Chronogram - The War On Terror - Oct 2005

In the face of the unimaginable [9/11], small wonder that leaders would revert to the language of apocalypse..

[Yet] Americans have managed to show ourselves, our friends and most of all our enemies the limits of American power. Instead of fighting the real war ..we stubbornly insisted on fighting a war of the imagination.. by focusing on the mirror of our own obsessions. And we have finished..by fighting precisely the kind of war [our enemies] wanted us to fight... under the American and allied assault, what had been a relatively small, conspiratorial organization has mutated into a worldwide political movement, with thousands of followers ..Call it viral Al Qaeda.. [who, despite US, managed to establish] a.. trade-craft in terror.

The War On Terror - By Mark Danner
Taking Stock of the Forever War

...The insurgents in Iraq have presided over a catastrophic collapse in confidence in the Americans and a concomitant fall in their power. It is difficult to think of a place in which terror has been deployed on such a scale: there have been suicide truck bombs, suicide tanker bombs, suicide police cars, suicide bombers on foot, suicide bombers posing as police officers, suicide bombers posing as soldiers, even suicide bombers on bicycles. While the American death toll climbs steadily toward 2,000, the number of Iraqi dead probably stands at 10 times that and perhaps many more; no one knows. Conservative unofficial counts put the number of Iraqi dead in the war at somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000, in a country a tenth the size of the United States.

Attempting to Split a Country Apart
..As Zarqawi described in his letter and in subsequent broadcasts, his strategy in Iraq is to strike at the Shia—and thereby provoke a civil war...

Again a strategy of provocation—which plays on an underlying reality: That Iraq sits on the critical sectarian fault line of the Middle East and that a conflict there gains powerful momentum from the involvement of neighboring states, with Iran strongly supporting the Shia and with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Syria strongly sympathetic to the Sunnis.

In the midst of it all, increasingly irrelevant, are the Americans, who have the fanciest weapons but have never had sufficient troops, or political will, to assert effective control over the country. If political authority comes from achieving a monopoly on legitimate violence, then the Americans, from those early days when they sat in their tanks and watched over the wholesale looting of public institutions, never did achieve political authority in Iraq. They fussed over liberalizing the economy and writing constitutions and achieving democracy in the Middle East when in fact there was really only one question in Iraq, emerging again and again in each successive political struggle, most recently in the disastrously managed writing of the constitution: how to shape a new political dispensation in which the age-old majority Shia can take control from the minority Sunni and do it in a way that minimized violence and insecurity—do it in a way, that is, that the Sunnis would be willing to accept, however reluctantly, without resorting to armed resistance. This might have been accomplished with hundreds of thousands of troops, iron control and a clear sense of purpose. The Americans had none of these.

A Bereft Bush Administration
The sun is setting on American dreams in Iraq; what remains now to be worked out are the modalities of withdrawal, which depend on the powers of forbearance in the American body politic. But the dynamic has already been set in place. The United States is running out of troops. By the spring of 2006, nearly every active-duty combat unit is likely to have been deployed twice. The National Guard and Reserves, meanwhile, make up an unprecedented 40 percent of the force, and the Guard is in the "stage of meltdown," as Gen. Barry McCaffrey, retired, recently told Congress. Within 24 months, "the wheels are coming off."

For all the apocalyptic importance President Bush and his administration ascribed to the Iraq war, they made virtually no move to expand the military, no decision to restore the draft. In the end, the president judged his tax cuts more important than his vision of a "democratic Middle East." The administration's relentless political style, integral to both its strength and its weakness, left it wholly unable to change course and to add more troops when they might have made a difference. That moment is long past; the widespread unpopularity of the occupation in Iraq and in the Islamic world is now critical to insurgent recruitment and makes it possible for a growing insurgent force numbering in the tens of thousands to conceal itself within the broader population.

Sold a war made urgent by the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a dangerous dictator, Americans now see their sons and daughters fighting and dying in a war whose rationale has been lost even as its ending has receded into the indefinite future...

We cannot know what future Osama bin Laden imagined when he sent off his 19 suicide terrorists on their mission four years ago. He was wrong about Afghanistan, and there has been no uprising in the Islamic world.

One suspects, though, that if he had been told on that day that in a mere 48 months he would behold a world in which the United States, "the idol of the age," would be bogged down in an endless guerrilla war fighting in a major Muslim country; its all-powerful army, with few allies and little sympathy, would find itself overstretched and exhausted; its dispirited people demanding from their increasingly unpopular leader a withdrawal without victory—one suspects that such a prophecy would have pleased him.

Bin Laden has suffered damage as well.. But Al Qaeda was always a flexible, ghostly organization, a complex worldwide network made up of shifting alliances and marriages of convenience with other shadowy groups. Now Al Qaeda's "center of gravity," such as it is, has gone elsewhere...

on March 11, 2004..a cell of North African terrorists struck at the Atocha Train Station in Madrid.. Had the terrorists succeeded in bringing the roof of the station down, the casualties could have surpassed those of 9/11... What seems most notable about the Madrid attack, however—and the attack on Jewish and foreign sites in Casablanca on May 17, 2003, among others—is that the perpetrators were "home-grown" and not, strictly speaking, Al Qaeda.

"After 2001, when the US destroyed the camps and housing and turned off the funding, bin Laden was left with little control," Marc Sageman, a psychiatrist and former CIA case officer who has studied the structure of the network, has written. "The movement has now degenerated into something like the Internet. Spontaneous groups of friends, as in Madrid and Casablanca, who have few links to any central leadership, are generating sometimes very dangerous terrorist operations, notwithstanding their frequent errors and poor training."

We have entered the era of the amateurs. Those who attacked the London underground whether or not they had any contact with Al Qaeda manufactured their crude bombs from common chemicals (including hydrogen peroxide, bleach and drain cleaner), making them in plastic food containers, toting them to Luton Station in coolers and detonating them with cell-phone alarms.

One click on the Internet and you can pull up a Web site offering a Recipe—or, for that matter, one showing you how to make a suicide vest from commonly found items, including a video download demonstrating how to use the device: "There is a possibility that the two seats on his right and his left might not be hit with the shrapnel," the unseen narrator tells the viewer. Not to worry, however: "The explosion will surely kill the passengers in those seats."

In launching a war on Iraq that we have been unable to win, we have done the one thing a leader is supposed never to do: issue a command that is not followed. A withdrawal from Iraq, rapid or slow, with the Islamists still holding the field, will signal, as bin Laden anticipated, a failure of American will.

Those who will view such a withdrawal as the critical first step in a broader retreat from the Middle East will surely be encouraged to go on the attack. That is, after all, what you do when your enemy retreats. In this new world, where what is necessary to go on the attack is not armies or training or even technology but desire and political will, we have ensured, by the way we have fought this forever war, that it is precisely these qualities our enemies have in large and growing supply.

Chronogram - The War On Terror - Oct 2005


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