Symposium: The Future of Terror
Jamie Glazov, FrontPageMagazine.com:
A new deadly strain of terrorism is on the horizon. How can we defeat it? To discuss the future of terror with us today, Frontpage Symposium is joined by a distinguished panel:I have excerpted Dan Darling's comments on Al Qaeda and Iran, but the entire symposium is an interesting read.
Evan Kohlmann, the author of Al-Qaida's Jihad in Europe and founder of Globalterroralert.com. He is currently scheduled to testify as an expert witness on behalf of federal prosecutors in the upcoming trial of alleged jihad recruiter Ali al-Timimi in northern Virginia;
Simon Reeve, a New York Times bestselling author and television presenter. His book The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism, which warned of a new age of apocalyptic terrorism, was the first in the world on bin Laden and al Qaeda;
Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, the author of Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror. He is Head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore; and
Dan Darling, a counter-terrorism consultant for the Manhattan Institute's Center for Policing Terrorism. He is considered the terrorologist of the blogosphere. Visit his blog at Regnum Crucis.
FP: Simon Reeve, Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, Evan Kohlmann and Dan Darling, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Mr. Reeve, let me begin with you. Let’s start with the basics. How do you think the War on Terror is going? And in what form do you think future threats will emerge?
Reeve: Thanks Jamie, and hello to Dr. Gunaratna, Mr. Kohlmann and Mr. Darling.
If I was writing a school report on the Bush administration's handling of the 'war on terror', then I'd be scribbling 'could do much better' in the margin.
Tackling international terrorism requires a number of different responses: military, political, social, diplomatic, economic and cultural. Short-term politicians might prefer to tell their electors that they're just going to bomb the terrorists, but in the long-run that doesn't work. It just encourages more people to join the group.
I believe the US government has been adopting a short-term view of the war on terror and has failed to address the root causes of terror which have encouraged militants around the world to support al Qaeda. The US should have done more to encourage a swift resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the benefit of both sides. It should ask why so many people around the world feel hatred for America. Why do the polls show America is more hated now, after the appalling 9/11 attacks, than before? It’s not good enough to simply say ‘they hate us because we are free and rich’.
The way Iraq was attacked was a major mistake. I remember when the war was being launched US politicians were claiming Iraq was a terrorist 'hornet nest' that needed to be smashed. Then when the US led the occupation I talked with one very senior US official who said he viewed Iraq as fly-paper -- attracting militants from around the region who the US army could then take-on and destroy far from the US mainland.
But I fear Iraq has been, and is still, an engine driving terrorism -- attracting young militants who receive training and indoctrination, and will then take their anti-US hatred and terror skills back to other countries. This is what happened on a larger scale in Afghanistan during the 1980s, leading to the creation of what we now call al Qaeda.
In summary, defeating terror, to use a simple analogy, needs a carrot and stick approach. So far there’s been too much stick from the Bush administration, and not enough carrot.
In terms of crystal-ball gazing for future threats, it’s important to remember al Qaeda has become as much a state of mind as an actual terror organization. Bin Laden’s hatred has infected thousands of young men around the world. A militant doesn’t need to have an al Qaeda membership card to launch an attack – they just need to have hatred in their heart and the ability to strike. In our increasingly globalised world, there are US and Western targets everywhere. I believe we will see more attacks on these ‘frontier outposts’ by small cells of disaffected, angry young men, and militant cells which are emerging in many countries.
The single greatest threat, however, is biological. I’ve been to chemical and biological weapons labs in the former Soviet Union, and been shocked by the appalling levels of security. A terrorist with access to smallpox or another nasty disease from a former Soviet lab, or one in France, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc, is what occasionally keeps me awake at night.
I would be very interested to hear what Dr. Gunaratna, Mr. Kohlmann and Mr. Darling think of the war on terror, and their opinions on future threats.
FP: Thank you Mr. Reeve. Let me jump in for a moment.
Bush could certainly do “much better” in handling the terror war, especially if the Left didn’t block his administration’s efforts at every turn. It might have helped if the Democrats, represented by the likes of Kerry, Kennedy, Gore and Carter, hadn’t turned the war into a partisan issue and consistently attempted to tie the administration’s hands behind its back.
I think one could also blame the terrorists for the terror war not going “better.” The process of democratization in Iraq may be facing some stumbling blocks when psychopaths blow themselves up alongside innocent civilians, including women and babies in strollers.
True enough, bombing terrorists might encourage “more people to join the group.” But bombing the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan surely did a thing or two, and so have the bombings of terrorist sanctuaries in Iraq.
To blame the U.S. for not bringing a “swift” resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is disingenuous. The problem may actually have something to do with Yasser Arafat and his thugs never being interested in a real peace and systematically pursuing the killing of Jews.
And the Americans are supposed to be asking themselves why they are hated? Let me guess, they brought 9/11 unto themselves, right? Are we really still stuck wondering what we could have done not to make the Islamists hate us so much? When Jews study the Holocaust, should they be agonizing what they may have done wrong to make the Nazis revile them? Surely it is common sense that scapegoating exists and that peoples’ hatred often says more about them than about those they hate.
What are we supposed to do when forces in this world wage war on us because they believe that women should wrap their whole bodies up and that they should not have personal and sexual freedom? What do we do when these forces hate the idea of women’s rights, homosexual rights, minority rights, the separation of religion and state, and every other democratic right imaginable?
We are dealing with nihilists and despots who worship a death-cult. They hate modern liberalism and democracy and their ideology is the cousin of fascism and communism. When we faced Stalin and Hitler, the last thing we needed to do was agonize over why they didn’t like our societies, lifestyles and systems of government. Neither should we do anything different in confronting the Osamas and Al Zarqawis.
Mr. Reeve, you say that the way Iraq was attacked was a “major mistake.” But it liberated 25 million people and, like in Afghanistan, it brought the promise of democracy to the suffering citizens of that nation. Iraq’s liberation also cancelled out the possibility that Saddam could arm terrorists with WMDs. Moreover, it has sent reverberating shock waves of liberty throughout the Arab world.
