Friday, November 25, 2005
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Al Qaeda has lost the Middle East
That's the basic thrust of this Economist article. The key paragraphs:
The global al-Qaeda franchise, whose Iraqi branch claimed responsibility for the Amman atrocity, has scored many own-goals over the years. The carnage in such Muslim cities as Istanbul, Casablanca, Sharm el-Sheikh and Riyadh has alienated the very Muslim masses the jihadists claim to be serving. By bringing home the human cost of such violence, they have even stripped away the shameful complacency with which the Sunni Muslim majority in other Arab countries has tended to regard attacks by Iraq's Sunni insurgent “heroes” against “collaborationist” Shia mosque congregations, funeral processions and police stations.All good news. Methinks the more controversial paragraphs are the following ones:
Noteworthy in all these subtle shifts is the fact that they are, by and large, internally generated. Few of them have come about as a result of prodding or policy initiatives from the West. On the contrary, the intrusion of foreign armies into Iraq, the consequent ugly spectacle of civilian casualties and torture, and the continuing agony of Palestine, have clearly slowed down the Arab public's response to the dangers posed by jihadism.The administration has consistently crticized the domestic opposition to the Iraq war effort because it ostensible undercuts troop morale. However, the suggestion that this same opposition helps to vitiate Arab claims of U.S. imperialism is an intriguing one.
I'll leave it to the readers to determine if this is also true.posted by Dan on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM
Hardly anything has solely "good" or "bad" effects. The most definitive way to vitiate claims of US imperialism is win and leave.posted by: Charlie (Colorado) on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
I dont see how it cannot be true, but on the other hand it is entirely inevitable for anyone with any longview.
Two particular issues:
1. The newfound hatred for al Qaeda in the Middle East... Backlash against terrorism could be temporary. Polls show Jordanians currently have a distate for jihadist violence, but will they in six months? Also, plenty of Jordanians suspected the Amman blasts were actually Israeli violence.
2. American domestic opposition to the war is reassuring skeptical Arabs that the superpower may not linger on Arab soil for ever. Is that just the reporter's theory, or is it backed up by polling? It makes sense, and I'm glad Drezner brings it to light, but I am curious how true it actually is. It would have significant implications for some of the conservative rhetoric.
Perhaps I'm overly skeptical, but I wonder if the FT is being too optimistic - painting a picture that will allow a win-win withdrawal of troops.posted by: brianjphillips on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
rising tide of American domestic opposition to the war has begun to reassure deeply sceptical Arabs that the superpower may not, after all, be keen to linger on Arab soil for ever
I wouldn't make too much of this comment. I don't know how they've measured arab reaction to "domestic opposition" most visually the anti-war protests, but the protests in the US and worldwide have only weakened over the last two years.
The recent lopsided House vote should awake anyone to the fact that we're not going anywhere. The planned re-deployment - like all past redeployments - have been planned well in advance.posted by: W on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
Austin Bay has useful comments on this subject on his blog:posted by: Tom Holsinger on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
It's getting better I tell you! "Freedom" and a Shia Theocracy are right around the corner, so just be patient.
Four more years?
Just don't tell those PNAC folks.
I'm sorry but you are simply mistaken about the NG and reserve: yes, they are suffering problems because of the deployments, but the notion that this is 'forcing' a drawdown or that the Army will be destroyed is ludicrous. What is much more worrisome is the fact that we are exausting our Cold War stockpiles of equipment, tanks, apc's, P3 Orions, Chinooks, Sea Stallions, B52's are all being worn out and we don't really have replacements ready for many of them. We will have to foot a rather large bill to make up for the 'peace dividend' procurement holiday we enjoyed in the '90's.
You are also wrong to blame Bush for not explaining things. He has, repeatedly, said that the goal is to stay until the Iraqi government can stand on its own. That has been articulated over and over again, and the DoD has provided reams and reams of information about on-going operations and how the insurgents are getting squeezed into a smaller and smaller battlespace.
But all of that goes for naught because the MSM simply will not report it: even when the admin manages to get air-time to address the war, the spin is relentlessly negative. In fact, every time Bush or Rumsfeld tries to address the war in a public forum, it only gives the MSM an opportunity to repeat more lies-- witness the stupefyingly idiotic questioning of Rumsfeld during last weekend's 'news' programs. As someone else said, the MSM are little more than a transcription service for the Dems and the hate-America left.
So from the admin perspective, the less said about the war in a high profile way, the better.
