Terrorists Still Hate Us

Bernard Finel believes that recent optimism that we’re making progress against terrorists in general and al Qaeda in particular is undue.

First, there has been some decline in casualties from Islamist terror attacks both inside and outside of Iraq. But as I have argued elsewhere, casualty figures have a largely random element to them. In the meantime, the number of incidents of Islamist violence around the world remains at an all-time high.

Second, there is some promising debate and discussion within jihadist circles about the efficacy and legitimacy of terror. This may, over time, promote some moderation. But as a practical matter, terrorists are not motivated by sophisticated theological arguments; they are motivated more commonly by a visceral belief that Islam is under attack from the West and that violence is the only mode of resistance. Jailhouse conversions are significant, but not as significant as the still-popular belief in many Muslim communities that America is a hostile power bent on domination and exploitation.

Third, we have seen a significant decline in state support for terrorism. The problem, of course, is that the current threat has never really been a problem of states, but rather of transnational networks empowered by the tools of globalization — ease of travel and communication, access to financial networks, and the internationalization of local grievances.

Absent an extended decline in attacks, I’m inclined to agree that this is a “generational struggle” that won’t conveniently end in time for the next election. Indeed, I’m not even sure that it’s truly winnable in the sense that a war against a state enemy is since there’s no one with whom to negotiate terms. Terrorism is simply too powerful a tool to think that it will ever completely go away.

Still, the fact that the most ardent critics of the administration’s war on terror are pointing to a “jihadist revolt against bin Laden” is mighty encouraging. If we can avoid stepping on our progress with counterproductive policies that the terrorists can use as evidence that we hate Islam, not just those who murder civilians — even other Muslims — in its name, we can at least drain the swamp.

FILED UNDER: General, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    The problem, of course, is that the current threat has never really been a problem of states

    I know that’s the narrative but is it the reality? What is Hezbollah without Iranian support? OBL without the enormous handout he received from the Saudi government to go away? Al Qaeda without the support of the Taliban (and now, tacitly, of the Pakistani government)?

    Basically, they’re guys with grievances whose plans, like those of the Miami 7, are aspirational rather than operational. We’ll never get rid of guys with grievances. We’re just going to have to get used to that idea.

    But the damage-doing power of guys with grievances goes way way down without the support of states.

  2. Bithead says:

    Dave raises good points. He forgets the linkage to Saddam, of course, but that’s a matter of timing.

    But the progress can also be measured by the support which such movements get from the peope winin the areas in question. Certainly AQ got more support eight years ago than now.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    I’d meant to mention Saddam’s tacit support of Zarqawi (before the invasion) but somehow that slipped away as I wrote my comment.

    Preemptive response: in any regime as totalitarian as Saddam’s was just allowing somebody in the country is support.

  4. Dantheman says:

    “If we can avoid stepping on our progress with counterproductive policies that the terrorists can use as evidence that we hate Islam, not just those who murder civilians — even other Muslims — in its name, we can at least drain the swamp.”

    True. Unfortunately, Bush and McCain seem determined to keep pushing those counterproductive policies, from a SOFA agreement giving Iraq painfully little control over our soldiers there that no Iraqis seem to want through kangaroo trials at GITMO using as their primary evidence coerced confessions (with the evidence of the coercion barred from the court) to having their supporters regularly bring up Obama’s middle name (which he shares with Mohammed’s grandson and is therefore one of the most common in the Islamic world) and father’s religion as a way of scaring voters.

  5. Look, Saddam’s “ties” to AQ were no more significant than those of a half dozen other countries — Libya, Syria, etc. And much less than Pakistan’s or Saudi’s. AQ never staged from Iraq under Saddam. Saddam had nothing to do with the AQ threat or the attacks of 9/11.

  6. Steve Plunk says:

    I have to agree with Bernard I. Finel. Saddam was evil enough on his own without the link to OBL or AQ. It’s like charging a man with multiple counts of murder for killing one man.

  7. Steve Plunk says:

    I have to disagree with just about everything else.

  8. Bithead says:

    That’s arguable, guys, from bth sides. But the article posted the other day in the weekly standard should ahve laid to rest any questions about his IMV far more than tacit support for terrorism.

    These conclusions should not be surprising. In his book At the Center of the Storm, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet provided a number of details concerning the safe haven al Qaeda members received in Saddam’s Iraq. For example, Tenet wrote that two of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s top operatives, Thirwat Shihata and Yussef Dardiri, received safe haven in Baghdad. Tenet says that there was “concern that these two might be planning operations outside Iraq.”

    The first report on the uses of prewar intelligence published by the Senate Intelligence Committee in July 2004 also found that Zarqawi freely roamed around Iraq and Saddam’s goons must have been aware of his presence. The authors of the Butler Report, the British government’s investigation into prewar intelligence, found roughly the same. Even other al Qaeda members have, on occasion, been open about the relationship between Zarqawi, other al Qaeda operatives, and Saddam’s regime in prewar Iraq.