Mr. Reeve, you point out the dangers we are facing, but you seem to only blame the administration. You have not suggested how we can defeat these terrorists, aside from a blurry reference to some kind of “carrot” that we should be offering. What “carrot” exactly will make bin Laden and Zarqawi and their followers decide that women’s rights, equality, individual rights and democracy are good ideas?
In any case, Mr. Kohlmann, let’s move over to you. Mr. Reeve points out that the greatest threat now is biological. Could you kindly comment on that and what we can do about it?
Kohlmann: Greetings to Dr. Gunaratna, Mr. Reeve and Mr. Darling, and many thanks to Frontpage Magazine.
Before I address the prospect of future CBRN (chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear) terrorist attacks, I would like to jump into the debate you have already begun here. While I concur with Simon that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a constant source of anti-Western grievances, I would dissuade anyone of the notion that there is a "quick" or "easy" solution that can be engineered by U.S. diplomats. When it comes to the Palestinian question, I think it is much more critical to establish a just and lasting peace rather than merely an expedient one. In 1994, the Clinton administration advocated a premature Israeli-Palestinian peace accord--one that ultimately collapsed under extreme pressure from militants in Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and even the late Yassir Arafat's Fatah party. In the future, we want to ensure that such peace agreements are internationally binding and are upheld by all parties that are signatories to them--with no exceptions. Let noone be mistaken: it is the Palestinian people who have the most to gain from peace with Israel--not the United States.
Unfortunately, I do tend to agree with Simon's comments on Iraq, and particularly his description of Iraq as an "engine" of anti-Western terrorism. The U.S. invaded Iraq under the justification of eliminating weapons of mass destruction and destroying a major base of regional terrorism. However, in over eight years of exhaustive research, I have yet to see a single shred of credible evidence proving even an abstract link between the former regime of Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida. While U.S. policymakers initially believed that the invasion of Iraq would be a major blow to international terrorism, this was, in fact, a critical error. Instead, the prolonged power vacuum in post-war Iraq has left the country open to new infiltration by a host of terrorist and extremist groups. Al-Qaida as an organization functions very much like a virus--and like a virus, it absolutely requires a host nation from which to manifest itself. In previous decades, Al-Qaida has sought refuge in places like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, and beyond--countries from which the organization has recruited operatives, trained them in the arts of warfare, and then ultimately dispatched them on terrorist missions around the world. By invading Iraq in 2003, we inadvertently created the precise conditions that Al-Qaida needed in order to manifest itself from within the very heart of the Arab world. Thus, in a sense, we have blundered into a Catch-22 trap of our own making. Even if stable democracy is eventually established in Iraq, it is already too late to stop the formation of a new transnational terrorist army, one that is fearlessly loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Usama Bin Laden. Our primary focus should now be on identifying prominent Al-Qaida leaders and operatives in Iraq, preventing them from exfiltrating back into the Middle East and Europe, and ultimately decapitating their organization(s) as a terrorist threat. Even just a handful of Zarqawi's followers set loose beyond the borders of Iraq pose a clear and present danger to U.S. and European national security.
Under the watchful encouragement of "third generation" terrorist commanders like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaida is quickly developing into a loose collective of disparate Islamic militant groups and sleeper cell networks dedicated to undermining America and her allies by any means necessary. As Simon pointed out, it has also become more of ideology rather than a strict delineated organization--and, thus, there is a strong potential of "lone wolf" attacks committed by random fanatics mobilized by Al-Qaida's radically anti-Western propaganda. In the absence of a coherent hierarchical organization and given the rise of ruthless extremists like Zarqawi, it becomes inherently more likely that future terrorist attacks will involve weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical, biological, radiological, or even nuclear agents. Zarqawi's larger network has already been linked to several failed plots involving such toxins as cyanide, ricin, and anthrax. It is also clear that these same conspirators are willing to carry out their deadly missions even if they directly result in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Muslims.
Even four years after 9/11, the Bush administration has yet to successfully engineer a lasting overhaul of U.S. counterterrorism efforts. While the President and his administration are to be commended for their efforts on the USA Patriot Act and the virtual defeat of Al-Qaida in Afghanistan, precious little progress has been made at home towards reforming either the FBI or the CIA. In fact, information sharing and cooperation between these agencies is at an abysmal level. If stubbornly ensconced bureaucrats continue to interfere with ongoing counterterrorism reform, the American people must hold them personally responsible for any potential consequences. Unfortunately, we may only recognize this frustrating failure in the advent of another 9/11.
In order to defeat the next generation of international terrorists, America must field its own counterterrorist army of trained, experienced, and open-minded personnel who can understand Al-Qaida the way that we once understood the Soviet KGB. These individuals must be trained in languages including Arabic and Farsi. They must also understand the critical need to provide reasoned analysis to policymakers that is devoid of irrelevant political influence. Finally, the next time we decide to invade another country--even to depose a regime as despicable as that of Saddam Hussein--let us first carefully consider the potential long-term consequences of our actions. Even the best intentions can result in an unfortunate outcome.
FP: Thank you Mr. Kohlmann.
I guess the debate over the Saddam-Osama link continues. Suffice it to say that Laurie Mylroie and Steven Hayes have made a sound case for the connection. And surely the Bush administration had no choice but to act when the remotest possibility existed that Saddam could place WMDs into the hands of those who perpetrated 9/11 – or their like-minded species.
Mr. Kohlmann, you pinpoint some potential high costs we paid in taking out Saddam and fighting the terrorists in Iraq. But no military action will come without its trade-offs. Could it not also be said that the liberation of Iraq was crucial in that we needed to trigger the process of democratization in the Arab Middle East? The removal of Saddam has clearly sparked the domino effect that we now see beginning -- as the Arab Berlin wall is clearly beginning to crack: the Lebanese people power in the streets, Saudis talking of women voting, Egyptians talking of elections, Syria recoiling from Lebanon etc.