When a majority of the opposition party and almost all of the media are cheering for an American defeat, how is the admin supposed to respond? And don't give me the Dem talking points about a 'timetable': that whole exercise is a disingenuous plan to announce to the enemy what he has to do to make US forces fail to meet an artificial schedule so that the Dems can them scream 'faulure!' and blame the Bush admin has to adjust strategy and tactics to the facts on the ground, as it inevitably will have to do.
Of course, if the admin had some cojones they could follow up the evidence that CBS, Reuters and AP have been hiring (and paying) 'stringers' in Iraq who are in fact working with the terrorists. That means that money from American news corporations is being funneled to terorists, which is a crime.
Having some news corp execs thrown in jail and having their corporate funds frozen for supporting terorism might a) wake more people up here about the MSM; b) cause the corporate owners to yank the newsroom chain a little tighter.posted by: PierreM on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
By a remarkable coincidence, Pierre's view of this is very similar to Barbara Bush's. Her son is doing all he can every day in every way, but is being undermined by very mean critics in the media, in many cases the same people who said so many awful things about her husband thirteen or so years ago.
Now, Mrs. Bush's reasoning is that the President is her little Georgie boy, her snookie-ookums. Pierre's reasoning may be different. One would certainly like to think so. I wish he would consider, though, that nearly every American President in wartime has had to endure criticism much worse than anything President Bush has yet experienced. One of the things I expect from an American President is that he be man enough to take it, especially I should think in the case of a war the ill progress of which is largely his responsibility.
I'd like to say I have little time for politicians who get themselves into trouble and blame everything on right wing conspiracies or mainstream media conspiracies. These are the people we keep electing to high office, though, so I guess I have to make time for them. I just hate the idea that any successor to Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt should have to be defended as if he were no more than a helpless, simpering mama's boy.
I apologize for going so far off-topic. About the Economist article I have only to say I suspect it incorporates what its author would like to see. I'd like to see it too. It will take more than a few demonstrations to reassure deeply skeptical Americans that mass murder is not something Arabs are just fine with as long as they don't know any of the victims.posted by: Zathras on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
Support for Al Qaeda was very high in Jordan until Al Qaeda attacked Amman. One has to wonder whether if Jordan is not attacked for a while if support for Al Qaeda will bounce upwards again. My guess would be yes.posted by: Eye Doc on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
I don't think that the highlighted section is really that controversial. It might be controversial in the US, and controversial in terms of how it fits into US political debates - but it makes sense, as does the general thrust of this Economist piece. Once al Qaeda turned to targeting so many Muslims, of course they'd lose support. This is what we saw in Algeria, and it's entirely in line with the writings of people like Gilles Kepel.
What I think is really interesting is in the 4th paragraph in the excerpt - how the incumbent governments and elites in the region are treating these attacks differently in the post 9/11 environment. That has major implications for the survival of current regimes and what they'll look like in the future, and it has been a severe blow to the perceptions about the legitimacy of terrorism in the region.posted by: ScottC on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
General Odom says U.S. Army is broke. I defer to
U.S. forces bomb civilians. Opps, It was a mistake;
Al Qaeda has already stated that the wedding attack
Mistakes happen when people fight.
This will not hurt Al Qaeda in any meaningful way.posted by: James on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
The question might be whether Al Qaeda ever "had" the middle East in the first place to lose it.
I'm very skeptical about this theory.posted by: erg on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
The problem is not going to go away. You have a bunch of useless Arab states which will fail under democracy and will fail under autocratic rule. A youth bulge that will really be a problem between 2012-2025 and a regional GDP on its way toward going below Africa's.
There may be a pause in the action, but Islamic-fascism is going to be the perfect anti-globalization ideology for all those 12 year olds that are going to grow up in a land without opportunities.posted by: patrick on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
Until, that is, they actually try it out and find that theocratic tyrannies don't work any better than the secular variety -- as the people of Iran already have. At that point -- and only at that point -- they'll be ready to throw restrictionist, unreformed Islam over the side, precisely as happened with European Christianity. The big problem -- and it's a very big one, on which we damned well should be focusing -- is keeping nukes out of the hands of those Islamic theocracies until they do collapse from within.posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
"the rising tide of American domestic opposition to the war has begun to reassure deeply sceptical Arabs that the superpower may not, after all, be keen to linger on Arab soil for ever."
Is this true and if so, what effect will it have? I guess it all depends on how rising domestic opposition will be interpreted in the Arab media and by the Arab peoples.
