Why don’t we listen to what al Qaeda says?

Tue, 10/18/2005 - 4:57pm
By: Letters to the ...

Kevin King and I seem to have come to opposite conclusions regarding our involvement in Iraq, and the editor shrewdly juxtaposed our essays.

I hesitate to enter into any sort of debate with Mr. King. He writes from a wealth of military experience (mine is limited to the fact that I often surf right off of Patrick Air Force Base), and he evinces an enviable understanding of Islamic culture.

If he is right, and he might be, then my reference to “cautious optimism for a democracy in Iraq,” is hopelessly naive. (Though as I write on Saturday morning, Iraqis are once again dyeing their fingers purple.)

And he writes well. My favorite line from his essay: “We have no more chance of finding and killing every potential terrorist than we do of ridding the earth of termites.” Good stuff, that.

But the main argument of my own essay seems to me capable of absorbing the entire force of Mr. King’s while remaining intact.

My point was just that, even if we did not belong there in the first place, we have to finish what we started. And this, I think, can be argued from the perspective of the Iraqi people themselves.

Imagine a contractor who mistakenly comes into your home and tears out your walls, intent on a remodeling project. He then learns that he has the right address but the wrong street. So he packs up his equipment and moves on, leaving you to deal with his miscalculated mess.

If we allow that we didn’t belong there in the first place, it certainly does not follow that the best way of making amends is to beat a hasty retreat.

The recent intercepted letter from al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi makes it clear that terrorist groups are anticipating an abrupt U.S. withdrawal. (Of course, al-Qaeda in Iraq maintains that the letter is a fake, but this message appears at the same sites where they have aired videotaped beheadings, and so we should give them all the credence that they deserve, which is absolutely none. Further, the letter itself is just too nuanced, with such a variety of concerns from the terrorists’ point of view, to be readily taken as a forgery. You can read the full text at the Department of National Intelligence Web site: www.dni.gov.)

As al-Zawahiri puts it, the concern is to “fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans, immediately upon their exit and before un-Islamic forces attempt to fill this void.” Indeed, reading between the lines, al-Zawahiri’s comparison to our withdrawal from Vietnam may indicate that his hopes are pinned to the growing American anti-war sentiment.

As the late author and Civil War historian Shelby Foote related, when Federal troops captured a bedraggled Confederate foot soldier who obviously owned neither land nor slaves, they asked him why in the world he was fighting. His answer: “Because you’re down here.”

The impression one gets from listening to anti-war pundits is that what motivates today’s terrorists is pretty much the same: it is the U.S. presence in Iraq and elsewhere. If we’ll just leave, they’ll calm down and go back to tending their camels.

But Al-Zawahiri outlines al-Qaeda’s regional and global strategy, which, as reported by every major news organization, including Aljazeera, involves “al Qaeda’s broader strategy of driving U.S. forces from Iraq, establishing an Islamic state across the Muslim world and ultimately destroying Israel.”

The goal, then, is nothing short of the reestablishment of a regional caliphate that dissolves current national boundaries among Muslim nations and, of course, sweeps the obstructive Israelis off the map.

Al-Zawahiri describes Iraq as “the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era.” Is it simply a battle to expel the infidel occupiers? Not on your life.

He writes, “the mujahedeen must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal. We will return to having the secularists and traitors holding sway over us. Instead, their ongoing mission is to establish an Islamic state, and defend it, and for every generation to hand over the banner to the one after it until the Hour of Resurrection.”

Israel, he says, was established “only to challenge any new Islamic entity.” Which new Islamic entity is that?

He explains, “It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet in the heart of the Islamic world, specifically in the Levant, Egypt, and the neighboring states of the Peninsula and Iraq; however, the center would be in the Levant and Egypt.”

Elsewhere, he writes, “Our intended goal in this age is the establishment of a caliphate in the manner of the Prophet,” and he makes it clear that this will happen only after the Sunnis have secured Iraq and established a stable Islamic amirate, and “the jihad wave” is extended “to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.”

Israel, the one democratic and, worse, Jewish, impediment to these grandiose plans, will then be marked for destruction.

No wonder a Pentagon spokesman described the strategy as “chilling.” And those plans, according to al-Zawahiri, presuppose the centrality of Iraq itself. Clearly, “the expulsion of the Americans” is only the beginning.

None of this should be viewed as particularly newsworthy. The Federation of American Scientists has long reported on their Web site that “Al Qaeda seeks a global radicalization of existing Islamic groups and the creation of radical Islamic groups where none exist” and that “Al Qaeda’s goal is to ‘unite all Muslims and to establish a government which follows the rule of the Caliphs.’ Bin Laden has stated that the only way to establish the Caliphate is by force. Al Qaeda’s goal, therefore, is to overthrow nearly all Muslim governments, which are viewed as corrupt, to drive Western influence from those countries, and eventually to abolish state boundaries.”

Clearly, a U.S. withdrawal any time in the near future would usher in a bloody civil war that would spread beyond Iraq itself and, if the terrorists succeed, the establishment of a powerful, unified caliphate in control of the world’s major oil resources and, likely, leave them in possession of nuclear weaponry.

And, since Israel is in the cross-hairs, should we suppose that they would simply roll over without discharging such weaponry in the region?

Somehow, merely increasing the vigilance of our airport scanners seems to me an inadequate measure.

If any of this is at all realistic, then perhaps I should not, after all, grant for the sake of argument that we “did not belong in Iraq in the first place.”

If the struggle is “the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era,” then it is, perhaps, also “the place of the greatest battle for freedom in this era.”

Mark D. Linville
Fayetteville, Ga.

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