It is an undeniable fact that terrorism has its hiding and breeding grounds in areas of tyranny. The best way we can end terrorism is to crush tyranny and do our best to put democracy in its place. I think that is what the liberation of Iraq is about. We have no choice but to liberate more enslaved peoples in the Arab Middle East if we are going to have a chance of winning this terror war.
And while the U.S. action in Iraq surely fuelled some hatred and attracted terrorists to come to Iraq, could it not be said that these fanatics are going to hate us anyway and that we might as well pick the place where we fight and kill them? Surely the U.S. war on terror in Iraq has hurt the Islamist cause in numerous ways -- diverting their energies from elsewhere, taking terrorists’ lives, decapitating their leadership, crippling their resources etc.
Mr. Darling, your turn.
Mr. Kohlmann has given us a heads-up about a terrifying formation of a new transnational terrorist army in the works. Operatives of this army could now, as he says, be bound for borders beyond Iraq. In the absence of a coherent hierarchical organization, he warns there could be increasing “lone wolf” attacks and that these could, very likely, as Mr. Reeve has suggested, eventually involve some sort of WMDs.
Mr. Kohlmann has given some strong recommendations. What can you add to these, so that our future counterterrorist army can effectively fight this potential horror?
Darling: Greetings to Dr. Gunaratna (who was extremely generous in his editing of my work on Ansar al-Islam), Mr. Reeve, and Mr. Kohlmann, and thanks to Frontpage Magazine.
As to the issue of whether the war in Iraq has helped or hurt terrorism, I think that the realities are a lot more complex due to the politicized nature of the question. While my own view is that there was at least some significant interaction between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda/the Zarqawi network and would tend to attribute much of the murkiness on that particular subject to the "war over analysis" that took place between the CIA and the Pentagon (particularly with regard to the claims made by Moammar Ahmed Yousef and Ibn Sheikh al-Libi among others), I expect that I'm going to be in the minority view of the opinion that overthrowing Saddam deprived al-Qaeda of an ally.
That said, while I think that al-Qaeda has almost certainly been using Iraq as a rallying cry for its supporters and associate groups, as can be seen with all the terrorist recruiting networks that have been shut down by European and Middle Eastern law enforcement, I don't think that our intelligence on the network is good enough to the point where we can quantify whether they're having a "good" or a "bad" year as far as recruiting is concerned.
We know that Islamist fighters are being sent to Iraq, yet we also know that there are fewer and fewer Arab recruits being sent to fight in Chechnya or Kashmir, that bin Laden has cut down funding for the Taliban to support Zarqawi and other Iraqi Islamist groups, etc. Moreover, the al-Qaeda strategy document Iraq al-Jihad that appears to have played no small role in the timing called of the 3/11 attacks in Spain called for carrying out attacks in Western Europe in order to force the withdrawal of coalition states, which implies at least to me that they don't believe that a simple insurgency is sufficient to evict coalition forces from the country.
In January 2004 and again recently, Zarqawi has issued pleas for assistance to the global al-Qaeda network, the Islamist Internationale, if you will. All of this would seem to suggest that the terrorists do not regard themselves as being in ascendance inside Iraq, otherwise attacks outside the country and calls for assistance would be unnecessary.
That said, I wouldn't be surprised if al-Qaeda recruiting were on the rise internationally, even though there is no objective way to prove or discount this due to the intelligence issues I mentioned above. As a general rule, I strongly suspect that more Islamists who were previously "on the fence" with regard to violence are more likely to resort to terrorism when they see what they regard as definitive proof of the US-led global conspiracy against Islam that al-Qaeda argues exists, such as the US missile strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan or the US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. The same is also true for actions entirely unrelated to the US, such as the fighting in Chechnya, south Thailand, or Mindanao.
Until we get better intelligence on how to quantify terrorist recruiting, such as the number of enrolments in radical madrassas in the Middle East and South Asia that serve as the incubators for al-Qaeda and other groups' cadres (Binori Town springs immediately to mind) rather than their cannon fodder, we're essentially dealing with a dart board rather than with the closest we can get to definitive figures as far as the ebb and flow of terrorist recruiting.
I'm also a lot less worried about the "lone wolf" terrorists than is Mr. Kohlmann. If you look at the purported chemical attack in Jordan last April that allegedly could have killed thousands, it was ordered by Zarqawi and going to be implemented by a detailed network stretching across Jordan into Syria and Iraq. It's that kind of infrastructure and groups, in my opinion, that are far more of a danger with respect to any potential WMD attack than are the lone wolves like Hesham Hedayat. The latter can still kill people, but the former is essential with respect to mass casualty terrorist attacks.
That said, I think Mr. Kohlmann's recommendations are extremely sound ones. My advice would be to look very carefully at the approaches and methodologies that European nations have been extremely successful at using to defeat both domestic and international terrorist organizations since the 1970s. From a strategic perspective, I think that utilizing the approaches that Dr. Gunaratna laid out at the end of Inside Al Qaeda were quite sound when he first wrote them in 2002 and I think they still are 3 years later. While they are far too lengthy to enumerate here, I still think that adopting these approaches represents our best way of countering the current threat.
Gunaratna: Mr. Reeve, Mr. Kohlmann, Mr Darling, and Mr. Glazov:
I am delighted to join such eminent group of terrorism scholars in contributing this debate.
The international terrorism landscape has changed dramatically during the past three years. First, Al Qaeda has transformed from a group into a movement; second, the epicentre of international terrorism has shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq; third, terrorist target selection include the Allies and the friends of the United States.