    Despite all of these findings, however, the myth that Zarqawi and other al Qaeda operatives lived in Saddam’s neo-Stalinist state without receiving at least the dictator’s tacit support has lived on. But now, even in a partisan report designed to attack the Bush administration’s credibility, the Senate Intelligence Committee has admitted that Bush and his officials were right to argue that Saddam was harboring al Qaeda fugitives. Both prewar and postwar intelligence assessments confirm their view.

    But no one should take the Senate Intelligence Committee’s word one way or another on these issues. In fact, the only reason that we know the committee got the story of Saddam’s safe haven for al Qaeda members right is because so many other sources have already confirmed it. And while the Senate Intelligence Committee got this issue right, it got many others wrong. The report is not even internally consistent and the committee simply ignored numerous pieces of information that got in the way of some of its conclusions.

    I think it’s one more breadcrumb on the trail of Democrat party lies about Iraq, myself.

  9. Bithead… the problem with this report and others that have been produced in the past is there is no sense of context. No serious person questions that there was contact between AQ and Saddam. The point is that this contact was at a lower level than many other states, including two major U.S. allies in the GWOT — Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. You can’t possibly argue that we had to overthrow Saddam because of his ties to AQ, and then argue that we should be allied with SA and Pakistan despite their much deeper ties to AQ. It just makes no sense. Now, if you are arguing for regime change in those two countries as well, then okay, we just have a difference in opinion about strategy. But the notion that Iraq was a special category of threat in terms of terrorism is just simple unsustainable by any sort of serious, empirically-based analysis.

    Now, about Zarqawi specifically. As far as I know, he is not linked to any pre-9/11 anti-US attacks. He did apparently kill a USAID official in Jordan in 2002. But he only became a problem after the invasion. If anyone in 2002 had argued that we had to overthrown Saddam’s regime in order to get at a small potato like Zarqawi, they would have been called crazy by even the most aggressive proponents of military force.

  10. Bithead says:

    Bithead… the problem with this report and others that have been produced in the past is there is no sense of context. No serious person questions that there was contact between AQ and Saddam.

    Yeah, well, stand by for that, Bernie. That’s the impression that opponants of the war would like to leave us with, and the context of ‘no serious person’ usually doesn’t get added until they’re pressured into it.

    The point is that this contact was at a lower level than many other states, including two major U.S. allies in the GWOT — Pakistan and Saudi Arabia

    Low enough to provide what’s known in the vernacular as “plausable deniability.” After the pattern gets established, though it becomes far less plausable. Here’s your context, Bernie.

    In the kind of dictatorship run by Saddam as it was described to us for two decades, there is no way that Saddam didn’t kiow these people were about and operating. It’s as Dave suggests; “Preemptive response: in any regime as totalitarian as Saddam’s was just allowing somebody in the country is support.”

    The only other operative choice is that Saddam didn’t have that degree of control, which is arguable, unlikely as it seems.

    However; In either event, there would be no way to control that situation, and most assuredly no way to get a handle on Iran, without removing Saddam from power in Iraq.

    And also, again in either event, we’re left with Senate Democrats operating in ther own interests, and ignoring evdience that runs against their regaining power.

  11. Michael says:

    In the kind of dictatorship run by Saddam as it was described to us for two decades, there is no way that Saddam didn’t kiow these people were about and operating. It’s as Dave suggests; “Preemptive response: in any regime as totalitarian as Saddam’s was just allowing somebody in the country is support.”

    Anti-Saddam forces operated inside of Iraq during Saddam’s rule, did they too have Saddam’s tacit approval? No totalitarian government is sufficiently omnipresent as to have the kind of control you’re suggesting Saddam had.

  12. Bithead says:

    Anti-Saddam forces operated inside of Iraq during Saddam’s rule, did they too have Saddam’s tacit approval? No totalitarian government is sufficiently omnipresent as to have the kind of control you’re suggesting Saddam had.

    If youo’re going to make that argument, fine. Then the latter is true; Saddam was totally unable to react properly to the situation, and needed remmoval anyway.

  13. Michael says:

    If youo’re going to make that argument, fine. Then the latter is true; Saddam was totally unable to react properly to the situation, and needed remmoval anyway.

    <sarcasm>Yes, not having sufficient control over Kurdish regions in the north was a definite failing of his that required the US to invade Iraq.</sarcasm>

    Can we be serious now?

  14. Bithead says:

    You’re forgetting, I suppose that the object of our actions was to stop the terrorist activitives? The bit with the Kurds was a nice to have, but not the primary objective.

  15. Michael says:

    You’re forgetting, I suppose that the object of our actions was to stop the terrorist activitives?

    Oh yeah, here I was thinking it had something to do with weapons of mass destruction, or violating the no-fly zones, or ignoring UN resolutions, or or or….

  16. Michael says:

    The bit with the Kurds was a nice to have, but not the primary objective.

    Ok, you lost me, what “bit with the Kurds” are you referring to? Did you misinterpret my sarcasm tags?