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Bin Laden, Al Qa'ida, and Recent Iraqi History

25 April 2007

We know not what we do. Or so it seems. But what is certain now is that we are fighting the wrong war. And we are losing the real one; the one for the hearts and minds of those who would welcome and embrace freedom and self-determination under any flag, economic system, religion or government--democracy in other words.

The Iraq elections showed this clearly, in sharp relief. So what did we do? We squandered opportunity big time. Our big guns have caused more collateral damage than can be repaired. Big guns don't just involve people and material things, both real enough, they also involve the very psyches of survivors, those we wish to win over. Psyches were also scarred at Abu Ghraib, and by our high handed governance and corrupt occupation. Scars on the psyche last a lifetime. Instead of bringing peace to good people, we created mortal enemies.

Prophets of history often underwent personal trials or martyrdom that was followed by expanded influence and popularity. Prophet status and triumph through the ages come later after disciples put pens to paper. However al Qa'ida plays out, and like it or not, bin Laden has passed the first two milestones. His third milestone is a work-in-progress. His disciples are already writing--some 4500 web sites are busy glorifying his leadership and possible martyrdom directly or indirectly. It may be later than we think.

After losing a fragile base of operations and going into hiding, and like Moses returning from Egypt, found a new and stronger home. Bin Laden kept his core group intact, decentralized operations, hardened communications security, established an outpost in Iraq, placed cells in Europe. With his pursuers preoccupied and stumbling, chasing red-herrings in Iraq, bin Laden found his second wind, cranked up his marketing and has essentially become a foremost spokesman for Islam in its wars of resistance against the West. What was once a vulnerable operation has come back multiples more secure, ready for whatever the future brings, "Allah willing."

If our leaders cannot see this development, shame on us for leaving them in power. The essence of democracy is leadership of the people, by the people and for the people so aptly phrased by Abraham Lincoln.

One result of our lack of vision is that Al Qa'ida has become a major operator in Iraq. How ironic. Messrs Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz partly justified going into Iraq because of its supposed ties to al Qa'ida when no such ties existed. They have accomplished what they claimed to fear: al Qa'ida has established bases Iraq from which they cannot only export terror, but practice it on us, in their own backyard.

Bruce Riedel, May/June 2007 Foreign Affairs, provides much of the basis for what follows.

Al Qa'ida's basic score card:

Base of operations Replaced base with a more-secure, nuclear-armed host that is otherwise too fragile to go after bin Laden even if it wanted to.
Lost Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Network continued al-Zarqawi's policies with increased ferocity.
Israel is alive and well. A Qa'ida presence in Gaza and West Bank escalated. Israel actually helped bin Laden's cause by overreacting in Lebanon.
Failed to overthrow governments of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and other "corrupt regimes." Succeeded in making Iraq a trap for America.
Lost its prime ally, the Taliban. Established new links with Kashmiri terrorist groups. Taliban reconstituted in 2004, came back with increasing effect in 2005-2006. In 2007, Bangledeshi radicals appear to be stirring up trouble; political meltdown in progress will give al Qa'ida new opportunities.
Failed in attempt to down 10 airliners at once in 2006. Expanded European presence. London and Spanish subway bombings succeeded.
Has not yet brought about a US retreat. Strategy of bankrupting the US, as happened to the USSR in Afghanistan, is looking ever more possible.

As Reidal observes, a Caliphate may be in the offing. A laughable idea just three years ago, a Caliphate looks not only possible but the outlines are appearing as noted above. Recruits are pouring into Iraq and Pakistan from many parts of the world. The Taliban is resurging. This is not a religious war that can be won by standup-and-fight armies that can only fight other armies whose whereabouts are known. Bin Laden, not only employs the propaganda of a Hitler superbly well, but he uses the tactics of the American Minutmen and George Washington. Unlike Hitler, his propaganda is right out of the Qur'an with the effect that it motivates from a religous base, the history of Islam in effect. One might even question if it is really propaganda. Unlike Washington, bin Laden needn't worry about a lack of troops. The attrition rate is not that great, and new Jihadis report for duty daily. Finally, even if bin Laden is taken out, his demise will be seen as martyrdom by all of Islam. The consequences of that are all too obvious.

Scribes are writing;
will they enshrine a new prophet?

It is very very late, but maybe not too late. There is a roadblock of our own making in Iraq, but there are ways around it. What if the US and its allies:

  • let bin Laden, and all other "terror groups" for that matter, know in clear and certain terms that the game of baiting the West is over? Let Israel know its days of baiting the Arabs are also over. Make these policies stick. Especially beware any terror attack that appears to come from Iran. Guard against this and other possibilitues by direct and open dialogue with Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan and other states. Patience in this area has a chance. The current surge must stop immediately. Surges only beget surges from the other side and make matters worse, harder to turn around.
  • Use economic means to motivate dialogue and cooperation toward peaceful solutions.
  • the West as a whole stops baiting the nations of Islam into rash actions? This may be even more vital than the above. Humiliation is not the way to go.
  • put serious pressure on Pakistan to evict bin Laden?
  • enhance its commitment to Afghanistan? It is not too late to turn this nation into a functional democracy with religious tolerance.
  • engage in true Dialogue with all nations in the Middle East? Improved mutual understanding goes a long long way toward soothing frayed nerves and will eventually win trust.
  • engage in a crash program to creat alternate energy supplies? Solar, wind, tidal, and bio-power are all in advanced development and actual use. Why not get on with it using the monies saved by quieting down the fight?
  • recognize this war is about ideas and we have many? The West and the Pacific rim are collectively the most innovative group of nations in all of human history. We have been squandering our strongest asset.
  • withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible? This will remove bin Laden's primary motivation tool.
  • pressure Irael to return to its lawful borders and share both water and the Holy Sites on equitable bases? Again desalination technology is well known and in hand. This will remove bin Laden's second motivation tool.
  • set examples of peacful intent and actions that neither alienate nor humiliate individuals or nations? "American Interest," as an over-riding policy, has to go. "Britain First" in 1776 was a failed policy, and so will "American Interest" be. Economic imperialism is no more successful than its political forerunner. Effecting this item extracts the teeth in bin Laden's argument that we exploit and rob Middle Eastern nations. There is too much truth to his allegations for our propaganda to be heard.
  • encourage modernization and equitable distribution of national income throughout the Middle East? Bin Laden's hit list includes a mumber of regimes whose leaders horde the national treasure for themsleves.
  • through education, discourage the mixing of church and state as Islam is wont to do? Neither Caliphates nor theocracies have worked well. The battle over whose god is God will be endless as long as theocracts insist on governing.
  • go after terrorists everywhere by means similar to those Queen Victoria employed when she went after the Thugs of India who had terrorized travelers for centuries.

Much of the above will go down like bitter medicine. It is also foreign to most of our media and thereby to the American populace at large. So goes the war of ideas; we touch only the surface here.

A Caliphate may arise in spite of anything we do. If it does, we should look for ways to reach mutual understanding and walk together down the road to peace. Possible forks and roadblocks in the road ahead will surely occur. But in every case, there will be ways around it. They can only occur in cooperation.

This page was tough to write and for many it will be tough to read. That is the lessor problem. The problem to ponder is why so many simply ignore this issue, divert the conversation, or fight with strong emotion against any dialogue on the avenues to peace. The roots of this problem are perhaps the greatest challenge of all for humankind. We do not have all the answers. For an overview see:

Summary of Findings

For a more-detailed position see:

But all is not lost:


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