September 11, 2004


September 11 and Its Aftermath (Juan Cole, 9/11/04, Informed Comment)

In order to evaluate the aftermath of September 11, we first must understand that event. What did al-Qaeda intend to achieve? Only if we understand that can we gauge their success or failure.

From the point of view of al-Qaeda, the Muslim world can and should be united into a single country. They believe that it once had this political unity, under the early caliphs. [...]

For al-Qaeda to succeed, it must overthrow the individual nation-states in the Middle East, most of them colonial creations, and unite them into a single, pan-Islamic state. [...]

The attack on the World Trade Center was exactly analogous to Pearl Harbor. The Japanese generals had to neutralize the US fleet so that they could sweep into Southeast Asia and appropriate Indonesian petroleum. The US was going to cut off imperial Japan from petroleum, and without fuel the Japanese could not maintain their empire in China and Korea. So they pushed the US out of the way and took an alternative source of petroleum away from the Dutch (which then ruled what later became Indonesia).

Likewise, al-Qaeda was attempting to push the United States out of the Middle East so that Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia would become more vulnerable to overthrow, lacking a superpower patron. Secondarily, the attack was conceived as revenge on the United States and American Jews for supporting Israel and the severe oppression of the Palestinians. Bin Laden wanted to move the timing of the operation up to spring of 2001 so as to "punish" the Israelis for their actions against the Palestinians in the second Intifadah. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad was mainly driven in planning the attack by his rage at Israel over the Palestinian issue. Another goal is to destroy the US economy, so weakening it that it cannot prevent the emergence of the Islamic superpower.

Al-Qaeda wanted to build enthusiasm for the Islamic superstate among the Muslim populace, to convince ordinary Muslims that the US could be defeated and they did not have to accept the small, largely secular, and powerless Middle Eastern states erected in the wake of colonialism. Jordan's population, e.g. is 5.6 million. Tunisia, a former French colony, is 10 million, less than Michigan. Most Muslims have been convinced of the naturalness of the nation-state model and are proud of their new nations, however small and weak. Bin Laden had to do a big demonstration project to convince them that another model is possible.

Bin Laden hoped the US would timidly withdraw from the Middle East. But he appears to have been aware that an aggressive US response to 9/11 was entirely possible. In that case, he had a Plan B: al-Qaeda hoped to draw the US into a debilitating guerrilla war in Afghanistan and do to the US military what they had earlier done to the Soviets. Al-Zawahiri's recent message shows that he still has faith in that strategy.

The US cleverly outfoxed al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, using air power and local Afghan allies (the Northern Alliance) to destroy the Taliban without many American boots on the ground.

Ironically, however, the Bush administration then went on to invade Iraq for no good reason, where Americans faced the kind of wearing guerrilla war they had avoided in Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda has succeeded in several of its main goals. [...]

If the Muslim world can find a way to combine the sophisticated intellectuals and engineers of Damascus and Cairo with the oil wealth of the Persian Gulf, it could well emerge as a 21st century superpower.

Bin Laden's dream of a united Muslim state under a revived caliphate may well be impossible to accomplish. But with the secular Baath gone, it could be one step closer to reality.

You have to be completely divorced from reality to believe that the reduction of Iraq to two or even three separate nations--one Kurdish, one Shi'a, and perhaps one Sunni, though they may end up just a rebellious minority in Shi'astan instead--advances the cause of a unified Islam.

Chechen Rebels Mainly Driven By Nationalism (C. J. CHIVERS and STEVEN LEE MYERS, 9/11/04, NY Times)

Chechnya's separatists have received money, men, training and ideological inspiration from international Islamic organizations, but they remain an indigenous and largely self-sustaining force motivated by nationalist more than Islamic goals, Russian and international officials and experts say.

The flow of financing from Islamic groups that supported Chechnya's separatist movement has slowed from its peak in the late 1990's, Sergei N. Ignatchenko, chief spokesman for Russia's Federal Security Service said in an interview on Friday. And yet Chechnya's separatists have recently managed to carry out the most devastating attacks against Russia in years, killing nearly 600 people since late June alone.

They have also organized through local means, exploiting Russia's weak security and corruption to travel and arm themselves, the officials and experts said.

Although President Vladimir V. Putin and others have accused international terrorists of sustaining the war in Chechnya, the relationship between the separatists and Islamic terrorists abroad remains only an element in a far more complicated war, they said.

Despite assertions that Arab fighters took part in the seizure of Middle School No. 1 in Beslan 10 days ago, officials have yet to establish that any of the fighters came from abroad or received training or supplies elsewhere. Of the dead identified so far, all came from Ingushetia or were ethnic Chechens, including some who raided police and other security garrisons in Ingushetia in June, killing nearly 100.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2004 12:11 PM

Cole isn't to blame. He studied with Malcolm Kerr and the other AUB Arabists at UCLA, and they rotted his brain.

Posted by: Bart at September 11, 2004 12:21 PM

[S]ophisticated intellectuals and engineers of Damascus and Cairo...

That Juan Cole, what a comedian !

Harry Eagar once remarked, with what I perceived as sarcasm, that perhaps the inhabitants of the Middle East didn't have as good a grasp of geopolitics as I did.
However, believing that the US would meekly leave the Middle East shows a complete ignorance of the American economy and culture.
It's more likely that the US would simply take over the Middle East, rather than run away from the oil fields.
Even if American troops never stepped on the desert sands, somebody backed by American money and arms would be there.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 11, 2004 1:06 PM

Ironically, however, the Bush administration then went on to invade Iraq for no good reason, where Americans faced the kind of wearing guerrilla war they had avoided in Afghanistan

Where on earth does he think all those eager jihadis would be if we hadn't invaded Iraq - sitting at home? They'd be in Afghanistan fighting in terrain much more favorable to guerrillas!

Posted by: Brandon at September 11, 2004 1:25 PM

Islam is the imperial power in that region. It's the only thing most of those tribes and clans have in common and keeps them from killing each other, which is why it was smart for Muhammed to make the unbelievers permanent enemies.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 11, 2004 1:32 PM

Cole is hoping that the Caliphate is the last step before a communist revolution. The jerk is delusional. If the US withdrew from the Middle East. They would fall on each other with an incredible ferocity, as they have always done.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 13, 2004 2:03 AM

Me against my brother,
Me and my brother, united against my cousin...

What part of the world did you think this came from?

Posted by: Ken at September 14, 2004 6:42 PM