[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[infowar.de] NYT 27.10.04: Op-Ed Contributor: What the Terrorists Have in Mind
October 27, 2004
What the Terrorists Have in Mind
By DANIEL BENJAMIN and GABRIEL WEIMANN
With less than a week before the election, President Bush is seeking to
turn the favorable ratings he receives for his prosecution of the war on
terrorism into a clinching advantage. His latest television advertisement,
using a pack of wolves to stand in for foreign terrorists, ends with the
line: "Weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm." He has
backed up this sentiment in his foreign-policy stump speeches. "In a free
and open society, it is impossible to protect against every threat,'' he
told a New Jersey crowd. "The best way to prevent attacks is to stay on the
offense against the enemy overseas."
Of course, Mr. Bush is correct: A central part of our strategy must be to
pre-empt terrorists, attacking them before they attack us. But not all
offensive strategies are equal, and Mr. Bush errs by arguing that the one
being employed is doing the job. One need only listen to the terrorists and
observe their recent actions to understand that we face grave problems.
After all, their analysis of the battle is a key determinant of the level
of terrorism in the future.
To get a sense of the jihadist movement's state of mind, we must listen to
its communications, and not just the operational "chatter" collected by the
intelligence community. Today, the central forum for the terrorists'
discourse is not covert phone communications but the Internet, where
Islamist Web sites and chat rooms are filled with evaluations of current
events, discussions of strategy and elaborations of jihadist ideology.
Yes, assessing this material requires a critical eye since there is plenty
of bluster and some chat room participants may be teenagers in American
suburbs rather than fighters in the field. Some things, however, are clear:
There has been a drastic shift in mood in the last two years. Radicals who
were downcast and perplexed in 2002 about the rapid defeat of the Taliban
in Afghanistan now feel exuberant about the global situation and, above
all, the events in Iraq.
For example, an article in the most recent issue of Al Qaeda's Voice of
Jihad - an online magazine that comes out every two weeks - makes the case
that the United States has a greater strategic mess on its hands in
Afghanistan and Iraq than the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan in the
1980's. As translated by the SITE Institute, a nonprofit group that
monitors terrorists, the author describes how the United States has
stumbled badly by getting itself mired in two guerrilla wars at once, and
that United States forces are now "merely trying to 'prove their presence'
- for all practical purposes, they have left the war."
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist now wreaking havoc in Iraq,
sees things in a similar way. "There is no doubt that the Americans' losses
are very heavy because they are deployed across a wide area and among the
people and because it is easy to procure weapons," he wrote in a recent
communiqué to his followers that was posted on several radical Web sites.
"All of which makes them easy and mouthwatering targets for the believers."
Clearly, the president's oft-repeated claim that American efforts are
paying off because "more than three-quarters of Al Qaeda's key members and
associates have been killed, captured or detained" - a questionable claim
in itself - means little to jihadists. What matters to them that the
invasion of Iraq paved the way for the emergence of a movement of radical
Sunni Iraqis who share much of the Qaeda ideology.
Among the recurrent motifs on the Web are that America has blundered in
Iraq the same way the Soviet Union did in the 1980's in Afghanistan, and
that it will soon be leaving in defeat. "We believe these infidels have
lost their minds," was the analysis on a site called Jamaat ud-Daawa, which
is run out of Pakistan. "They do not know what they are doing. They keep on
repeating the same mistake."
For the radicals, the fighting has become a large part of a broader
religious revival and political revolution. Their discussions celebrate
America's occupation of Iraq as an opportunity to expose the superpower's
"real nature" as an enemy of Islam that seeks to steal the Arab oil
patrimony. "If there was no jihad, Paul Bremer would have left with $20
trillion instead of $20 billion," one Web site declared.
Moreover, the radicals see themselves as gaining ground in their effort to
convince other Muslims around the world that jihad is a religiously
required military obligation. And the American presence in the region is
making the case for fulfilling this obligation all the more powerful.
Iraq, in fact, has become a theater of inspiration for this drama of faith,
in which the jihadists believe they can win by seizing cities and towns,
killing American troops and destabilizing the country with attacks on the
police, oil pipelines and reconstruction projects. Although coalition
forces have retaken Samarra and pounded Falluja, we have ceded control of
much of western Iraq. Taliban-like councils are emerging in places under
the control of extremists, some linked with Mr. Zarqawi's organization.
From the militants' perspective, America's record has been one of
inconsistency and fecklessness. For example, we signaled that we were going
to attack Falluja last summer, and then held off. We have allowed it and
several other cities to become no-go zones for coalition forces. The
apparent decision to postpone a major campaign to retake western Iraq until
after the Nov. 2 election is another move that the militants will
inevitably view as a sign of weakness. In the end, we are stuck in the
classic quandary of counterinsurgency: we do not want to use the force
necessary to wipe out the terrorists because we would kill numerous
civilians and further alienate the Iraqi population.
Meanwhile, radicals in dozens of countries are increasingly seizing on
events in Iraq. Some Web sites have moved beyond describing the action
there to depicting it in the most grisly way: images of Western hostages
begging for their lives and being beheaded. These sites have become
enormously popular throughout the Muslim world, thrilling those who
sympathize with the Iraqi insurgents as they see jihad in action. Fired up
by such cyber-spectacles, militants everywhere are more and more seeing
Iraq as the first glorious stage in a long campaign against the West and
the "apostate" rulers of the Muslim world.
It is remarkable, for example, that the Pakistani Sunni extremist group
Lashkar-e-Tayba appears to be shifting its sights away from its longtime
focus on Kashmir and toward Iraq. Probably the largest militant group in
Pakistan, it has used its online Urdu publication to call for sending holy
warriors to Iraq to take revenge for the torture at Abu Ghraib prison as
well as for what it calls the "rapes of Iraqi Muslim women." "The Americans
are dishonoring our mothers and sisters," reads a notice on its site.
"Therefore, jihad against America has now become mandatory."
The organization's postings speak of an "army" of 8,000 fighters from
different countries bound for Iraq. While that number is undoubtedly
exaggerated, the statement is not pure propaganda: members of the group
have already been captured in Iraq.
Another worrisome development is the parallel emergence of a Shiite
militancy that shares the apocalyptic outlook of Al Qaeda. One citation
that crops up frequently in chat rooms is a quotation from a sheik
describing the fighting in Iraq as a harbinger of the arrival of the Mahdi,
the messiah figure whose expected return will bring about a sort of final
judgment: "The people will be chided for their acts of disobedience by a
fire that will appear in the sky and a redness that will cover the sky. It
will swallow up Baghdad."
It seems clear that, while the administration insists that we are acting
strongly, our pursuit of the war on terrorism through an invasion of Iraq
has carried real costs for our security. The occupation is in chaos, which
is emboldening a worldwide assortment of radical Islamists and giving them
common ground. The worst thing we could do now is believe that the Bush
administration's tough talk is in any way realistic. If we really think
that the unrest abroad will have no impact on us at home - as too many
thought before 9/11 - not even a vastly improved offense can help us.
Daniel Benjamin, a director for counterterrorism on the National Security
Council staff under President Bill Clinton, is a co-author of "The Age of
Sacred Terror." Gabriel Weimann is professor of communications at the
University of Haifa in Israel and the author of the forthcoming "Terror on
Mail an infowar -
- infopeace -
de mit "unsubscribe" im Text.