If they see it as another Vietnam, it will indeed strengthen their faith that America will leave, but it will also make them less likely to trust American promises and commitments, now and in the future. It would lessen America's capacity to influence Middle East politics.
If, on the other hand, the Arab peoples see it as a precursor to a rational, dignified American withdrawal, with a stable Iraqi state as the endgoal, it might help America to find partners, in Iraq and outside, to reach that goal.
So, it all depends on how the Arab peoples interpret the impact of this growing domestic opposition to the war and the American presence in Iraq.posted by: Harmen on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
Nice try: you get an 'A' for rhetorical effectiveness and an 'F' for failure to address any of my substantive criticisms.
Why don't you try trotting out any of the usual MSM repeated canards: 'Bush lied about WMD', 'We needed 500,000 troops', 'reconstruction was poorly planned,' etc.
Go ahead, and I'll (rhetorically) tear you to pieces.
I would suggest using my email instead of Prof. Drezner's weblog to arrange for the demolition of your house of cliches.
Re: General Odom-- he was the head of the NSA, which is to say, he was far more knowledgable about the order of battle of Soviet forces than about the US Army.
The interesting point about Odom, Scrowcroft, et alia, is the fact that they are all Cold Warriors for whom a doctrine of 'stability' was so deeply ingrained (because of the threat of nuclear war) that they cannot see any justification for the US to cause instability. So they continuoisly retreat to the conceptual framework in which they were trained and with which they are most comfortable, even if it no longer applies.posted by: PierreM on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
I have trouble believing that Abdul, the best butcher in Amman's downtown souq, gets together with Sayyid the barber from up the street and discusses Al Franken's whining anti-warriors over Turkish coffee. I think notions of Western (American, Israeli, Jewish) imperialism are, and will remain, endemic in the Arab/Muslim world, until a sea-change in its Weltenshauung is effected by other, more elemental means.posted by: John-Paul Pagano on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
this is the thing that is most annoying, that most americans think that all the anger in the middle east is a matter of "fundamentalist" views, or islam, or being "uncivilized" or whatever, and never look at the actual situation.
I mean, seriously, two buildings are blown up in the USA and most americans are out for arab blood. want to nuke the whole region. but turn the tables. imagine you lived in a country with an American puppet government (say, jordan, egypt, iraq, morocco, the entire gulf, maybe lebanon...), or a country that defends honest rights of palestinian freedom fighters or the iraqi resistence and is totally attacked by the USA...
Point being, until the USA stops being an imperialist nation, people will not stop hating it. And it is not a matter of belief or the way they see the world, but that the reality for the average arab is a life dominated by a country that doesn't give a damn about them and only sees them as a problem.posted by: joe M. on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
Two points: First, in regard to the issue of Arab disapproval of al-Qaeda, note that a recent poll in Jordan showed that al-Qaeda's negative rating among the Jordanian public had risen to 64%. That means that even following the hotel attacks, a significant minority appears to still view them favorably overall. My source is an Arab newspaper, but for anyone who wants to check this, see the first link in this post. In other words, I think that the Economist is overstating the issue.
Second, even if domestic U.S. opposition to the war helped a bit with Arabs' fears, it wouldn't make any sense to shoot yourself in the foot to get sympathy from someone else. This not only encourages our enemies to keep up the attacks, but the main objections here - casualties and costs - undermine U.S. foreign policy everywhere. The human and financial costs so far have been relatively quite small compared to what is normally required during war, and the critics' time horizon is too short. Our national interest in Iraq will go on for decades, but we have only been there for three years.posted by: Kirk H. Sowell on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
Joe M., consider the fact that places with "American puppet governments" like Japan, West Germany, Taiwan, South Korea, etc. etc. have done staggeringly well over the last several decades. Booming economies, civil liberties, the whole nine yards. So... it's our fault Arab countries have basket-case economies, basket-case governments, and a religion that regards mass murder as a sacrament? That's just the effect we have on people, right? People like, say, South Korea.
That's what you're saying, right, that we've driven South Korea to terrorism?
"This not only encourages our enemies to keep up the attacks, but the main objections here - casualties and costs - undermine U.S. foreign policy everywhere. ."
What undermines US foreign policy is poor policies, flawed execution and lies and exaggeration on the part of its leaders.