The most profound of these three developments is the morphing of Al Qaeda from a group into a movement. With the dispersal of Al Qaeda members and associate members from Afghanistan to lawless zones in the global south, three dozen Asian, African, Middle Eastern and other local jihad groups are increasingly behaving like Al Qaeda. About 20,000 members of these groups trained, armed, financed and ideologized by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan from the Soviet withdrawal in February 1989 until US intervention in October 2001 are beginning to share Al Qaeda's vision and mission of a global jihad. Compared to the local jihad groups that traditionally attacked local targets, Al Qaeda attacked the "distant enemy" - the United States. Post 9-11, Al Qaeda's constant message to its associated groups was to attack both the "nearby enemy" - local governments as well as the "distant enemy" - the US and its Allies.
The initial evidence of this transformation comes by examining the tactics used and the targets selected by the local groups. For instance, Jemaah Islamiyah, a group aiming to establish an Islamic state in Southeast Asia, never attacked Western targets before 9/11.
However, after 9/11, the group conducted coordinated simultaneous suicide attacks against night clubs in Bali (October 2002), the J. W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta (August 2003) and the Australian Embassy in Indonesia (September 2004) killing over 220 people. Similarly, the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group seeking to create an Islamic State, conducted coordinated simultaneous suicide attacks against five targets including a hotel frequented by Israelis, a Jewish cemetery, a Spanish cultural centre, and a Jewish owned Italian restaurant killing 42 in May 2003. Another associated group of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Laskar-e-Toiba, that usually operates against Indian targets, mounted an operation to target Australian interests in Sydney in 2004. The operation, disrupted, aimed to destroy high profile multiple targets, a classic Al Qaeda modus operandi.
Unlike Al Qaeda, most of its associated groups have a limited geographic reach. Nonetheless, with the help of their politicized and radicalized segments of their migrant and diaspora communities, these local groups are able and willing to plan, prepare and execute attacks in far away theatres. Although the local groups are not as well resourced as Al Qaeda, Bin Laden's financial network is providing them with funds. Despite suffering the loss of Al Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan, its dispersed trainers, combat tacticians and explosives experts are imparting the specialist knowledge required by the local groups to conduct attacks like Al Qaeda.
The full implications of the transformation of Al Qaeda from a group into a movement have not been adequately assessed either by the security and intelligence community working on terrorism. While the threat posed by Al Qaeda is known and manageable, the multiple threats posed by its associated groups has not been fully studied and assessed. Even within the US intelligence community, the largest counter terrorism intelligence community in the world, there are very few specialists who know the associated groups of Al Qaeda.
FP: Thank you Dr. Gunaratna. Mr. Reeve, your turn. Kindly touch on Dr. Gunaratna’s point about the transformation of Al Qaeda from a group into a movement – and what we can best do about the threat it poses.
Reeve: Some of my initial points have been interpreted a little unfairly by our moderator.
Yes, the American Left has much to answer for. The Clinton administration had plenty of warnings al Qaeda was a growing threat, and failed to protect the country. I think it goes without saying democratization in Iraq will not be helped by psycho terrorists killing women & children.
I am not ‘blaming’ the US for failing to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I do believe the US, as the only superpower – or hyperpower – on the planet, is the country that could naturally take the lead to help both sides. And the European powers – which have shamelessly washed their hands of a Middle East crisis they largely created – could and should be doing a damn sight more in partnership with the US. My point is that if I was the US government, and was looking to secure my nation’s citizens, I’d have focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than Iraq. I agree with Mr Kohlmann that the Israeli-Palestinian situation will not improve overnight, but ‘swift’ – in my view – would be a resolution within four to eight years.
I sincerely hope we will not try to compare the attacks of 9/11, appalling as they were, with the obscenity of the Holocaust!
The moderator seems very riled by the suggestion America should consider why it’s so hated. Why does this make you so angry? Surely it’s basic analysis to find out what drives one’s enemy: greed, desire for land, hatred etc?? It should have been done in 2001. But is now starting to happen as part of Homeland Security's new National Center for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.
The point I was trying to make is that a much broader hatred of America has developed globally SINCE 9/11, and this has worrying implications for future American security. Surely the American government should be concerned if there is a general dislike and low-level hatred of the US in African countries, in European states, in Asia? Yes there are multiple reasons for this, many of which cannot be blamed on the US, and yes scapegoating exists and peoples’ hatred can often say more about them than those they hate. But I believe al Qaeda has become a state of mind, and thus low-level hatred of the US around the world continues to encourage that way of thinking.
What the rest of the world thinks should matter to the US. I have personally witnessed high levels of anti-US hatred globally within the last year – in Saudi Arabia (no surprises there), but also in Africa, South-East Asia, Europe, and the former Soviet Union. In Somalia I saw people openly wearing bin Laden t-shirts. In the Caucuses there are anti-US groups emerging in countries which previously idolized America.
Does the moderator not find that worrying? If I was an American, I’d be concerned.
Failing to listen to others would be very dangerous. I am NOT suggesting sitting down for coffee with bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, or other baby-eaters. But how can we defeat something that’s become a state of mind, or a terrorist ideology, if we don’t know what drives it?
I met Osama bin Laden’s former best friend in Saudi Arabia last year. They were as close as brothers when kids and teenagers. They fought together in Afghanistan, and bin Laden ‘gave’ him his sister to marry. He now runs a fish restaurant. So as a reformed militant who understands the al Qaeda/terorrist/Islamist/anti-US mentality, does the moderator think the US should ignore him and his suggestions for defeating terrorism?
There is no carrot that will persuade bin Laden or many of his followers to lay down their guns and start watching Hollywood movies. They need to be hunted down. The US needs to takes a stick to the hardcore terrorists.
But it could also offer a carrot to the rest of the world by being a more benevolent superpower.
Major battles against terrorist groups are not always ‘won’ by annihilating the terrorists. They are often won by gradually turning the host community against the terrorists. Or when a host community becomes sick of the killing and chaos.
