Friday, July 08, 2005

Al-Quaeda's Weak Hand

Once again the forces of darkness have lashed out, and today Americans stand in common cause with Londoners. We too know the horror of an al-Quaeda attack. But the attacks against London, like those against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon four years ago, highlight the essential weakness of our enemies, and the strengths of our democracies. Incapable of striking with tactical or strategic effectiveness, the agents of radical Islam continue to inflict random mayhem among the populations of western nations. These strikes, while horrific, are not only ineffectual, they continue to be counterproductive. There has been a severe overestimation of the abilities of our enemy’s abilities and strategy. Time and again we hear from experts how sophisticated al-Quaeda is. While their operational methods are indeed case studies in covert planning, their understanding of warfare is in fact flawed and provincial. They are losing.
The attacks on 9-11 marked the high point of al-Quaeda’s campaign. For three or four weeks in September of 2001, al-Quaeda seemed to have the initiative. But the American response led to the destruction of Al-Quaeda’s patron Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and the disruption of their entire organization While Al-Quaeda obviously survives, they gave up their initiative with that loss. Every terror attack since then has been a pathetic attempt to regain that initiative. In military terms “Initiative” indicates the ability to control the situation, causing ones enemies to spend most of their energy reacting rather then pursuing their own plans. An enemy who must infiltrate, secretly, and spend his resources on attacks that target a few dozen civilians, has no strength, no initiative.
Just as the attacks on 9-11 led to unforeseen consequences for al-Quaeda, so will the latest bombings in London backfire on them. It is obviously no coincidence that the attacks on London coincide with the G-8 summit in nearby Gleneagle Scotland. Because, even more than American hegemony in the Mid-East, globalization is the real threat that al-Quaeda most hates and fears. Here too, we have the initiative. The G8 leaders are likely to find more resolve rather than less after this attack. And they certainly know the weakness of al-Quaeda. The radical Islamists offer no future. While some number of disaffected young men in the Islamic world will continue to be attracted to the doctrine of hate and violence of al-Quaeda, many more can and will be attracted to the real future that economic development can offer. That hope is our greatest weapon.
Globalization is not a perfect process. There have been side effects that hurt many people. But the process has overall been one of economic growth and of spreading prosperity. The unfortunate irony is that the leaders of the Radical Islamic movement want the economic benefits of Globalization, without the openness and legal guarantees that go with it. If the only options are to liberalize their own societies or destroy ours, in order to avoid disparities in wealth, they would choose to pull us down. But in choosing to confront us through terror, they have sewn the seeds of their own downfall.
The destruction of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq has changed the world in which al-Quaeda operates. No longer can they find refuge in Afghanistan, no longer can they count on the Iraqi regime for tacit support. As more and more Muslims gain the benefits of democracy a market economy, as the modernization that flows from the adoption of a rule set consistent with the global economy suffuses the region, al-Quaeda will find itself further and further n the wrong side of history.
It has been taken as a given, by many Arabists in our own State Department for instance, that democracy is inconsistent with the culture of Islam. This ignores the example of Turkey. This is a democratic nation of almost 70 million persons, 99% Muslim. The Turks have a per capita GDP of $7400. and an annual growth rate over 8%. They are a modern, successful democracy connected to the global economy, and positioned for sustained economic growth. India too demonstrates the potential of Islam. 130 million Muslims live in India. They vote, and in spite of tensions between Pakistan and India, they overwhelmingly refrain from engaging in acts of terror. This is because they not only have the rights and the sense of empowerment that democracy brings, they are also among the primary beneficiaries of India’s recent Technologies related boom.
This is what al-Quaeda truly fears. The empowerment of Muslims, without the interference of the Mullahs. The idea that Islam can join the modern world without their guidance. They know that the only chance that they have to maintain their own power is to deny the empowerment to their culture. An empowered, democratic Islam, with a successful economic sector would have no place for leaders whose worldview resides in the 14th century.
So they focus their animosity on the external enemy, the western powers. They plant bombs in trains and on busses. They funnel more and more of their potential recruits to fight on the side of tyranny in Iraq. Perhaps they will again achieve a horrifying strike on the scale of 9-11. But they offer no hope to their constituents. They offer only an outlet for the anger of those who they have convinced there is no hope. And so they will eventually be defeated.
We in NY, like our allies in London, will grieve our losses. But we know no matter how sad, how tragic, the deaths of dozens or even thousands will not undermine our basic resolve. On the local level, we will continue to be watchful. Our police and security agencies will carry on their mission of protecting us. Further afield, our militaries will continue to hunt the agents of terror where they hide abroad, with the aid of intelligence. But just as importantly at home our businessmen and women will go about their business of growing the world economy and spreading prosperity. Our trade ministers and diplomats will go about trying to encourage democracy and liberal economic policies, connecting the world. Our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to fight to ensure the survival of democracy in those lands, as an example and a counterweight to the forces of reaction and repression. And most of us will simply go about our lives a little sadder and a little more cautious, but hopefully no less optimistic about our ultimate victory, because every attack we suffer only shows our strength and their weakness.


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