Monday, July 17, 2006
Posted by Daniel Greenfield 13 Comments
When Osama Bin Laden's Al-Queda launched an attack on the US, he could not have remotely foreseen the consequences of it.
If Osama had been thinking of fighting a drawn out guerrilla war with American forces in the hostile terrain of Afghanistan and repeating the 19th century Afghani expulsion and victory over the British colony in the colossal military disaster what is called the First Afghan War, he was in for a bitter disappointment. It was certainly on the mind of leftists like Robert Fisk who mockingly recited lines from Robert Kipling's famous poem and gloated over the thought of US soldiers being butchered and mutilated in Khyber Pass.
The First Afghan War had not been a war but a case of ignorant Orientalist British politicians who refused to listen to their military commanders and surrendered to the Afghans, allowed themselves to be disarmed and then butchered. Osama might have done better to pay attention to the aftermath of that massacre when the British returned in force to Afghanistan and burned most of Kabul to the ground.
Napoleon said that your battle plan is the first casualty of war. Action follows reaction and any attack touches off a counter-reaction and thus a chain of events that cannot be predicted. Al Queda fought its war in order to create Islamic states in countries with Muslim populations. America countered by fighting a war in order to create Democratic states in those same countries. Both appear to have failed. What the US and Al Queda have accomplished is to create a spiraling wave of reactions whose true consequences we're only beginning to see now.
The war did not stay in Afghanistan for very long as Osama might have hoped because Afghan tribesmen as ever proved to be diffident and unpredictable allies. Instead the war quickly migrated to the heartland of Islam in a way no one would have predicted on September 11th. When the US went to war in Iraq, it had no idea what it was really getting into. America came to bring Democracy to Iraq but what the optimistic neo-conservatives failed to realize is that democracy is not the natural state of affairs that occurs in a country when a tyranny is removed. Such might have been the thinking of amateur 18th century philosophers like Thomas Jefferson or Paine, but can only appear charmingly idealistic but clueless today.
A tyranny is not a usurpation of democracy, in most countries it's simply the next stage after tribalism when the loose confederations of families, clans and tribes is unified under a single leader. Most third world countries have either tribalism or tyranny. When the US naively came to bring Democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq, all it was really accomplishing was to remove the leadership and restored tribalism by hammering out tribal alliances meant to set these countries on the road to democracy. The path from Tribalism to Democracy is an awkward one at best and Bush's civics lesson idealism about human character and the virtues of democracy did no one any favors.
But what America did accomplish unintentionally is to revert Muslim countries back to their tribal roots. When America overthrew Saddam it opened up a kettle of internal factions, the most powerful of which was the Sunni-Shiite split that Saddam had bottled up. The consequences of that did not of course stay within Iraq's borders. Both Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Saudi Arabia represented the two most widely opposing sides in the Sunni-Shiite split. Luckily they were right next door to back their side in the conflict. Soon Al-Queda terrorists were operating for the Sunni side in Iraq and so were numberless Shiite Iranian backed terrorist organizations.
While terrorism in Iraq had started out as a campaign against American troops, they quickly became part of a proxy war between the Sunni and Shiite sides that broke out in the absence of Saddam. When Al-Queda's leader on the ground decided that the best way to get the Americans out war to start a civil war with the Shiites, he was behaving in a predictably tribalistic fashion prioritizing the local conflict over the greater international one. The firestorm of blood created a massive death toll on both sides that soon became an increasingly senseless vendetta.
Al Queda expanded its operations into Egypt and Jordan and Israel. Gunfights broke out in the streets of Riyadh. Lebanon and Egypt began undergoing turbulent political changes. A maniacal leader came to power in Iran who believed the Shiite messianic age was about to be born and he was the man to make it happen. The US which had long since lost control of the situation in Iraq could do little more than try to provide security while riding out the storm. Meanwhile Shiite Hizbollah began exchanging harsh words with Sunni Al Queda. The Sunni-Shiite conflict was now spreading into hostilities between the proxy terrorist organizations for Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Most of the press was baffled when Saudi Arabia condemned Hizbollah and when other Arab nations followed suit. The reality is that the instability created in the Middle East is approaching a critical point and the tribalism that has been unleashed is creating a regional Sunni-Shiite conflict ostensibly over Iraq. Arab regimes are nothing more than bees in a bottle, open the bottle and the bees fly out. Arab Tyrants maintain a tight rule through brutality and terror and by redirecting the people's anger at an external enemy such as the United States or Israel. With them gone, what emerges are a thousand factions all of whom have grudges and resentments against each other going back for centuries that no Western force can hope to make sense of.
The usual practical Western response to an attack is to bomb whatever country was responsible. The result of course cracks open the bottle and releases the bees. In Afghanistan the US made deals with local tyrants that kept the lid on. In Iraq the US pursued Democracy which is just Arabic for tribalism unleashed. The rumbles of the proxy war in Iraq that resulted are now touching off wars that no longer have anything to do with America and in which America is nothing more than an irritant to the various sides who want nothing more than to kill each other.
Unlike Western powers, Sunni Muslim states understand that if Iran gets nuclear weapons it will use them. They hope the weapons will be used against America or Israel, but they know all too well they may actually be used against them. America and Israel can retaliate against a nuclear attack, the rest of the Arab world can't. Sunni Muslim states meanwhile have their own Shiite minorities they're afraid will come loose in all the chaos. The result is they want a war but don't want to be the ones to fight it. America and Israel look like much better candidates, preferably Israel. So much of the Arab world is shrugging its shoulders when it comes to Israel bombing Lebanon, because they want to see an Israel-Iran war that will take care of their problems.
Meanwhile in the Arab street, the last few years of fighting has induced Terrorism Fatigue. There's nothing like years and years of pointless suicide bombings to convey the pointlessness of terrorism. And there's nothing like seeing Sunni and Shiite suicide bombers blow up in each other's mosques in the name of Islam to communicate to the average Arab the sheer stupidity of the religious underpinnings of terrorism in a way that killing Americans and Jews never could.
Arabs who had once sat in their living rooms cheering the 'martyrs' of Palestine were now beginning to live in the same reality as the Israelis. When Al-Queda suicide bombers struck in a Jordan hotel, Al-Queda's popularity took a sharp tumble. As terrorism comes home and the chickens return to roost on the mosques, terrorism suddenly stops looking like an enjoyable hobby and more like terrorism. For too long Arabs have been protected from the consequences of the terrorism they supported. Al Queda's growing popularity, the War in Iraq and now the War in Lebanon combined with footage from Arabic news channels is bringing the reality home and it's not an attractive one.
Unintentionally America's War in Iraq had taught many in the Arab world that maybe terrorism wasn't such a good thing, not through democratization, but by setting off a chain of events that clarified the consequences. The generation of Patton and McArthur wouldn't have needed such a roundabout costly way of conveying the message, but the generation of Bush and Olmert have awkwardly but surely begun communicating to the Arab world that they may be weak leaders but they're weak leaders in charge of mighty powers and whatever move they make, will in the long run make Arab states regret they ever got into this.
A final defeat of Iran will demonstrate to Arab tyrannies that directing your people's homicidal frustrations at foreigners is not a safe outlet nor is paying terrorist organizations to attack those foreigners a good investment. If you can't fight amongst yourselves in good old tribal fashion, then just go back to fighting with your neighbors.