Friday, February 29, 2008

An accurate look at the terrorist threat to America.

I. Introduction
II. Ignatius' review
III. What this means
IV. Bush political response
V. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Ah Hah!

Someone with more expertise than I have has confirmed my belief that the so-called "Clash of Civilizations" that Bush, Cheney, McCain and the conservatives want all of us to panic over is almost entirely fiction! As I have been writing for some time now, there is no great organized massive threatening block of enemies out there in the dark threatening to destroy America.

That is not to say that there are no enemies out there who want to do American and Americans harm. There are. But they are really little more than a bunch of disorganized bandits hiding in mountains and jungles and occasionally trying to make brave statements with their terrorist activities.

Their terrorists actions consist primarily of raids on soft (unprotected) targets for the purpose of getting media attention. The media is catered to by attacks characterized by randomness and utter depraved viciousness designed to frighten Americans, but there are no real militarily effective attacks. There can't be. There is no great organization out there that has the capability of taking over America and converting it to radical Islam or anything like that. So we need to look realistically at what the terrorist threat consists of, at what we can and need to do about that terrorist threat, and why the Bush administration has so greatly exaggerated the terrorist threat to conceal their numerous failures to govern.

First we need to look at the true terrorist threat. Former CIA officer and more recently forensic Psychiatrist Marc Sageman has published a book based on his case studies of over 500 Islamic terrorists to explain "...who they are, why they attack and how to stop them." David Ignatius reviews Sageman's book Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century.

II. Ignatius' review of Sagemen's book (excerpt)

Sageman's message is that we have been scaring ourselves into exaggerating the terrorism threat -- and then by our unwise actions in Iraq making the problem worse. He attacks head-on the central thesis of the Bush administration, echoed increasingly by Republican presidential candidate John McCain, that, as McCain's Web site puts it, the United States is facing "a dangerous, relentless enemy in the War against Islamic Extremists" spawned by al-Qaeda.

The numbers say otherwise, Sageman insists. The first wave of al-Qaeda leaders, who joined Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, is down to a few dozen people on the run in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. The second wave of terrorists, who trained in al-Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s, has also been devastated, with about 100 hiding out on the Pakistani frontier. These people are genuinely dangerous, says Sageman, and they must be captured or killed. But they do not pose an existential threat to America, much less a "clash of civilizations."

It's the third wave of terrorism that is growing, but what is it? By Sageman's account, it's a leaderless hodgepodge of thousands of what he calls "terrorist wannabes." Unlike the first two waves, whose members were well educated and intensely religious, the new jihadists are a weird species of the Internet culture. Outraged by video images of Americans killing Muslims in Iraq, they gather in password-protected chat rooms and dare each other to take action. Like young people across time and religious boundaries, they are bored and looking for thrills.

"It's more about hero worship than about religion," Sageman said in a presentation of his research last week at the New America Foundation, a liberal think tank here. Many of this third wave don't speak Arabic or read the Koran. Very few (13 percent of Sageman's sample) have attended radical madrassas. Nearly all join the movement because they know or are related to someone who's already in it. Those detained on terrorism charges are getting younger: In Sageman's 2003 sample, the average age was 26; among those arrested after 2006, it was down to about 20. They are disaffected, homicidal kids -- closer to urban gang members than to motivated Muslim fanatics.

Sageman's harshest judgment is that the United States is making the terrorism problem worse by its actions in Iraq. "Since 2003, the war in Iraq has without question fueled the process of radicalization worldwide, including the U.S. The data are crystal clear," he writes. We have taken a fire that would otherwise burn itself out and poured gasoline on it.

The third wave of terrorism is inherently self-limiting, Sageman continues. As soon as the amorphous groups gather and train, they make themselves vulnerable to arrest. "As the threat from al-Qaeda is self-limiting, so is its appeal, and global Islamist terrorism will probably disappear for internal reasons -- if the United States has the sense to allow it to continue on its course and fade away."

III. What this means

Not only is there no great Islamic Jihad based organization that threatens the foundations of America, there cannot be. While there are a number of people motivated to attack America and Americans, to the extent that the organize, train and try to become more efficient they become highly vulnerable to police and special operations attacks. Their very efforts to attack America are self-defeating, and it is only dreamy youths who think that such efforts have any possibility of success.

When the Bush administration took office, Dick Cheney had the idea that successful terrorists had to have state sponsorship, so he essentially ignored al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Based on Sageman's analysis, it would appear that Cheney's instinct was correct. In the absence of state support that provides training and safe sanctuary areas terrorist organizations could not become major threats. The only thing that was wrong was that improved technology and greater global travel and communication does allow non-state supported terrorist organizations the ability to conduct occasional spectacular attacks that are politically threatening to the incumbent leaders of attacked nations.

