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The Seamless War on Terrorists By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 01, 2003


Now that the Democratic primary season is upon us, we being inundated with non-sequiturs on the issue of terrorism -- and not just from the candidates. Senator Ted Kennedy contends that the war on Saddam Hussein was cooked up in Crawford, Texas. Many of his party colleagues claim that they were taken for a ride when they voted to authorize the war, because some malevolent Texas Svengali had duped them into believing that Saddam and Bin Laden were connected. (And a handful of these now hope to bring their perceptive insight into the Oval Office.) Others who should have known better and who are not presidential candidates, mostly retired generals, also claim Bush convinced the American public there was a connection between Saddam and 9/11, despite the fact that nobody in the administration has ever claimed such a link and everyone has repeatedly stated that there is no evidence of a connection.

Opinion polls show the American public also overwhelmingly believes there was a direct link. Whatever the merits of this particular belief, the public has intuited correctly that terrorism -- whether the al-Qaeda suicide version or Saddam’s more calculated variant -- is not a scattered set of unrelated episodes but a seamless continuum.

The facts, such as they are in the murky world of intelligence, are simple: the Bush Administration made no serious attempt to tie Saddam's regime to the planning or carrying out of 9/11. However, there are indications of some contacts between Iraqi intelligence and disparate parts of the al-Qaeda nebula. But then, it would have been absurd for Saddam’s people, or, for that matter, our intelligence, not to try to establish links with, infiltrate, or manipulate as many segments of that nebula as possible. If nothing else, Iraq would have appreciated that “the enemy of my enemy (the U.S.) is my friend.”

In more specific terms, by the end of the Saddam regime Iraq was combining a number of elements common to terrorist hotbeds elsewhere. In the northeast, outside Baghdad’s control, a Taliban-like group, Ansar al Islam was spreading its influence, and attracting professionals of terror from Afghanistan to Lebanon – precisely the type of black hole familiar from Somalia, Liberia, Afghanistan. Meanwhile, volunteers for jihad were pouring into Iraq from Algeria and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Then there is the support Saddam gave to Islamic Jihad and Hamas, including as much as $25,000 per case “life insurance” (i.e. support for “martyrs”) to the families and enablers of suicide bombers in Israel. Like al-Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are Islamic fundamentalists, and therefore ideologically incompatible with the Ba'ath Party ideology, which is minority secular (in Iraq) or heretical (in the case of the Alawis, the secretive sect now ruling Syria). But Islamic sectarianism (Islamic, that is, if the Alawis are Muslims, which is not what most orthodox Sunnis would accept) mixes well with radical, even Marxist, “surface” politics in the Middle East. For instance, the Revolutionary People's Liberation Army/Front (DHKP/C) of Turkey, an ostensibly Marxist-Leninist urban terrorist group with Maoist nuances is 80 percent or more Alawi. Incidentally, the DHKP/C is now larger and more active inside Turkey than even the equally Marxist-Stalinist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), now called Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy, or (KADEK).

One can thus reasonably dismiss the claims that Saddam’s secularism makes cooperation with Islamists impossible, or even unlikely. Would anyone claim that the World War II alliance of Churchill’s Britain, FDR’s America, and Stalin’s Soviet Union never existed? Nor does it make sense to distinguish between “Palestinian Islamic terrorists,” who so far have not specifically trained their murderous eyes upon Americans, and the al-Qaeda nebula, whose stated goal is precisely the wholesale murder of American and Jewish “pigs and monkeys.” Worse still, some human rights groups, self-appointed spokesmen of the American Islamic anti-anti-terrorist elements, and European governments, are trying to make another absurd distinction, between “social” and “political” branches of known and active terrorist groups such as Hamas

It seems, and indeed is, absurd to believe, as the Europeans pretended until very recently (when the EU finally banned the “political “branch of Hamas) that Hamas’ “social work” organizations – schools, kindergartens, clinics – are somehow the “good” side of that group, or that the newly minted KADEK is somehow the “peaceful” reincarnation of the same PKK that has murdered some 30,000 Turkish citizens since 1984. What those are, in a non-coincidental echo of the old communist “peace,” “labor,” or “legal” fronts, is clear: tools for recruitment, mobilization, and indoctrination.

Where the administration is misleading, or simply incorrect, is in repeatedly claiming that al-Qaeda is just a radical fringe of Islam, which is supposedly inherently pacific. In fact, many wealthy and middle-class Muslims, half educated in half-baked notions of historic victimhood, make up a minority (but the politically relevant and articulate one) that is actively or otherwise on the enemy side. And even a minority of the world’s some 1.2 billion Muslims equals a group much too large to define as “fringe.”

Islamist preachers in London take advantage of Britain’s rights of free speech to recruit members of al-Qaeda, to raise funds and to stir up opposition to the very Western values they have taken advantage of to pursue their agenda. The Muslim Brotherhood, the font of contemporary Islamist radicalism and its legitimizer and organizer, controls France’s largest, most aggressive, and best organized Islamic organization. Thanks to that and the oil resources of its Saudi/Wahhabi allies, the Brotherhood controls Muslim missionarism in the United States’ military and prisons, has a growing and increasingly sophisticated lobby structure in most European capitals, and has been able to forge an alliance with irresponsible multiculturalism and anti-capitalist altermondism throughout the West.

But to return to Saddam: does his removal make Islamist terrorism weaker? Yes, inasmuch as at the very least it denies resources to Hamas & Co. And a defeat of Islamism (whose Sunni supporters are now flocking into Iraq) along the Tigris and Euphrates would be one step toward victory over Islamist terror in general. Ultimately, the practitioners of jihad pursue their actions on behalf of the world wide Islamic community – umma, and that explains the presence of Chechens and Moroccans, Pakistanis and Indonesians in Afghanistan and now in Iraq. For the al-Qaeda nebula is engaged in a global struggle against civilization, and not in a series of spasmodic acts of violence. Bin Laden has a global strategy, well planned and steadily pursued, and Iraq fits perfectly  into that strategy. Just as “Che” Guevara was seeking more and more “Vietnams” in South America as part of a global pursuit for socialism and the defeat of the United States, so Bin Laden is pursuing a strategy of more and more Afghanistans (or Somalias or Lebanons) with the goal of purifying the world from the baleful influence of the United States – and forcing Americans to turn and run out of Iraq is, in his view, one more step toward that goal.

Conversely, a defeat for fundamentalists anywhere, especially in a place as historically and culturally important as Baghdad, is a victory against terrorism everywhere.

Obviously, it is hard for political candidates seeking office now to acknowledge that this conflict is open-ended, cultural, and ideological as well as military. Few voters want to hear that patience, restraint, and perseverance are the best steps to take. Yet it is not impossible for politicians to be serious, and so far the public seems to comprehend the reality of Iraq better than the Democrats do. With the toppling of Saddam, an avowed enemy of this nation, the enemy of the United States is now less than clear but the terrorist foe remains deadly. This enemy is a cultural nebula that includes Saddam, Osama and every America-hating Islamic extremist dedicated to toppling the Great Satan via deadly force -- a seamless unity of seething anti-Western hatred. The components will likely have to be taken apart piece-by-piece rather than with one fell swoop, as in previous wars. This war, which will likely grind on in one skirmish after another over the course of several presidencies, requires vigilance and sacrifice, as well as the clear understanding that eliminating one part of the terrorist apparatus sets back the entire movement of murder. None of this could serve as an election-winning slogan, but they could, and should serve as education to the “public” . . . if only both parties were willing to take up the call.

Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.


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