Al Qaeda Scorecard
Arnaud de Borchgrave has an interesting commentary this morning entitled “Al Qaeda’s U.S. network” that I heard about on C-SPAN driving in this morning. It presents a bleak picture:
Before we convince ourselves al Qaeda is down for the count, check the stats. Islamist extremists in the world as estimated by moderate Muslim leaders: about 12 million. Fundamentalist sympathizers: 120 million. Those numbers represent 1 percent and 10 percent of the world’s Muslim population of 1.2 billion. The CIA puts the extremists much higher — 40 million. Then there’s the number who trust Osama bin Laden more than President Bush: a majority in Muslim countries whose populations total 450 million.
European intelligence services know an alarming number of mosques are privileged sanctuaries used by extremists. Self-proclaimed imams can choose any place, from a basement to a garage, and declare it a mosque, an Islamic place of worship. Germany has 8,000 mosques, according to German intelligence officials, to minister to a Turkish minority of 2.4 million and some 500,000 North African Muslims. France has some 10,000 mosques for 6 million North Africans; the U.S. about 2,000. Beyond normal Friday prayers in Western mosques, there is a common anti-American political message, virulent in Europe, more subtle and discreet in the United States. Intelligence chiefs on both sides of the Atlantic agree the Western world in general and the U.S. in particular now face a global ideological foe convinced the U.S. is the fount of all evil. France is summarily deporting imams who preach hatred and jihad, including one recently who had been a legal Turkish resident for 28 years.
Nasir Ahmad al Bahri, known as Abu Jandal, a former Osama bin Laden bodyguard, interviewed by Al Quds Al Arabi, a London-based, anti-U.S. Arab daily, said last week: “Al Qaeda is no longer an entity but an ideology against America. … The plan is now to draw the U.S. into a confrontation with all the Islamic peoples. … Bin Laden and al Qaeda have succeeded in drawing the U.S. into an unequal confrontation, not from a military technology standpoint but from the ideological aspect. Muslims [are now] fed up with the U.S., which lives in prosperity off our nation’s resources. I believe the U.S. is heading for its demise. Now that it has found what it wanted, al Qaeda can melt into a new caldron, and a new giant would be reborn. … Many Islamic world leaders would join it, and the confrontation with the U.S. would be inevitable. Al Qaeda would then [be] a vanguard army.”
These numbers are quite plausible, even conservative, and further discredit the “it’s just a few Muslim extremists” argument.
Ralph Peters, however, issues a much sunnier forecast.
Al Qaeda and its affiliates are losing. They’ll do their utmost to strike the United States before our elections. But even if they succeed, the effect will be the opposite of what they hope. And it won’t change the fact that the terrorist beast is badly wounded. The recent wave of arrests, from Pakistan through the Middle East to Britain, stunned the terrorists and sent them crawling for ever-deeper cover. The blow against terror has been so indisputable that even our embrace-the-terrorists-with-understanding crowd stopped crying that the War on Terror’s a failure (note the shift in campaign rhetoric). But it’s also a fact that this struggle is far from over. It will take at least a full generation Ã¢€” perhaps much longer Ã¢€” to rid the world of the demons who have appointed themselves as Allah’s executioners.
We do have some unexpected allies in this war, though: the terrorists themselves. Counter to the made-on-campus nonsense that we can’t succeed against terror, it’s the terrorists who can’t win. They can do horrific damage, creating scenes of slaughter among the innocent. But when it comes to employing such mega-violence, the terrorists are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.
He goes on to list several events where the Islamists have made miscalculations, creating enemies of former allies.
Around the world, leaders have wondered if their country would be next. In a few cases, this led to appeasement. Yet far more often we’ve seen growing counter-terror cooperation Ã¢€” with far more arrests than you’ll read about in the newspapers.
Terrorists always overreach. They create fantasy worlds in which they convince themselves that a grand and gruesome gesture will bring world-changing results. Yet, the more powerful the blow they deliver, the more likely they are to unify their enemies. The recent arrests in Pakistan and Britain have been far more devastating to al Qaeda than media reports suggest. The headlines focus on the number of arrests, but an even greater loss to al Qaeda will be the loss of confidence in essential technologies. Osama bin Laden lost a great propaganda tool when he stopped allowing video cameras near him. (He grew too afraid for his personal safety after 9/11.) But the terrorists’ real “secret weapon” has been the Internet, the greatest means of disseminating hatred in history, more virulent by far than even the printing press. For years, Islamic extremists used the ‘Net with confidence and skill. It became their virtual empire and a citadel within which they could muster. Now Ã¢€” as a result of the seizure of over 50 computer discs in Pakistan and, by some reports, a thousand in Britain, along with loaded hard drives, Web address books and so much data we’ve barely begun to decipher it Ã¢€” al Qaeda must fear each next keystroke. Even before the recent arrests, al Qaeda and its allies found themselves restricted in their abilities to travel, to raise funds and even to use cell phones (another great terrorist tool). By diffusing their efforts instead of concentrating on one objective, they created enemies for themselves among governments that had long looked the other way.
The terrorists have been their own worst enemies, always over-reaching in time to prevent the world from forgetting that the threat is real and immediate. Their madness will be their undoing.
Peters is right that the terrorists are unlikely to achieve their political objectives and therefore we will ultimately win. What worries me is that too many Americans, including much of our political leadership, is still in a 9/10 mindset. I heard Sen. Chris Dodd on the Don Imus show this morning saying that President Bush is doing everything he can to make this an election about national security when what most Americans really care about are domestic issues like jobs and health care. Dodd is hardly a lunatic; he’s a senior senator and former head of the Democratic Party. If it’s really the case that he doesn’t understand that we’re in a war, and that reflects a plurality view, then we’re in trouble.