Thursday, June 5, 2008

Walid Phares Warns On Al Qaeda, Iran & The War Of Ideas

I posted here that, while we are having great success militarily against al Qaeda and other related radical organizations, we have barely even begun to engage Islamic radicalism in the even more important ideological battlefield. While our soldiers and national security organizations are doing their part against the physical threat of al Qaeda, Iran, etc., our government is far behind the power curve in instituting any sort of challenge to the Koranic interpretations and dogma that gave rise to al Qaeda and Khomeinist Iran. So long as their interpretations and dogma go unchallenged, they will continue to generate new threats. As I say in the linked post, we fail to fully engage in the ideological battle at our own peril. Author and terrorism expert Prof. Walid Phares makes the same points in an essay today in Front Page Magazine, adding an important warning that if we withdraw precipitously from the war in Iraq and if we do not engage in the ideological battle, radicalism will regain strength and that this is a war we can still easily lose - in Iraq, the Middle East, and worldwide.

This from Prof. Phares:

. . . Is the US-led campaign designed to go after the membership of al Qaeda, go after its ideology or to support democracy movements to finish the job? Everything depends on the answers.

Geopolitically and at this stage, al Qaeda has been contained in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Somalia. But al Qaeda has potential, through allies, to thrust through Pakistan and the entire sub Sahara plateau. It was contained in Saudi Arabia but its cells (and off shoots) are omnipresent in Western Europe, Latin America, Indonesia, the Balkans, Russia and India, let alone North America. Objectively one would admit that the organization is being pushed back in some spots but is still gaining ground in other locations. Although geopolitical results are crucial, a final blow against al Qaeda has to be mainly ideological.

How can we measure al Qaeda's defeat in Iraq, if that is true?

There are three ways to measure defeat or victory: Operational, Control and Recruitment. First, is al Qaeda waging the same number of operations? Second, does it control enclaves? Third, is it recruiting high numbers? By these parameters al Qaeda was certainly "contained" in Iraq, particularly in the Sunni triangle. This was a combined result of the US surge operations and of a rise by local tribes, backed by American military and funding. But this scoring against al Qaeda would diminish and probably collapse if the US quit Iraq abruptly, or without leaving a strong ally behind. So, technically it is a conditioned containment of al Qaeda in Iraq.

How about Saudi Arabia?

The Saudis have contained many of al Qaeda's active cells in the Kingdom. But authorities haven't shrunk the ideological pool from which al Qaeda recruits, i.e. the hard core Wahabi circles. The regime has been using its own clerics to isolate the more radical indoctrination chains. It has been successful in creating a new status quo, but just that. If Iraq crumbles, that is if an abrupt withdrawal takes place in the absence of a strong and democratic Iraqi Government, al Qaeda will surge in the Triangle and thus will begin to impact Saudi Arabia. Therefore the current containment in the Kingdom is hinging on the success of the US led efforts in Iraq, not on inherent ideological efforts in Saudi Arabia.

How about Pakistan-Afghanistan?

In Afghanistan, both the Taliban and al Qaeda weren't able to create exclusive zones of control despite their frequent Terror attacks for the last seven years. But there again, the support to operations inside Afghanistan is coming mainly from the Jihadi enclaves inside Pakistan: Which conditions the victory over al Qaeda by the Kabul Government to the defeat of the combat Jihadi forces within the borders of Pakistan by Islamabad's authorities. Do we expect President Musharref and his cabinet to wage a massive campaign soon into Waziristan and beyond? Unlikely for the moment believe most experts. Hence, the containment of al Qaeda in Afghanistan is hinging on the Pakistan's politics. While it is true that the Bin Laden initial leadership network has been depleted, the movement continues to survive, fed by an unchallenged ideology, so far.

The war of ideas: Is al Qaeda losing it?

Geopolitically, al Qaeda is contained on the main battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan and somewhat in Somalia. It is suppressed in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. But it is roaming freely in many other spots. It is not winning in face of the Western world's premier military machine, but it is still breathing, and more importantly it is making babies. All what it would take to see it leaping back in all battlefields and more is a powerful change of direction in Washington D.C:

As simple as that: if the United States decides to end the War on Terror. or as its bureaucracy has been inclined to do lately, end the War of Ideas against Jihadism, the hydra will rise again and change the course of the conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Arabia and the African Sahara. All depends on how Americans and other democracies are going to wage their campaign against al Qaeda's ideology. If they choose to ignore it and embark on a fantasy trip to nowhere, as the "Lexicon" business shows, al Qaeda -- or its successors -- will win eventually.

But if the next Administration would focus on a real ideological defeat of Bin Laden's movement, then, the advances made on the battlefields will hold firmly and expand.

Lately, some in the counter terrorism community are postulating that Bin Laden is being criticized by his own supporters, . . . [D]oes that mean that we in liberal democracies are winning that war of ideas? Less likely.

A thorough review of the substance of what the Jihadi critics are complaining about . . . is not exactly what the free world would be looking forward to. But in short, al Qaeda is now contained in the very battlefield it chose to fend off the Infidels in: Iraq. But this is just one moment in space and time, during which we will have to fight hard to keep the situation as is. Our favorable situation is a product of the US military surge and of a massive investment in dollars. It is up to this Congress, and probably to the next President to maintain that moment, weaken it or expand it.

Al Qaeda and the Iranian regime know exactly the essence of this strategic equation. I am not sure, though, that a majority of Americans are aware of the gravity of the situation. In other words, the public is told that we have won this round against al Qaeda but it should be informed of what it would take to reach final victory in this global conflict.

Read the entire article.

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