A rare piece what is being reported as ‘good news’ from the front of the ‘war of ideas’ is making me very uncomfortable this weekend.
It’s been discussed in the Times, the Post, and most clearly in this weeks Economist magazine, which subtitles an article “Unfamiliar Questions in the Arab Air” thus: “as Al-Qaeda scores own-goals in its backyard, many Arabs, including some Iraqis, are beginning to rethink their position on violence in the name of resistance.”
It’s an obvious claim and not terribly surprising. Whatever Abu Musab al-Zarqawi thinks he is doing by cutting off the heads of captives and most importantly blowing up hotels in Amman – killing very few westerners but a lot of Muslims and notably dozens of Palestinians – there had to come a point at which the Arab street pushed back. Jordanians and others are marching to protest the violence. Religious leaders and governments are taking their side. Let’s be clear. No one has been converted from jihadist ideology. People do seem to be expressing doubts about the tactics.
All to the good, of course. Americans warm to the idea that some Arab publics are becoming less accepting of Al-Qaeda’s behavior. That should be of great assistance to us in our long term struggle to win the war of ideas as well as the physical war on terror.
Wait a minute. Is it really good news?
Put yourself in the mindset of Zarqawi or perhaps Bin Laden, if he even knows what’s going on from his cave somewhere in Pakistan. What must these guys be thinking now? In the last several years, their efforts have been aimed at imposing pain in two places – the American occupation forces in Iraq, and the ‘near-enemy’ governments of Arab states that they ultimately wish to bring down. Maybe this was a conscious cost-benefit calculation. Maybe they just don’t have the capability right now, given the pressure being placed on them by the US, to do anything else. We don’t know.
What we do know is that they’ve put themselves over the marginally increasing benefits part of the return curve for attacking the near enemy. And the discomfort in the Arab street is not just an annoyance. It threatens their life-line. So what would you do next?
It seems to me the obvious move is to attack the far enemy, the US. Would the Arab street protest against violence in the wake of, say, 10 suicide bombers in 10 shopping malls across the United States on the day before Christmas? I’d like to think the answer is yes, but I doubt it is.
I don’t know better than anyone else knows why it is that Al-Qaeda has failed to do anything inside the US since Sept 11 2001. There are many theories, and as far as I can tell with regard to evidence that is being made public, they are all pure conjecture. Some are more reassuring than others.
The one thing I think I do know, or at least suspect at this moment, is that whatever the costs and impediments to mounting operations against the US inside the US may appear to Al-Qaeda, the discomfort in the Arab street following the Amman bombings would seem to heighten Al-Qaeda’s incentives to go after the far enemy. And what better time than around the Christmas holidays?