To turn the host community against the terrorists the US needs to have a better image internationally. There are hopeful signs. In Central Asia, which is littered with potential terrorist weaponry (biological agents along with caches of conventional explosives), anti-US and anti-Western militant groups have been emerging in the last five years. This has partly been in response to the oppression of the leaders in that region. The Central Asian leaders have been supported by the US, which has turned oppressed people against America, and pushed young men into the arms of terror groups. But more recently US diplomats in the region have increased support for democracy campaigners, and we have just seen regime change in Kyrgyzstan, just north of Afghanistan. I am optimistic militant groups will wither inside democracies.
Apologies for quoting your words back at you FP, but you stated:
“What are we supposed to do when forces in this world wage war on us because they believe that women should wrap their whole bodies up in body bags and that they should not have personal and sexual freedom? What do we do when these forces hate the idea of the separation of church and state, homosexual rights, democracy, minority rights, etc?”
Personally, I don’t have all the answers. But I’m keen to hear your views, and those of the distinguished panel.
Militants might say they are NOT waging war on the US because they believe what you state above, but because they believe the US is preventing them living the lives they want to lead.
So should the US impose Western views on them? Let’s remember there are plenty of people in the US & Europe who hate the idea of the separation of church and state, homosexual rights, minority rights, etc, but their views are heard and we’re still able to co-exist. In the UK, Bishops sit in the Upper House of our Parliament. Our Queen is Head of the Church of England. That’s not a separation of church and state, but we’re friends with the US, and the US hasn't - yet! - tried to change us.
Not everyone in the world wants to exist in US-type, or even Western-type, countries. I traveled extensively in Saudi Arabia last year, and I was surprised at just how many Saudis are basically happy with their Saudi way of government and don’t want immediate democracy. And that’s across the board: men, women, teenagers, Princes, Bedouin, shoppers, pious Mullahs. Women wanted to remain covered. Most liked the way things are. You and I might think sexual freedom and democracy would be good for them. But they don’t all want it yet.
Just going back to the Iraq point briefly. Yes, I do think the manner of the attack was a major mistake. I think the timing was also a mistake.
I do not believe there were strong links between Iraq and al Qaeda. Yes, there were some tentative meetings. Yes, Iraq was funding terrorist groups attacking Iran. But the links between Iraq and al Qaeda pale into insignificance when compared to those between al Qaeda and Pakistan, or al Qaeda and Saudi Arabia, both of which are supposed to be US allies.
Saddam Hussein was a mass-murdering scumbag who has a place in Hell. Iraq is a much better place without him, and we should all rejoice at the elections, which have been a fantastic example to the rest of the Middle East and beyond.
My point is simply that the manner of the attack was faulty, and US military planners did not adequately consider the aftermath of the war. The consequence is a difficult occupation which is fomenting terror and being used as an anti-US rallying call around the Islamic world.
In response to Mr Kohlmann’s comments, the moderator rightly suggested it’s possible the Bush administration felt it had act in Iraq if there was the remotest possibility Saddam could place WMDs into the hands of terrorists.
But why then isn’t the US (and Europe!) looking at other parts of the world where terrorists could pick-up other WMDs?
Senior Pakistani intelligence officials have told me about labs in Karachi. Biological agents can be purchased mail-order in Eastern Europe. As previously mentioned – there are former biological weapons labs in Central Asia which still have stocks and underpaid scientists.
Just a few months ago I visited a former Soviet military base in the southern Caucuses. This is a region with several Islamic militant groups, and plenty of post-Soviet arms dealers looking for a quick buck. On this unguarded base, which doesn’t even have a fence, I found 30,000 abandoned anti-aircraft shells, and scores of working surface-to-land and surface-to-air missile systems each containing more than 200kg of high-explosive. A local scientist had persuaded some of his old academic colleagues to help make these weapons safe. He had appealed for help from the American embassy, but had no response. No response! These missiles, which are capable of bringing-down a small skyscraper, are just sitting in the open waiting to be stolen! All that protects them are snakes in long grass, which the scientist can’t cut because he doesn’t even have money for petrol/gas for a lawnmower.
So I find it very strange the US administration has paid such attention to Iraq, and so little to securing other potential WMDs around the world.
In terms of Dr Gunaratna’s belief that al Qaeda has transformed from an organization to a movement: I think this analysis is excellent, but I would just go slightly further, perhaps, and say it’s a state of mind.
What can we do about it? Well, I’d refer back to my admittedly simplistic carrot and stick comment!
Mr. Darling suggests considering the approaches and methodologies European nations used to defeat both domestic and international terror groups from the 1970s onwards.
The groups which threatened Europe from the ‘70s were markedly different to al Qaeda, and I for one would caution against treating them in the same way.
European nations did some outrageous deals with terrorist groups in the 70s to discourage attacks on their soil. Some of the groups were defeated because they were simply ridiculous and run by murderous brats who loathed their parents’ generation. They had no apocalyptic aims like al Qaeda, did not pose the same level of threat, and members could be bought-off.
I grew-up in London, where we endured a series of IRA terrorist bombings that killed and maimed shoppers, soldiers , children and politicians. As a kid I remember my ordinary London school was repeatedly evacuated because of bomb threats, and successive British governments were targeted. Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet were nearly wiped-out by a major bomb blast at her political party annual conference. But years later it transpired her government had been secretly talking to the IRA the entire time! Even while the IRA was trying to kill Thatcher, and bombing Britain, her government was talking to the terrorists. It was during a period in which the British government basically realized the IRA had a point: the Catholic population of Northern Ireland was suffering discrimination, religious harassment, disproportionate unemployment, etc etc. The IRA used this to garner support. It was only when some of these issues were addressed with job schemes, stronger laws on discrimination, that support for terrorists weakened, and the peace process could really start.
The IRA, of course, is not al Qaeda. Bin Laden’s supporters and ilk are the most dangerous terrorists we’ve ever seen. We cannot reason with bin Laden, but surely we can turn his base level support against him.
