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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Ariel Cohen

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Ariel Cohen

Last Build Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2007 00:20:56 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

How to Cope with Global Jihad

Fri, 12 Oct 2007 00:20:56 -0600

Fighting the wrong enemy The bush administration lost valuable time before it finally defined radical Islam as the premier national security threat in October 2005. Initially in the post-9/11 period, the president targeted "evildoers" and "terrorism" as the enemy. Moreover, Islam was declared a "religion of peace" and Saudi Arabia, which has spent the last 30 years spreading its Wahhabi/Salafi gospel, was labeled as"our friend." Unsurprisingly, the nation and the military were somewhat disoriented. The U.S. military quickly and successfully destroyed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. After that, however, the menu of enemies became slim: Saudi Arabia, from which 15 out of 19 hijackers came, was considered too important an oil supplier and too pivotal a state in the Middle East to be engaged. Pakistan, both the parent and the nursemaid of the Taliban, promised cooperation. Most important, the U.S. did not know (and still does not know) how to fight nonstate actors, be they sub-state terrorist organizations, militias, or supra-state religious/political movements. The jury is still out as to all the reasons for the Soviet collapse, but it was defeated in part through an indirect strategy formulated by the Reagan administration, and in part because it disintegrated due to its own internal weaknesses. If we are to believe one who was "present at the destruction" -- Russian Prime Minister Egor Gaidar -- a key reason was the flooding of the world market with cheap Saudi oil. The Soviet Union was also bankrupted by its unsustainably expensive military-industrial complex. In addition, it was burdened with ideological fatigue and cynicism, torn by ethnic centrifugal forces, and being bled in Afghanistan by the U.S.-supported mujahedeen.1 For over a century, the U.S. military and other arms of the government have been designed, nurtured, and financed to fight nation states, from Spain in 1898, to Germany in the two world wars, to Japan in 1941-45. Working with insurgencies or counter-insurgencies hasn't been Washington's forte for a long time. The U.S. military did not succeed in defeating the North Vietnamese insurgency, nor did its Cold War guerilla allies prevail in Angola or Mozambique. Beside the Huk rebellion in the Philippines, and support of Afghan mujahedeen, U.S. insurgency and counterinsurgency successes have been limited and peripheral to war-fighting. The current conflict is fundamentally different. The wars that went awry The U.S. entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan are exactly where the jihadis want the United States to be. According to Ayman al Zawahiri, in a taped interview at the second anniversary of 9/11, "If they withdraw, they lose everything, and if they stay they will continue to bleed to death."2 In other words, damned if you do and damned if you don't. U.S. abandonment of Iraq would be seen as a major victory for anti-American and Islamist forces in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world. After Iraq, jihadis may target Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and eventually Egypt and nuclear-armed Pakistan for takeover. It is the belief of al Qaeda leaders from Osama bin Laden all the way down that Iraq is going to do to America what Afghanistan did to Russia. And this would be a major accomplishment for a nonstate actor in a confrontation with the mightiest state on earth. Meanwhile, the future of NATO operations in Afghanistan remains uncertain, with many European allies foretelling the Alliance's defeat there. A resurgent Taliban, supported by al Qaeda and by elements within Pakistan, is threatening to overwhelm the NATO effort. At the same time, many in the Middle East believe that Israel, which they see as America's proxy, was defeated in Lebanon by Hezbollah; and Iran remains defiant, bringing on line batteries of 3,000 centrifuges capable of enriching uranium for nuclear weapons as well as funding Shiite extremists in Iraq and Lebanon. Islamist extremist/jihadi organizations, including movements and militias from Egypt to Afghanistan, represent clear and present dangers to American homelan[...]