Chris and I had a pretty good debate with Matt Cunningham last night about our policy in Iraq. Matt is still towing the Republican Party line that the bill to fund the troops put forth by the Democratic congress amounted to the Democrats being unwitting morale officers for Al Qaeda. He didn’t all us “defeatocrats” but his argument is clearly in the minority with the American people.
HereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s some excerpts from the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine. And hereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the full link if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re that wonkish.
The story discusses the state of Iraq today and Al QaedaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s role in the ongoing WOT (War ON Terror).
Al Qaeda Strikes Back
By Bruce Riedel
From Foreign Affairs, May/June 2007
Summary: By rushing into Iraq instead of finishing off the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Washington has unwittingly helped its enemies: al Qaeda has more bases, more partners, and more followers today than it did on the eve of 9/11. Now the group is working to set up networks in the Middle East and Africa — and may even try to lure the United States into a war with Iran. Washington must focus on attacking al Qaeda’s leaders and ideas and altering the local conditions in which they thrive.
Bruce Riedel is a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He retired last year after 29 years with the Central Intelligence Agency. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council (1997-2002), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs (1995-97), and National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Intelligence Council (1993-95).
A FIERCER FOE
Al Qaeda is a more dangerous enemy today than it has ever been before. It has suffered some setbacks since September 11, 2001: losing its state within a state in Afghanistan, having several of its top operatives killed, failing in its attempts to overthrow the governments of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. But thanks largely to Washington’s eagerness to go into Iraq rather than concentrate on hunting down al Qaeda’s leaders, the organization now has a solid base of operations in the badlands of Pakistan and an effective franchise in western Iraq. Its reach has spread throughout the Muslim world, where it has developed a large cadre of operatives, and in Europe, where it can claim the support of some disenfranchised Muslim locals and members of the Arab and Asian diasporas. Osama bin Laden has mounted a successful propaganda campaign to make himself and his movement the primary symbols of Islamic resistance worldwide. His ideas now attract more followers than ever.
Bin Laden’s goals remain the same, as does his basic strategy. He seeks to, as he puts it, “provoke and bait” the United States into “bleeding wars” throughout the Islamic world; he wants to bankrupt the country much as he helped bankrupt, he claims, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The demoralized “far enemy” would then go home, allowing al Qaeda to focus on destroying its “near enemies,” Israel and the “corrupt” regimes of Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. occupation of Iraq helped move his plan along, and bin Laden has worked hard to turn it into a trap for Washington. Now he may be scheming to extend his strategy by exploiting or even triggering a war between the United States and Iran.
Decisively defeating al Qaeda will be more difficult now than it would have been a few years ago. But it can still be done, if Washington and its partners implement a comprehensive strategy over several years, one focused on both attacking al Qaeda’s leaders and ideas and altering the local conditions that allow them to thrive. Otherwise, it will only be a matter of time before al Qaeda strikes the U.S. homeland again.
Al Qaeda leaders welcomed the invasion by U.S. and coalition forces on the assumption that they would quickly get mired in conflict, as the Soviets had two decades earlier. Al Qaeda and the Taliban thought they had decapitated the Afghan opposition and severely hampered its ability to fight by assassinating the Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Masoud two days before 9/11
Al Qaeda also moved swiftly to develop a capability in Iraq, where it had little or no presence before 9/11. (The 9/11 Commission found no credible evidence of any operational connection between al Qaeda and Iraq before the attacks, and the infamous report connecting the 9/11 mastermind Mohamed Atta with Iraqi intelligence officers in Prague has been discredited
Al Qaeda today is a global operation — with a well-oiled propaganda machine based in Pakistan, a secondary but independent base in Iraq, and an expanding reach in Europe. Its leadership is intact. Its decentralized command-and-control structure has allowed it to survive the loss of key operatives such as Zarqawi. Its Taliban allies are making a comeback in Afghanistan, and it is certain to get a big boost there if NATO pulls out. It will also claim a victory when U.S. forces start withdrawing from Iraq. “The waves of the fierce crusader campaign against the Islamic world have broken on the rock of the mujahideen and have reached a dead end in Iraq and Afghanistan,” a spokesperson for the newly proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq said on November 29, 2006. “For the first time since the fall of the Ottoman caliphate in the past century, the region is witnessing the revival of Islamic caliphates.”