FP: Mr. Reeve, you speak about resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the assumption that the U.S. is supposed to do something about it. The problem is that all the U.S. can do is to try to get the Palestinian leadership to stop supporting and co-operating with terrorists. Arafat refused to do that the whole time. Jew-killing was his priority. Will Abbas be different? If you really support peace in the Middle East, then you would be focused on the new Palestinian leadership and whether or not it will be serious, unlike Arafat, in destroying the terrorist network and agreeing to peaceful co-existence. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what the U.S. or anyone else does in terms of planning peace talks etc.
I compared the attacks of 9/11 with the Holocaust in the context of hatred being motivated by scapegoating. What I mean is that after 9/11, we are not supposed to be sitting around worrying about what we did wrong. The perpetrators that committed that crime are evil and they perpetrated their crime because they are committed to mass death and suicide. We are dealing with nihilists and a death-cult ideology. We are not supposed to be agonizing over what we can do to make these people less angry at us. Like we did with Nazism and Communism, we have to crush Islamism.
If we want to know what causes Islamists’ hatred of us, we need to listen to what bin Laden and Zarqawi say in their pronouncements.
Mr. Reeve, you ask if I am not concerned that there is a growing anti-Americanism. Yes I am concerned. There is an underlying assumption that being concerned about this is somehow connected to Americans having to do something about it. Would you also say to a Jewish person: “Anti-Semitism is skyrocketing around the world, does this not concern you?” Would you ask this on the assumption that the Jewish person is supposed to start changing something he is doing? The sociologist Paul Hollander has clearly demonstrated how anti-Americanism is a form of racism and bigotry, a species and cousin of misogyny, anti-Semitism and other forms of irrational hate.
You state, “But how can we defeat something that’s become a state of mind, or a terrorist ideology, if we don’t know what drives it?”
We know what drives it, just as we know what drove Nazism and Communism, and what drives a serial killer and a serial rapist and a serial child molester. That is why we must chase down every and any entity that wants to perpetrate another 9/11 and kill it.
Mr. Reeve, you want the U.S. to be “a more benevolent superpower”? Is this the comedy portion of the symposium? Surely you are aware that the more benevolent the U.S. has been in many realms the more it has been hated.
If you do not know the difference between the separation of Church and State in England and what Sharia is I don’t know what to tell you. And kindly do not speak for people who live under tyranny, suggesting that maybe they like it that way. This is the same shameless excuse we heard from the Left about people under communism during the Cold War.
The bottom line is that individuals should be given a choice regarding what they want to do. In many parts of the Islamic-Arab world today, people cannot make free choices without facing the possibility of death and torture. Please do not equivocate on how these people might not want to be free or how a woman might want to wear the veil. The bottom line is that if a woman chooses to take the veil off in a place like Iran or Saudi Arabia she will have acid thrown in her face, be killed, or tortured, imprisoned, gang-raped, etc. That is the point. And that is what we need to be talking about.
Your travels to Saudi Arabia and your retelling of what you heard there is startling. Do you know about the fellow travelers of the 20th century? If not, take a look at Paul Hollander’s Political Pilgrims. Do you really think people in Saudi Arabia, a woman for example, can say what she really thinks? You really think a woman can tell you: “Yeh Simon, I hate the despots here, I don’t want to wear this crap!” and then rip her whole veil off? What if she wanted to do that? What would happen to her? That is what we should be focused on. But individuals such as yourselves never think about things in this way because then you would have to have moral clarity and have to say: “This is a despotic and evil regime and the West is better and has the moral high-ground. People in Saudi Arabia should be allowed to make choices without fear of punishment. Our society’s freedoms and values are superior.”
Mr. Reeve, do you understand what will happen to the individual that tells you something that is not allowed to be said in Saudi Arabia and it is found out? You know about the Religious Police there right? Do you think it might have something to do with the way people frame their answers to you about their satisfaction with the society? It is simply absurd for you to repeat something positive someone said to you, when it is a fact that there is no freedom of speech and that certain actions and statements, especially about Islam, can get people killed.
In any case, Mr. Kohlmann, go ahead.
Kohlmann: As much as I hate to be a pessimist, I tend to view our current predicament more as Mr. Reeve does--and thus, I am skeptical that our most critical enemies like Zarqawi are as "desperate" as we might wish them to be.
At present, there is an intense and distinct hatred of America that is seething in various locales around the world--and not just in Iraq or the Middle East alone. In fact, you really don't have to go far beyond U.S. borders to find evidence of it. Fundamentally, it is the proliferation of this hatred that will ultimately lead to the development of new terrorist networks and acts of violence.
As long as there are deluded individuals who believe it is a form of equal justice to blow themselves up in a bid to kill Americans, Al-Qaida will always have a reliable lifeblood of recruits, financing, and weaponry. I believe there is an unfortunate tendency among many observers in the West to treat Al-Qaida like a Fortune 500 corporation, with a strong leadership hierarchy and rigid bureaucratic structure.
As Dr. Gunaratna has well pointed out, nothing could be farther from the case. Al-Qaida functions as a loose, transnational political mafia--those seeking upward movement through the ranks must demonstrate their prowess by force and create a reputation of strength and ruthlessness. Back in Washington, we lay out maps of Al-Qaida leadership figures, crossing out those who have been killed or captured, and attempt to use this as a basis to gauge our progress in the war on terrorism.
In the pre-9/11 words of President George W. Bush, this is basically "swatting at flies." Much like a mafia, there is an underlying competitive race to control Al-Qaida from within--and thus, there are always willing substitutes for slain or imprisoned terror ringleaders. They may not have the experience or credentials of their predecessors, but as proved by Zarqawi himself, they can be just as deadly.
Mr. Darling suggests that there is a lack of empirical evidence and that our intelligence is too confused to determine exactly how badly we have damaged Al-Qaida. With all due respect, that evidence is readily and publicly available, and one does not need access to classified government materials to make such a reasoned judgment.
