October 9, 2008


U.S. kills 21 militants in southern Afghanistan (Associated Press, October 9, 2008)
U.S.-led coalition troops killed 21 militants in two separate clashes in southern Afghanistan, while insurgents killed 10 civilians in the same area, the U.S. military said Thursday. Coalition troops on a security patrol Wednesday in the Shaheed Hasas district of Uruzgan province repelled an ambush by insurgents, killing 12 militants, the U.S. military said in a statement. There were no coalition casualties.
...collateral damage is the necessary precondition of a successful surge. MORE: The End of the War on Terror: Noah Feldman, legal scholar and one of Esquire's 75 most influential people of the twenty-first century, on the end of Al Qaeda. And what happens next. (Noah Feldman, Esquire)
The terrorist attacks of the last seven years all need to be understood against this backdrop of Osama's unbelievable luck. The big attacks--London and Madrid in particular--were carried out by local Muslims, immigrants or the children of immigrants, who were motivated by the fact that these countries had troops in Iraq. Just a few years earlier, these bombings would have seemed inexplicable to Europeans, and probably horrifying to most Muslims in the world. Now they were not only justified by the jihadists, but many of their targets in Europe acknowledged the justification. In Spain, the government even withdrew from active involvement in Iraq. Meanwhile, in Iraq and Afghanistan terrorist attacks against civilians became daily events, carried out sometimes by locals but more often by foreigners. The terms of terror had changed. No foreign fighters had streamed to Saudi Arabia when bin Laden was claiming that the Arabian Peninsula was under occupation. In Iraq, though, actual occupation had brought an actual jihad. For a while, this defensive-jihad rationale seemed plausible to many Muslims. Al Qaeda came to be seen as an ally of the Sunni resistance in Iraq, which was fighting both against the U. S. as the occupier and against Iraq's Shiite majority. The perception that the mission was legitimate made the tactics seem legitimate, too. Gradually, though, something began to change in the way the jihadist terrorists chose their targets. The Americans in Iraq got better at defending themselves, making it harder to attack them directly. Then the jihadists, flush with success and popularity, began to believe they could get away with anything. Instead of targeting non-Muslim occupiers directly, the terrorists began to go after other Muslims. What opened the floodgates were two spectacular and horrifying mosque bombings, the first in 2003, of the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, and then, more fatefully, in 2006, of the golden dome of the Askariya shrine in Samarra. It was in principle unlawful to target Muslims in a jihad. But, said the jihadists, Shiites weren't real Muslims. And anyway, driving the Shiites into retaliation and triggering a civil war was a good way to get the Americans to leave. Then, inexorably, Sunnis began killing fellow Sunnis. At first this was thought to be permissible only if they were collaborating with the enemy, such as Sunnis lining up for jobs at a police station. But suicide bombings are hardly a surgical method, and bystanders were killed who were not necessarily collaborators. And the expansion of suicide bombing did not even stop there. The next phase, especially in 2007, was Sunnis killing other Sunnis for no other reason than to cause instability in Iraq. Those Muslim scholars who took the trouble to justify these killings claimed there was no other way to fight this war, and so the ends justified the means. From Iraq, the strategy spread to Afghanistan and then to Pakistan. Now it was Sunnis killing Sunnis for political advantage in a country where there was no foreign occupation of any kind. More than two dozen suicide-bombing attacks have taken place in Pakistan in the last year alone. The most famous killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, along with more than a dozen bystanders. The logic of suicide bombing had now reached its inevitable extreme: One could kill innocent Sunni civilians on purpose if it served the interests of the jihadists, regardless of whether the conditions of defensive jihad actually applied. When radical jihadism dies out, the Bhutto assassination may well look like the turning point. Al Qaeda is now identified not so much with defensive jihad against foreigners as with injecting suicide bombing into ordinary political struggles, which flatly contradicts fourteen hundred years of Islamic law. The jihadists have weakened Pakistan's already faltering government and so expanded their power in Pakistan's tribal areas and North-West Frontier. But they have alienated the public. In the elections that followed Bhutto's death, Islamist political parties did worse than they had in years. This sense of Muslim disillusionment has begun to reverberate from Pakistan to Iraq and beyond. Critics hold Al Qaeda responsible not just for deaths caused by their terrorist attacks but also for deaths brought about subsequently by American retaliation. "Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilled?" Sheik Salman al-Oadah, a radical Saudi cleric formerly sympathetic to bin Laden, exhorted in an open letter last year. "How many innocent children, women, and old people have been killed, maimed, and expelled from their homes in the name of Al Qaeda? . . . What is to be gained from the destruction of entire nations--which is what we are witnessing in Afghanistan and Iraq?" Two months later, an important jihadist ideologue known by the nom de guerre Dr. Fadl released a ten-part treatise that condemned the killing of innocents as a violation of Islamic law and argued that it was forbidden for Muslims living in Europe to attack civilian targets. Dr. Fadl's work was written from an Egyptian prison, and so his statements have to be treated skeptically. But Al Qaeda took them seriously enough that Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy, replied to them directly. There is a similar tactical shift happening on the ground. Starting in the second half of 2006, Sunni tribal sheiks in the Anbar province of Iraq decided to turn against Al Qaeda and side with the U. S. and the Iraqi government. This was not because they suddenly decided they liked the Shiites or the Kurds or the Americans. It was because the path of jihad had been a failure of policy, bringing with it only instability and death. The sheiks didn't want war as an end in itself; they wanted security for their people and patronage for themselves. The U. S. and the Iraqi government were prepared to offer these things, so the sheiks decided to switch sides. The significance of the sheiks' defection is that they turn bin Laden's one true ideological victory--causing the U. S. to become an actual occupying force--into a defeat for Al Qaeda. The sheiks of Anbar, and others, not only blame bin Laden for bringing us into Iraq; they have come to realize that what is standing between them and American withdrawal is not our imperial ambition but the jihadists whose presence is keeping us there. The logical response is therefore not to join the jihad but to take practical steps to make both the jihadists and the occupiers go away. It is still too soon to say when, exactly, bin Laden will be seen as a pariah. But that day is coming. Radical jihadists have always had a central goal, which is to win over the Muslim public to their side. If they lose their audience, the attacks against the West will decline--and eventually disappear. This does not mean the end of all Islamic terrorism. There will always be small groups acting within Al Qaeda and on their own, and jihad will continue against Israel and others who can be described as foreign invaders. But it will mark the end of the age of terror as we've come to know it. When that happens, our footprint will lighten abroad, and back at home we'll have to reevaluate what post-9/11 America should look like. We'll never be able to go back to our complacency.
Huh? In what sense do we not already have it back? Have you heard any of the candidates so much as mention specific details of how they'd defend against future attacks? Posted by Orrin Judd at October 9, 2008 8:37 AM
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