Thursday, March 31, 2005

Al Qaeda and a straw man arguement

Tigerhawk (, a fellow blogger, attended a lecture by Michael Doran, who's an assistant professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton (was overlooked last year for tenure because, ostensibly, he didn't follow their academic mantra. Sigh). Read the article at the above link, it's really good.

I do have some points of contention with it, however. I think that Al Qaeda does indeed have a "long term strategy" for dealing with the anti-muslim forces inside and outside of the greater Middle East. But I think their view of it is flawed, and largey consists of building a straw man arguement. They fight modernity, but they don't really bother to understand modernity. In short, they make great use of technology when it benefits them, but they don't really see how it affects the greater scale of things. They don't see how teaching the youth of Iraq and Afghanistan higher end jobs will change their cultures and economies. They don't see the nation-state concept that exists today as a true construct, and they ultimately dismiss Egyptians for Egyptians and Iraqis for Iraqis (Doran makes that point, but only so far). The governments of modern Middle East (well, prior to 9/11 in most cases) were repressive and held all the keys to the economy, technology and communications. They were the reason that the muslim world is down the educational chute. It has nothing to ultimately do with the muslim religion, or the overall cultures of the region. It has everything to do with backwards regimes trying to keep power for just a little bit longer, and using the faucet of radical Islam against the west as a convienient way to keep the repression that they need, going. What better way to keep the people away from Microsoft than to tell them that Microsoft is evil? (ok, no laughing folks. Windows is evil, but that's besides the point)

What happens when those repressive governments go away? In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, what happens when their constituencies are given alternatives to autocratic rule- a real chance at a middle class, entreprenurial chances, and a real education system? Plus, as Doran noted, what happens when radical Islam clashes with the local views on Islam? Shiites, Afghanis, and Kurds rejected that ideology. Al Qaeda's allies don't even follow that mantra- Ba'athists are secular in concept, after all. And the Saudis are pragmatists. I think they realized that the oil industry will be changing dramatically over the next 30 years (Iraq and ANWR are just parts of that) and that it would be best NOT to piss off an America which no longer views Riyadh as a strategic interest, but a liability.

And the Western culture was brought TO them, rather than kept at a distance, like before 9/11, and make the West to be some mythical boogeyman who they don't really get to see, and ever get a chance to view through anything but a skewed camera. Americans are involved actively in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they can see firsthand westerners. Businesses are establishing contacts. They're getting new avenues of media (please, for the love of all that is holy, can they NOT get American Idol?!), as well. The West is no longer a mythical boogeyman. Americans are a part of their lives, now.

Ultimately, what Al Qaeda has is a straw man arguement. Their strategy in basis is sound, because they realize that they won't be able to win a quick victory over the west, even in the middle east. But they presume that the West will get themselves into a quagmire inside the Middle East, and that it would become too expensive for the West to stay......and then the Middle East would be ripe for Al Qaeda's picking. It presumes far too much that the Americans will follow their script, and will essentially roll over and die when they are told to. It presumes that technology, education, and democratic nationalism won't have as much of an effect in the short or long term. It requires far too much of a static situation on the ground other than repeated insurgencies throughout the Middle East (which has already proven to be a waste of time against American forces). We're already seeing a sea change in how the Middle East views the west- democracy is making inroads throughout the Middle East. Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt to one extent or the other, have embraced some form of democracy, or will be shortly. And the greatest victory of Al Qaeda since 9/11 was in Madrid, not the Middle East. They failed in Shahikot. They failed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They failed in Najaf. They failed in Fallujah. And they failed in the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, spectacularly.

No plan ever survives encounter with the enemy, as the old saying goes. Al Qaeda just learned that the hard way. Don't expect your opposition to play the tune that you ask them to dance to. Al Qaeda is learning from their mistakes, but it remains to be seen if they can ultimately get around finding other ways of changing the situation on the ground. I don't think they will, and I think that in 10 years Al Qaeda will really be a spent force. Islamia Jemmiayh and Abu Sayyaf will remain around longer, and eventually, Indonesia will become a new front in the War on Terror, but the rest of the Middle East will most likely not be a factor- unless they choose to tell Indonesia to knock it off.


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