I have tallied the names, photos, and biographies of hundreds of foreign fighters--from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, North Africa, and elsewhere--who have perished over the last year fighting in Iraq. I have spoken with their friends and families, some of whom have thrown wild celebrations to mark the "martyrdom" of their sons and brothers in suicide bombing operations. I can say with some assurance that there is a good reason why recruitment for the jihad in Afghanistan and Chechnya has fallen off so dramatically--all of the potential mujahideen volunteers are being soaked up in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq. The death of each foreign mujahid only serves as fuel to draw more eager recruits to the battlefield. Not too long ago, some bright-eyed analysts from inside the Beltway came up with the idea that Iraq could be used as flypaper to trap remaining pockets of Al-Qaida followers. Realistically, the only people who are trapped in Iraq right now are America and its dwindling coalition allies. Meanwhile, terrorist groups like Al-Qaida are enthusiastically manipulating the opportunity in order for their followers to gain combat experience and develop a brotherhood of hatred for everything Western. The meager and highly questionable evidence linking Saddam to Al-Qaida cannot serve to justify the tremendous challenges we currently face in Iraq. No matter how one views Saddam Hussein and his ilk, there can be no doubt that the problem of Al-Qaida in Iraq regrettably became much more complex and deadly as a direct result of our military invasion.
While it is tempting to believe that the March 11 train bombings in Madrid were carefully planned by Zarqawi or other Al-Qaida leaders, the reality is, much of the impetus for 3/11 came from a fairly autonomous Islamic militant cell with a rat's nest of loose connections to various Al-Qaida affiliate groups and leaders in Chechnya, Morocco, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Indeed, the perpetrators of 3/11--who managed a mobile phone business--used their own personal expertise in cellular technology in order to carry out the attack. When I speak of "lone wolves", I am not so much referring to individuals like Hesham Hadayet, but rather to local extremist networks responsible for a diverse range of terrorist schemes--from France's Roubaix Gang in 1996 to the recent murder of Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh. These men are not "crazies" or "random"--they simply lack a direct, identifiable control relationship with any distinct foreign terrorist organization. These new underground networks have been formed--at least to some degree--independently by groups of angry young urbanites mobilized alone by the propaganda of "resistance symbols" like Usama Bin Laden or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There is a strong past precedent for these "lone wolf"-style terror gangs, and the growth of terrorist propaganda on the Internet only increases the likelihood that these factions will flourish in the future.
FP: Mr. Darling?
Darling: I would for a moment like my clarify my comment with respect to the value of emulating the approach used by European law enforcement and counter-terrorism authorities from the 1970s onwards before responding to Mr. Kohlmann's remarks.
If you look at all of the terrorist infrastructure that has been disrupted in Europe to date, I think that you will see that European authorities have been very, very good at making sure that attacks are not carried out on the continent. According to the Defense Research Establishment report on Jihad in Europe, Europe has been the subject of thirty mass casualty terrorist attacks since 9/11, of which the report lists 14 as terrorist conspiracies. Only one of those, the Madrid bombings, was successfully carried out, and I think that in of itself speaks volumes to the amount of effectiveness that European states have developed with respect to disrupting terrorist plots before they can be finalized, an effectiveness that I think we should strive to emulate concerning our own counter-terrorism strategies.
In response to Mr. Kohlmann, I still think that there is quite a lot that still we don't know with respect to al-Qaeda, in large part because its very nature that both he and Dr. Gunaratna have fleshed out in detail makes it extremely difficult to assess whether the group is damaged or robust. To offer an example, one need only look at the Washington Post from May 6, 2003 in which much of the US intelligence community (or perhaps just those within it who were chatty with the press) seemed to be of the opinion that al-Qaeda was crippled due to its inability to stage a major attack during the war in Iraq.
I think all of us here would agree that they were wrong in that assessment. Similarly, the group has shown great resilience in that it is still a functioning network in spite of the loss of so many key leaders in Afghanistan as well as the capture of Abu Zubaydah, Abd Rahim al-Nashiri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Hambali, and other key members. One of the things that I find particularly concerning is that prior to the German warnings that Zarqawi was planning chemical attacks in Europe, he was essentially regarded as a mid-level figure within the network by most terror watchers.
One of the many, many reasons that I regard Dr. Gunaratna's book "Inside Al Qaeda" so highly as a primer on the network is that it was virtually alone in early 2002 as mentioning Zarqawi as being a threat, specifically on page 229 in the 2002 edition. During that time, Zarqawi simply wasn't someone that many people regarded as a major threat but rather as someone who was basically a mid-level al-Qaeda associate (the conventional analysis on Zarqawi has undergone several major permutations since then), but nobody to my knowledge would have thought him capable of masterminding what we now see in Iraq. I remain very concerned as to just how many other mid-level al-Qaeda members or associates of Zarqawi's caliber are still out there.
That said, I agree with Mr. Kohlmann (and General Abizaid, among others) on the issue of foreign fighters in Iraq and the long-term problem they pose for US forces there, which is one of the reasons why I think it's fair to say that resolution of the current situation in Iraq is an absolute necessity in the current struggle against international terrorism.
Regardless of one's opinion on pre-war Baathist/al-Qaeda ties, such cooperation, as well as that between al-Qaeda and homegrown Iraqi Islamist groups, certainly exists now and is going to serve as a force multiplier for the network in the future, as I think you can see already in the post-war formation of al-Qaeda associate groups made up largely of native Iraqis, Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah for example, or media reports claiming that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is involved to some degree or another with Zarqawi. The "flypaper strategy" has always struck me as terribly unsound for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being the factor that Mr. Kohlmann mentions: each dead jihadi is an inspiration to others. I'll defer to his expertise with respect to the reason for the decline of foreign fighters in Chechnya, though I would be very interested in hearing his opinion on the veracity of media reports that Abu Walid al-Ghamdi sent a contingent of "Chechen Arabs" to Iraq prior to his death.