"The human and financial costs so far have been relatively quite small compared to what is normally required during war, and the critics' time horizon is too short"
The financial costs are in the several hundred billion dollar range already and will very likely go to half a trillion before all is said and done.posted by: Johsn on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
yankee, go home!posted by: NeoDude on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
It looks like the Koreans fought for their rights, in spite of US meddling.
"a religion that regards mass murder as a sacrament" says P. Froward.
He must be talking about Christianity. Because history has shown that no people are/were as bloodthirsty, or have killed more brutally as Christians.posted by: joe m. on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
Mark Buehner - You say "There are 25 million Iraqis who's fate may well depend on whether or not critics can resist descending on troop drawdown with gleeful cries of defeat and surrender." If it is the critics actions which will spell defeat or victory, why is the failure President Bush's? It seems that these critics are pressing President Bush into a corner where his choices are to let them undermine the war effort or use the law to stop them.
Secret appeals to Republican patriotism kept our wartime intercepts of Japanese communication secret and Republicans disadvantaged electorally. Democrats do not seem to be similarly burdened by conscience as Thomas Dewey was. Had Dewey gone forward with his plans to focus on wartime conduct, Roosevelt might well have lost the election.
Democrats are light on veterans but they are not totally bereft of military analysts. They are doing well enough seeing future military deployments and using them for domestic political advantage. I refuse to believe that they are somehow unaware of the foreign consequences of their unethical actions in both lost influence of the US and spilled blood both of our own and our foreign allies.
Disraeli - With figures in the Iraqi government predicting that their army will be ready to take over at the start of 2007, I suspect that we've already turned the corner. I expect trainers to remain on the ground for quite awhile. I think that Iraqi air force recreation is going to take a lot longer than 2007 to finish. That means a minimal ground presence and full air support for quite some time. But that's an awful long way from 150k+ troops plus air cover and much better for us and the Iraqis.
Zathras - Didn't you learn that one should keep families out of political disputes. Anything that remotely sounds like "your momma..." is degrading and shameful all around no matter what follows those two words. George W Bush stands or falls on his own policies and the crew that interviewed Barbara Bush was reprehensible for pulling her in this as are you for continuing the meme.
James - My recollection is that General Odom is saying that the reserves are going to be broken if we don't change things soon. We're scheduled to change things soon. Fully using your military tools at hand to the point of breaking but not actually breaking them in order to minimize war damage to the wider society is only a credit to the present administration. We would hardly be better off if our inflation and interest rates were two points higher each and our economic growth lower but we had 3 extra divisions of troops and plenty of war materiel to throw at the jihadis.
Harmen - The Arab world has been sold a bill of goods that the US is an empire and is after them to subjugate them and interfere with their families directly, stripping their women of the veil and modesty itself. Such lies are doomed to eventually being uncovered and we've managed to last in the Iraqi enterprise long enough so that their unravelling might actually benefit us. I don't expect the lies to make a comeback on this generation.
joe M - You might have been asleep but the US, in the form of several George W Bush speeches, has already apologized for its past support of ME autocracies and has both verbally promised not to do that in future and launched diplomatic initiatives to undo past damage. We've pressured Mubarak into elections in Egypt. What should we have done instead, sent in the Marines to remove him from office? Would that have been better? I think the people of Egypt would have disagreed.
Kirk H. Sowell - I believe you are misreading the polls. If I am two steps ahead of the creditors, my wife is dying of cancer and I say "I don't give a damn about Al Queda" to the pollster, your methodology would mark me down as an Al Queda supporter. That's just not realistic. What are Al Queda's positives? They used to have majority support in Jordan a few months back. A one event collapse of at least 40% of their support means pretty good things about Jordan and bad things for Al Queda.posted by: TM Lutas on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
I wouldn't give much credence to the impact of the supposed 'rising tide' of American domestic opposition. It's there, true, but as a factor in changing the minds of the jihadists, is probably pretty limited.
I thought it interesting that no one mentioned this excerpt from the article, which clearly shows that journalists, like some mediocre academics, will latch onto just about anything that might add evidence to prove their pre-determined agenda:
Another mentor, al-Qaeda's overall second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is believed to have written a letter of advice to Mr Zarqawi that suggests he should desist from such provocatively grisly acts as sawing off captives' heads when a simple bullet would do.
Surely, that signals loudly and clearly that al-Qaiea is worried about their public image in the Arab world and is ready to become a "kindler, gentler" band of terrorist thugs.
Just so you know, TML, there was no crew that interviewed Barbara Bush, not to my knowledge anyway. I made that part up.
