanoi and the Viet Cong had offered their supporters nothing but hatred for the French and the Americans, with no vision of a better future for the average Vietnamese peasant or worker, would they still have won the war?
Maybe it's best not to answer that question. Hatred of the colonizer, of the foreign occupier, is an incredibly potent force -- particularly when they are as arrogant, obnoxious and, above all, clueless as the United States government seems to be now.
The administration has made it into a mantra: Better to fight them over there than over here. As I've pointed out before, it's hardly an either/or proposition. But to the extent that America does have a choice between fighting terrorists "here" (in the Islamic ghettos of London or New York or Hamburg) or "there" (the deserts of Anbar, the Hindu Kush) maybe it should choose here -- our turf instead of theirs, the near enemy rather than the far. Because at this point, it's not clear our far enemy can be defeated on its own home ground.