The challenge of defeating al Qaeda is more complex today than it was in 2001. The organization is more diffuse, and its components operate more independently. Bin Laden continues to influence its direction and provide general guidance and, on occasion, specific instructions. But overall the movement is more loosely structured, which leaves more room for independent and copycat terrorist operations.
Partly because of this evolution, Washington needs a grand strategy to defeat al Qaeda. The past five years have demonstrated that a primarily military approach will not work. The focus of Washington’s new strategy must be to target al Qaeda’s leaders, who provide the inspiration and direction for the global jihad. As long as they are alive and active, they will symbolize successful resistance to the United States and continue to attract new recruits. Settling for having them on the run or hiding in caves is not enough; it is a recipe for defeat, if not already an acknowledgment of failure. The death of bin Laden and his senior associates in Pakistan and Iraq would not end the movement, but it would deal al Qaeda a serious blow.
A critical first step toward decapitating al Qaeda is for Washington to enhance its commitment in Afghanistan. President Bush promised to do so last February, but more needs to be done. Defeating the resurgent Taliban will require a significant increase in NATO forces, and that will require U.S. leadership. The United States should urgently divert more troops from Iraq to Afghanistan as a way to encourage U.S. allies in Afghanistan to help supply the additional troops and equipment needed. NATO should also encourage its partners in the Mediterranean Dialogue — especially Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia — to contribute to the stabilization of Afghanistan. It should also create a contact group led by a senior NATO diplomat to engage with all of Afghanistan’s neighbors to secure the country’s borders, especially the 1,500-mile one with Pakistan. This group should include Iran, which has generally been a helpful player in Afghanistan in the last few years. NATO should reach out to India as well: New Delhi has already provided half a billion dollars in aid for Afghanistan, and, having long been a target of Islamist terrorism, India has a national interest in defeating it.
The United States should supplement this military buildup by taking the lead on a major economic reconstruction program in Afghanistan. Since 2001, the international community has delivered far less aid per capita to Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, than it has to recovering states such as Bosnia. The country’s infrastructure must be improved in order to develop a mainstream agricultural economy that can compete with illicit poppy cultivation, which breeds crime and corruption and strengthens the jihadi subculture.
Iraq is, of course, another critical battlefield in the fight against al Qaeda. But it is time to recognize that engagement there is more of a trap than an opportunity for the United States. Al Qaeda and Iran both want Washington to remain bogged down in the quagmire. Al Qaeda has openly welcomed the chance to fight the United States in Iraq. U.S. diplomacy has certainly been clumsy and counterproductive, but there is little point in reviewing the litany of U.S. mistakes that led to this disaster. The objective now should be to let Iraqis settle their conflicts themselves. Rather than reinforce its failures, the United States should disengage from the civil war in Iraq, with a complete, orderly, and phased troop withdrawal that allows the Iraqi government to take the credit for the pullout and so enhance its legitimacy.
No doubt al Qaeda will claim a victory when the United States leaves Iraq. (It already does so at the sheer mention of withdrawal.) But it is unlikely that the Islamic State of Iraq will fare well after the occupation ends. Anbar and adjacent Sunni provinces have little water, few other natural resources, and no access to the outside world except through hostile territory. The Shiites and the Kurdish militias will have no compunction about attacking the Islamic State of Iraq. (Al Qaeda’s own propaganda indicates that it fears the Shiites’ wrath after the United States’ departure more than it fears what would happen if the Americans stayed.)
Another essential aspect of the United States’ war against al Qaeda is the war of ideas. Washington must learn to develop more compelling narratives for its actions. Its calls for bringing democracy to Iraq have not resonated, partly because its actions have not matched its rhetoric. Human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib and GuantÃƒÂ¡namo Bay have even further sullied the United States’ reputation and honor. Washington should emphasize the concrete steps the United States is taking to heal differences between Islam and the West and to bring peace to Palestine and Kashmir, among other areas. Creating a new narrative will probably also require bringing to Washington (and London) new leaders who are untarnished by the events of the last few years.