What Obama Needs to Learn Fast
Section: Opinion > Printer-Friendly Version
Stop Terror's Next Act
By NIBRAS KAZIMI
July 21, 2008
Senator Obama has some explaining to do: what does he mean by saying that he would end the war in Iraq? Whereas some aspects of the war seem to indicate that America is at war with itself as the Iraq debate rages in a charged partisan atmosphere, yet it is often the case that wars usually involve more than one side. So who is America at war with in Iraq? And is the enemy willing to end the war, and under what conditions?
Then there is another existential conundrum that Mr. Obama needs to contend with: how does one go about ending a war that, for all intents and purposes, is already over. The enemy has been defeated before it and its aims have been defined; now that's quite an auspicious outcome. But it is also a dangerous one, since important lessons need to be learned before the enemy regroups and reengages on newer fronts.
It is quite unusual that after five years of war, the American discourse concerning Iraq continues to be disinterested in the identity and aims of the enemy, as if the casualties and terror that had unfolded there were one-sided — pegged by some on the left of the political spectrum as America's fault.
It so happens that the principal enemy that America had faced in Iraq, the so-called Zarqawist wing of worldwide jihad, named after its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was responsible for more than 60% of the insurgency's output at its height. Irrespective of whether the jihadists were operative in Iraq before the 2003 invasion, it was Zarqawi and his followers who chose Iraq as the newest jihadist battleground from which to resume their open-ended war against America.
Zarqawi didn't start out as a member of Al Qaeda, for Osama bin Laden's leadership was not radical enough for his tastes. When Zarqawi took the fight to Iraq he was embarking on a far more ambitious endeavor that had not been attempted before by the jihadists: waging war from the center of the Middle East against the world's mightiest military power. Mr. bin Laden would not have the audacity for such a thing; it took a new generation of jihadists, of whom Zarqawi was to be their poster child, to take jihad to the next level.
Zarqawi only joined Al Qaeda after he had turned his endeavor in Iraq into a success story. He did so hoping that eventually he would supplant Mr. bin Laden as the leader of global terror. Nevertheless, Zarqawi only had use for the Al Qaeda franchise for a year or so and then proceeded to expand his Iraqi and regional operations under other names.
Even though Zarqawi was killed in June 2006, his successors inherited his audacity and gall: in October 2006 they proceeded to declare the so-called "Islamic State of Iraq." It was at this point that America's apathy regarding Iraq reached its nadir just as the jihadists were thinking that they were about to turn a corner towards victory for Islam. That was the reason why America's commentators on Iraq, running the gamut from Baghdad-based journalists to Washington-based analysts, missed the crucial import behind the newfound jihadist state: the jihadists had laid the foundation stone for the state of the caliphate that would rule, once again, the Islamic lands spanning the three continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe. They even went as far as to pick a caliph, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who they called the "Commander of the Faithful" — a caliphal title.
And it isn't as if they were being too discreet about it either: they published a 100-page book in Arabic under the title of "Informing the People About the Birth of the State of Islam" and they pulled such stunts as keeping Mr. Baghdadi's identity secret but made a great hullabaloo about his ancestry, going to the length of specifying exactly how is descended from the tribe of Quraysh, a prerequisite in a caliph.
Unfortunately, due to the general unawareness that pervades the ranks of the self-styled Iraq experts back in America, these signs were misinterpreted: the "Islamic State of Iraq" was dismissed as an Al Qaeda façade when it designed by the Zarqawists to supersede Al Qaeda. Another illogical talking point that may have stemmed from jihadist disinformation and regurgitated by these experts had it that Baghdadi himself was a fictitious character.
There are a couple of "official" jihadist propaganda outlets on the Internet — their main channel for disseminating information — and one such discussion board is called Al-Hesbah where a certain pseudonymous Abu Dujanah al-Khurasani is active. Only a limited number of jihadist writers are allowed to post their views there and Mr. Khurasani is one of them.
