Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Understand it, we're fighting a war we can't win:
Back to Iraq'd for a second. The prevailing presumption -- you can see it here, from Reuel Marc Gerecht, but liberals as well as conservatives buy in -- is that the more hospitable Sunni-Iraq becomes for foreign jihadis, the greater the danger for U.S. national security. That is, inexorably, jihadi training camps will disgorge its membership onto Baltimore harbor, lower Manhattan, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc. It's not a bad presumption, after all: it happened in Afghanistan, of course, and it's better not to be sanguine about terrorist camps.

But let's put some stress on it.

Yesterday, we saw that Sunni Iraqis don't much care for al-Qaeda and its ilk. But let's stipulate for the sake of argument that the Sunnis will tolerate the foreigners in the name of defending themselves against the marauding Shiites and the soon-to-be-marauding Kurds. If this means anything, it means that the Sunnis aren't going to have any patience at all for any jihadi who says, "OK, you guys raid Najaf and you other guys defend Balad. We're going to Disneyworld!" The former Saddam general replies, "You guys abandon your positions or neglect your orders, and we'll hang you from the lampposts!"

To be less flippant, the pressures that Sunni Iraq faces will make it near-prohibitive for the foreign jihadis to consider attacking the U.S. outside of Iraq for at least some undetermined period of time. Like all terrorist cells, they require far more logistical support than they can themselves produce, and must rely on the goodwill of the local Sunnis. Those Sunnis are simply not going to tolerate foreign jihadis who promise to save Iraq and then go fight an enemy 8,000 miles away while Shiite death squads slaughter their children. It's more likely that terrorist exfiltration will, in the forseeable future at least, focus on targets in Iran than here in America.

That's not an argument for not giving a shit about terrorist entities in Iraq. It is, however, an argument that takes into account local considerations in Iraq, which in conditions of failing states or sectarian implosion frequently trump Far-Enemy calculations. In this country, we have an unfortunate tendency to impose American-centric models of behavior on complex and often-confounding foreign situations. But there are more enemies, grievances, fissures and temporary alliances in Iraq than are dreamt of in our philosophy -- a philosophy which reduces the war on terrorism to Us and Them.
--Spencer Ackerman
What you say makes a lot of sense. But how different is the situation from that in Afghanistan pre-9/11? There the Taliban was fighting a war against the Northern Alliance with the support of Al Qaeda at the same time Al Qaeda was going to Disneyland. And yet the two parties remain firm allies. Doesn't that bear at least some similarity with what we might see in Iraq?
Blogger santamonicamr | 10:11 AM

Good question. My answer would be that the conflict between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance is nowhere near what Iraq's sectarian conflict is. First, it didn't draw the population into the battle for Kabul, really. Second, by 2001 (and earlier, but let's use 2001), the "border" between the Taliban & the NA was fairly delineated. The NA wasn't attacking, say, Kandahar; with the exception of the Massoud assassination, the Taliban didn't get deep into the Panjshir Valley. Finally, al-Qaeda was essentially bankrolling the Taliban, while the Iraqi insurgency has outside, non-al-Q sources of funding.
Blogger spencerackerman | 10:37 AM

Finally, let's give jihadis credit for motivations beyond sheer mindless hatred. Sarin in Disneyland must accomplish a political objective, it must serve a goal not as easily effected by other means. 9/11 worked admirably for Al Qaeda's purposes--it got American troops into the Middle East, and into combat, where they become a propaganda force multiplier for jihad. Sarin in Disneyland is only worthwhile if, from their point of view, it makes us do something *else* they consider worthwhile--or perhaps continue doing something that we would otherwise not be motivated to continue.
Blogger Michael Turner | 3:20 AM