Al Qaeda was, in fact, state-sponsored terrorism. They were funded largely by extremists’ religious individuals who spent oil money through Pakistan to create the Taliban-led state of Afghanistan who provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden after Saudi Arabia and Sudan kicked him out. The attack on 9/11 was a one-off result of what was almost state-sponsored terrorism. The funding from Saudi Arabia has been allowed by the Saudi Royal family to bleed-off internal discontent within the Arabian Peninsula, and the creation of the Taliban and the Afghanistan state they ran was a result of the semi-failed state of Pakistan. The American invasion of Afghanistan was a completely appropriate reaction to 9/11 and, according to Sageman, has resulted in the effective destruction of the first wave of terrorists.

IV. The Bush political response

9/11 was a spectacular failure for the new Bush administration. It was a clear demonstration that their focus on missile defense and containment of China was a failed foreign policy. They wanted to do something similarly spectacular to cover up for their failure to prevent 9/11. They had intended to attack Iraq from their first month in office, and 9/11 provided an excuse. Unfortunately, as soon as the public was aware that al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan and was being protected by the Taliban, they were forced to redirect some resources to the invasion of Afghanistan. Because of their continued focus on attacking Iraq, Osama was never caught, but as Sageman points out, the first wave of terrorists has since been effectively destroyed. Without a state-provided sanctuary, terrorist organizations cannot survive.

The point to remember is that the invasion of Iraq was intended as an effort to consolidate Republican control of the American government. Such military and foreign policy actions are the strongest power of the American President. That's why Bush, and now McCain, speak of the Presidency as being Commander-in-Chief. The American President is sharply constrained by the Constitution in all other actions, so Bush and Cheney want everything the President does run under the title of Commander-in-Chief, and they need the Iraq War to continue for that to be effective.

The only real threat to the Bush administration from Iraq is the casualty rate, and by extending the time in Iraq to the point where most of the local ethnic cleansing is finished. With the end of the ethnic cleansing, the American casualty rate has dropped to where the American media is essentially ignoring that country. The Shiite government America has installed makes this easier by not protecting reporters, so that no real information can get out. As long as there is no effective information coming out of Iraq and the casualty rate is low, the Bush administration has been able to extend the Iraq occupation (it's no longer a war) until the end of the Bush administration.

After that the Democratic President, who has no need for the war to maintain his or her power, will withdraw the troops, giving the Republicans the opportunity to blame the Democrats for "losing" the war in Iraq. But as Sagemen points out, the war in Iraq has no purpose except to stir up resentment against Americans and create new terrorists out of stupid young men. The creation of those enemies is what maintains the Republican Party as a viable political entity. Without a steady stream of apparent enemies, there is no reason to vote Republican. The Republican Party has demonstrated its total failure and corruption and has no ability to correct itself.

The Republicans are aware of this. McCain is going to run a campaign against (probably Obama) in which is himself runs above the fray and has kind words, much as Bush did in 2000. But below that level there are at least three-quarters of a billion dollars aimed to label the Democratic nominee with a series of repeated and very nasty lies. (See Josh Marshall's description of the coming Republican campaign.)

V. Conclusion

The nature of the terrorist threat has been obvious to the experts for several years now, but with the publication of Sageman's book we now get objective facts we can review without trying to decide who to trust to tell us the truth.

By looking realistically at the nature and extent of the terrorist threat, it becomes clear that the Bush administration has been severely exaggerating it, encouraging the terrorists, and using that threat to extend their otherwise completely failed administration in power. That fact is that in a Parliamentary system 9/11 itself would have caused the government to fall and the Prime Minister to resign. So would the invasion of Iraq, abu Ghraib, Katrina, and any number of other failures over which Bush and Cheney have presided.

So let's look at the situation realistically. There is going to be a Democratic President elected in November 2008, but the current Congress is complicit in the incompetence and failures of the last seven plus years. That includes most of the Democratic leadership, and they are all going to try to avoid investigating the disasters America has suffered under its failed government. That must not be permitted.

America will require years to recover from the Bush administration series of disasters. A close look at the terrorist threat that has been used by our politicians to justify these disasters is one major step in correcting the problems and rebuilding an America under the Constitution and Rule of Law that we can be proud of. Sageman's book is a major step forward in this effort.

If you find that the use of headings and internal links improves the readability of this essay, leave me a comment. If it doesn't, suggestions would also be nice.

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