In November 2007, Mr. Khurasani posted a mini-play of several acts; the opening scene takes us to the year 2025 to show Baghdadi surveying the capital of his empire, the city of Baghdad. After reminiscing about Zarqawi's last dying moments, Baghdadi receives a call on his cell phone from the "Chief of Staff of the Army of the Caliphate." Another scene is set in a classroom where a teacher asks his pupils "What was the Arabian Peninsula called before it was liberated by the Commander of the Faithful Abu Omar al-Baghdadi in 2010?" The students grapple with the answer before one of them blurts out that it used to be called Saudi Arabia.
Yet another scene showcases an Al-Jazeera TV-like program where the topic of discussion is the dictatorship of Edward the Third in Britain — remember the year is 2025 — and the leader of the British opposition movement, who has adopted Mr. Baghdadi's Baghdad as his city of refuge, is identified as "Peter," the fictitious son of Tony Blair.
Fantastical as this may all seem, it was exactly where the jihadists thought they would be in a couple of decades. They thought they were building an empire in Iraq, the caliphate that Mr. bin Laden was always harping on about but never got the nerve to attempt. It was to be the realization of their dream, the same vision for which they launched the September 11, 2001, attacks and the mayhem and bloodshed in Iraq.
And now that they have been defeated in Iraq — anyone saying otherwise is either clueless or being purposely mendacious — America has in fact achieved something far greater than a military victory: America's soldiers have smashed the nascent state of the caliphate; the dream is no more. This is a fate far worse than death for the jihadists, who enthusiastically embrace dying for their cause of resurrecting an Islamic empire as a noble act of martyrdom. Should Mr. bin Laden be killed or captured, then he would remain an undiminished hero in their eyes; while Americans may think that this would count as victory, the jihadists may simply shrug it off. However, seeing their state collapse in Iraq is their own nadir of demoralization and ideological defeat.
I wonder if Mr. Obama understands all of that. Keeping troops in Iraq is not an end unto itself, yet victory is. Stationing more troops than are necessary to maintain the fruits of victory was never one of America's war aims. Victory is easily defined as having a democratic and independent state of Iraq (check) and preventing another "Islamic State of Iraq" (check).
Prime Minister Maliki recently welcomed Mr. Obama's withdrawal plan with caveats and this sent the usual pundits a-twitter, but whereas Mr. Obama was thinking in terms of retreat, Mr. Maliki on the other hand was suggesting the natural outcome of victory: that America's soldiers, who had fought a hard won yet incidental battle against the ultimate jihadist aim of resurrecting an Islamic Empire, could go home with laurels and to acclaim.
I also wonder whether the European crowds cheering Mr. Obama and giving him a super-star's welcome this week understand the implications of victory in Iraq. Sadly for them, the jihadists are not going to give up especially now that they have something more to prove after the humiliation of losing their state: the jihadists intend to hit the reset button on worldwide jihad by launching painful attacks on Europe, and these painful attacks will involve whatever weapons of mass destruction they can get their hands on.
How do I know this? Well, I read the jihadist Internet forums where they casually discuss the prospects of killing some 90,000 to 200,000 Europeans, maybe in a country where its free press had run cartoons or broadcast documentaries found offensive to Islam, say Denmark or Sweden or Holland, as a double act of retaliation and deterrence. The jihadist thinking is that once they do something of this magnitude, the west will back off and allow them to build their empire once again somewhere in the Middle East.
Never mind that the jihadists have Spain, Greece, Italy, the Balkans, and parts of southern France on their "must-eventually-reoccupy" to-do list.
Going back to Afghanistan is an abhorred historical regression, and certainly the pride of the Zarqawists, the most radical and once most successful of the jihadists, will not allow them to hide away in some cave in Waziristan after they had attempted a project as historically grand as the new caliphate in Baghdad. They will come back bigger, deadlier and far more audacious, as is their style, the next time around. Mr. Obama and his European hosts need to update what they think they know about the enemy before the enemy catches its breath.
Mr. Kazimi is a contributing editor to the New York Sun.