July 6, 2003

MAX BOOT WRITES on Iraq, insurgents, and small wars.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, David Warren says that Iraq is flypaper for terrorists:

While engaged in the very difficult business of building a democracy in Iraq — the first democracy, should it succeed, in the entire history of the Arabs — President Bush has also, quite consciously to my information, created a new playground for the enemy, away from Israel, and even farther away from the United States itself. By the very act of proving this lower ground, he drains terrorist resources from other swamps.

This is the meaning of Mr. Bush’s “bring ’em on” taunt from the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday, when he was quizzed about the “growing threat to U.S. forces” on the ground in Iraq. It should have been obvious that no U.S. President actually relishes having his soldiers take casualties. What the media, and U.S. Democrats affect not to grasp, is that the soldiers are now replacing targets that otherwise would be provided by defenceless civilians, both in Iraq and at large. The sore thumb of the U.S. occupation — and it is a sore thumb equally to Baathists and Islamists, compelling their response — is not a mistake. It is carefully hung flypaper. . . .

Hizbullah itself (the “Army of Allah” — Shia, and ultimately financed and armed by Iran’s ayatollahs) are directing their attention less and less towards the “Little Satan” of Israel, and more and more towards the “Great Satan” of the U.S., as events unfold.

This is exactly what President Bush wants. To engage them, away from Israel, in mortal combat. To have an excuse for wiping them out — a good, solid, American excuse, from which Israel has been extracted. The good news is, Hizbullah’s taking the bait.

It’s interesting. You may have noticed that although people are upset about acts of terrorism this weekend in Russia and Iraq and Pakistan, there were no attacks in the United States.

Amir Taheri, meanwhile, writes that the swamp-draining approach seems to be working:

Yet one thing was certain then and remains so today: The Arab world is in crisis, and change in Iraq could trigger change across the whole arc from North Africa to the Indian Ocean. While it is too soon to tell the shape of things to come in Iraq, it is clear that we are witnessing the end of a certain nationalist and socialist model developed in several Arab countries in the 20th century. . . .

The failed model is the power state, known in Islamic literature as “saltana,” whose legitimacy rests on the possession and use of the means of collective violence. In saltana, there are no citizens, only subjects, while the ruler is unaccountable except to God.

The only alternative to this failed model is what might be called the political state, whose legitimacy rests on the free expression of the citizens’ will. Such a model could be based on what the 14th-century historian Ibn Khaldoun called “al-assabiyah,” a secular bond among citizens. The key feature of this model is pluralism, known in modern Islamic political literature as “ta’adudiyah” and “kisrat-garai.”

Both the Islamists and the secular authoritarians of the Arab world have persistently opposed the idea of bonding through citizenship. Nevertheless, Islamic political and philosophical literature offers a wealth of analyses that could be deployed in any battle of ideas against both the Islamist and secular enemies of pluralism. Both Farabi (d.950) and Avicenna (d. 1037), partly inspired by the work of the Mutazilite school, showed that there need be no contradiction between revelation and reason in developing a political system that responds to the earthly needs of citizens. On the contrary, because Islam places strict limits on the powers of the ruler, it theoretically cannot be used as the basis for tyranny.

One hopes that this hopeful view of Islamic democracy bears fruit. It’s certainly the case that it stood no chance of doing so before Saddam was toppled.

UPDATE: John Weidner believes in the “flypaper” approach, and thinks that the “quagmire” crowd is once again serving as Donald Rumsfeld’s useful idiots:

I would be very angry about this, except that I have a hunch bordering on a certainty that they are unwittingly serving our cause. David Warren says that our forces in Iraq are deliberately acting like flypaper for terrorists, draining them from the whole region and bringing them right where we happen to have lots of firepower and the excuse to use it.

Which means that the hand-wringing quagmirists are performing an essential task. I’m sure they are getting lots of headlines in doubtful parts of the world. Their predictions of disaster are being heard by all. So legions of terrorists are now scratching their heads and stroking their beards and saying, “Br’er Rabbit doesn’t want to be thrown in the Briar Patch. He said so. Therefore, Brothers, it is the Will of Allah that we cast him into that Briar Patch!”

Heh. Maybe it’s more like the “tarbaby” approach.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Harley Peyton takes exception to my noting, above, that there weren’t any terror attacks in the United States. I don’t see why. If Al Qaeda could have launched a major attack, it would have. And if it had done so, a lot of people — including, I suspect, Harley, based on some of his many other critical emails — would be holding it up as evidence that the Bush Administration was bungling here. That being the case, I think it’s a small, but significant point suggesting that our strategy is working. We’ve now gone nearly two years without a major attack in the United States, despite all-out war with Al Qaeda (unless you count Mohammed Hadayet’s LAX shooting, which was terror, but not “major” in my book). That’s long enough to mean something, I suspect.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Phil Carter thinks it’s genuine guerrilla war in Iraq. He also has some suggestions. That’s not necessarily inconsistent with the above, of course. Guerrillas basically always lose without (1) a secure base; and (2) substantial outside support.

Most likely secure bases: Syria, perhaps Iran. Most likely source of outside support: Saudi Arabia.

Question: Will those countries allow this sort of thing to go on, if doing so gives Bush an excuse to topple their governments too, something that (at least in the first two cases) he’d clearly like to do? (And that, in the case of Saudi Arabia, he ought to do?)

Given what’s going on in Russia and Pakistan, though, I think it’s a mistake to focus too much on Iraq. There’s a global struggle going on — not against “terrorism” but against radical Islam. And that’s, basically, a Saudi export. Cut of the head, and the snake will die.

Meanwhile, Tommy Franks says we don’t need more troops in Iraq.

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