I understand your point about involving the families of politicians in disputes over their policies, and am generally sympathetic to it. In this case, though, tough. George W. Bush is only President because of his family connection, in the first place. In the second, he and his father together have a well-established mode of operation that has already done the country considerable damage and could conceivably do more if it is not sufficiently discredited by the time Bush's brother decides to run for President.
Finally you will note that my objection is principally to the President's defenders responding to criticism the way a mother might, that is, by assuming a priori that her son is right and her critics therefore are wrong and mean-spirited. I don't really blame any mother, including Mrs. Bush, for feeling this way. Congressmen and Senators, journalists and bloggers and even humble posters are another story. I understand they might not appreciate this. Once again, tough.
I would suggest as well that you will find yourself hard-pressed to live up to your lofty ideals in this area if Sen. Clinton runs for President. I certainly won't.posted by: Zathras on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
Translation: "The Republicans control the Presidency, both houses of government, and to a large extent control the Supreme Court as well. But a few people exercising their democratic right to disagree, they pose a great threat to the prosecution of the war. Far greater than any possible mistakes (mistakes ? impossible !!) made by the administration. The President is forced to use the law to stop them, and never mind pesky things like the First Amendment"
I think you mis-spelled "Administration neocons" up there in place of Democrats. After all a party that has 2 Senators (one current, one former) Congressional Medal of Honor winners surely can't be said to be light on veterans.
NeoDude: I guess my point was that South Korea is a free and economically healthy nation, and we're still involved there. Somehow, they manage to have gotten to where they are without setting off car bombs in crowds of little kids, blowing up buses full of civilians, summarily executing people for impiety and leaving their bodies to rot in the street, or any of the other charming habits that a lot of people on the left now regard as logical and indispensible steps on the road to freedom and prosperity.
That kid's point was that everybody who has friendly contact with the US turns into an Arab country. There are enough counterexamples to make that look pretty shaky. Those counterexamples happen to include everybody who ever had any friendly contact with the US, except for Arab countries. And how does he explain Syria? How does he explain Egypt and Iraq back when they were Soviet clients? If the only reason Egypt is like that is that we do business with them, how come they were like long that before we ever did business with them? Pre hoc ergo propter hoc?
joe m.: These supremely bloodthirsty Christians would include Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the Janjaweed, is what you're saying?
Some people do bad things. There's no evidence that Christians have any particular talent for it, and in the past, uniquely bloodthirsty, century they've hardly been in the running at all, barring the Belgian Congo.
But anyhow, I was referring to the fact that there is a strain of Islam which regards mass murder as something very much like what Christians call a sacrament, in religious terms. And it is a fact.posted by: P. Froward on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
Somehow, they manage to have gotten to where they are without setting off car bombs in crowds of little kids, blowing up buses full of civilians, summarily executing people for impiety and leaving their bodies to rot in the street, or any of the other charming habits that a lot of people on the left now regard as logical and indispensible steps on the road to freedom and prosperity.
Lets not forget the charming habits such as lying a country into a war, building a new empire that so many on the right seem to regard as indispensable steps on the road to freedom and prosperity.
"If it is the critics actions which will spell defeat or victory, why is the failure President Bush's? It seems that these critics are pressing President Bush into a corner where his choices are to let them undermine the war effort or use the law to stop them. "
Because it is Bush's fault we have come to this impass. He has failed to give the American people a definitive (hell, even a sketchy) vision for what victory will look like. Entirely vague notions such as 'when the Iraqi government can stand by itself' or 'when victory is achieved' are no help. What do those things mean pragmatically? When will the Iraqi government be self-suffient? After this election? When their army has X many effective troops? When bombings fall to Y a day? When Saddam hangs by his neck? I have no idea, because this adminstration has never bothered to spell it out to Iraq, the US, or the world. Instead they say stay the course. Fine, but what does the port look like?
And Josh, thankfully our evil didnt extend to placing our fascist boot into Rhwanda or Sudan eh? Scored some major points in the world with those bits of forebearance.posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.25.05 at 11:08 AM [permalink]
Mark -- I was responding to a post claiming that left-wingers found car bombs and the like to be glowing symbols of progress. Some rhetorical excess should be allowed in response to such a post.
That being said, if the administration or Clinton had lied and tried to lead us into occupation/administration of Sudan or Rwanda, I'd object to that heavily as well. War and peace are the most fundamental decisions a President can make and such decisions should not be driven by deception or exaggeration.
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