On the issue of "lone wolf" terrorist gangs, it would seem that the only difference of opinion between myself and Mr. Kohlmann is one of terminology rather than substance - I simply hadn't considered the 3/11 perpetrators "lone wolves" because of their purported connections to a number of senior al-Qaeda leaders or associates such as Zarqawi, Imad Yarkas, Amer Azizi, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, Abu Qatada, etc. There are also Italian allegations concerning Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed's involvement in the 3/11 plot, though I understand the Spanish are rather skeptical of that view. As I said, this seems to be more over terminology than over the actual substance of who was involved in 3/11.
In any case, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Kohlmann in his assessment that these types of groups, whether one calls lone wolves or not, very much represent the next phase of international terrorism. Another report by the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, this one on the Hofstad Network that murdered Theo Van Gogh, is I think particularly illustrative of the kind of threat posed by these types of groups. I also share Mr. Kohlmann's concerns about the spread of terrorist material over the internet, particularly now that publications like al-Batar and strategy documents like Iraq al-Jihad are no more than a couple of clicks away if you know where to look.
I would also argue that one of the reasons that al-Qaeda's ideology if not the organization is so prevalent is because of the absence of a viable counter-ideology, which is one of the more important points that Dr. Gunaratna makes in his recommendations at the end of his book. As long as that counter-ideology remains absent, I unfortunately think that al-Qaeda's appeal, both as a network and as an ideology, is unlikely to diminish over time, especially in places like Europe where sizeable numbers of the Muslim youth appear to hold a rather romanticized view of the "Iraqi resistance." That doesn't make them all terrorists by any means, but it certainly doesn't make them adverse to the idea of becoming a valiant mujahideen fig
player even before the US invasion of Iraq. As early as 2001, the period I researched and wrote the bulk of INSIDE AL QAEDA, it was apparent that Zarkawi was like Bin Laden, ideologically and operationally.
Although Zarkawi was the leader of a local jihad groups in Jordan, he was always planning to attack in the Levant and beyond. He built a state of the art network in Europe before 9-11, and continued to build it even in the post 9-11 environment. Today, he is expanding his network outside Iraq at a significant pace. In addition to the Middle East and Europe, Zarkawi is even communicating with cells in Asia and North America.
Unlike other leaders, Zarkawi build his camps in Iraq and in the Pankishi valley in Georgia. He was not confined to a particular geographical territory. He is like bin Laden.
Furthermore, he likes to conduct mass fatality attacks employing suicide and possibly chemical and biological weapons.
Today, Zarkawi in Iraq wants to achieve a victory comparable to Bin Laden in Afghanistan against the Soviets. He wants to be the new Bin Laden. Unless he is neutralized, he is likely to attack outside Iraq inflicting great pain and damage. The US invasion of Iraq created the conditions for the rise of Zarkawi.
FP: Well, the US invasion of Iraq may have created the condition for the rise of Zarqawi. I am not sure here what we mean by “rise.” But the U.S. invasion has surely destroyed a lot of Zarqawi’s hopes and dreams. And it has also created the conditions for his inevitable fall.
Reeve: The moderator stated my earlier comments indicated I was making an assumption the U.S. is supposed to do something about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yes, I do believe that if the U.S. wants to ensure its long-term protection and combat terrorism it needs to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As I said above this should be done IN PARTNERSHIP with others.
President Bush also seems to think the U.S. should be working to resolve the conflict. He has expressed a commitment to resolving the situation, and has just said he thinks working with people in the Middle East to achieve peace is an important role for the U.S. More than any other issue the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fuels anti-American hatred in every Muslim country on the planet.
The moderator thinks all the U.S. can do is get the Palestinian leadership to stop supporting terrorism. Are you serious? If so then you are blind to the global power and influence of the United States.
The moderator offers the line ‘we have to crush Islamism’ as a solitary suggestion for defeating terrorism. You seem to think there is one shade of opinion within the world of pious Islam, or the world of militant Islam. The world is not so black and white, and you fail to realise there are multiple strands of thinking. There is the ideology of terrorist maniacs such as bin Laden, and there are pious Muslims who are anti-American because they believe the West is moving against their religion. They might fit under your description of Islamist, but most do not want to launch war on America. But the moderator wants to crush them all? You want to start a global war against pious Muslims? Many more American lives would be lost in the resulting conflicts.
I have no problem with being questioned about my comments on Saudi Arabia, but instead of debating and asking searching questions, the moderator simply attacks.
As home to most of the 9/11 hijackers, as a country which still contributes large numbers of militants and funding to anti-Western movements, and as the country which offers spiritual leadership to the entire Islamic world, the political future of Saudi Arabia has important global ramifications for the war on terror.
Spreading democracy is a good thing and a powerful weapon against terrorism, but there are dangers in doing it too quickly, particularly in Saudi Arabia.
Yes, moderator, I am fully aware of the Saudi religious police, or the Vice & Virtue squad, as they are known. Although now rarely seen in the cities, they are still a force in the provinces, and I have been detained by those fanatics. Yes, of course there can be perils to speaking-out in Saudi Arabia. But yes, I do happen to believe there are many people in Saudi Arabia who tell the truth, and say what they think. The moderator betrays his/her lack of knowledge of such countries when he assumes that people who live under oppressive regimes are not brave enough to speak their minds! They are not the cowards you assume them to be. There are many brave individuals living under oppressive regimes who are prepared to talk.
Have you been to Saudi Arabia? You seem to think all Saudis are desperately keen for the ‘West’ to ride over the sand-dunes to ‘liberate’ them. But the vast majority of Saudis believe that if change must happen it must happen slowly and at their own Saudi pace. As I said before, they don’t all want change yet. And they certainly do not want it imposed on them overnight by the West. They recognise it will take time to change a traditional nation like Saudia Arabia, and that changing too quickly might lead to division and internal conflict.
These are views expressed not just to me, but to other visitors, and anonymously a thousand times on the Internet.
But rather than listening to those views, you are closing your ears, saying you know what’s best for them, and announcing you would impose our views and our Western political systems on them.
The recent elections in Iraq were proof that people in the Middle East want a chance to vote, and it is vital that democratic nations work to spread democracy elsewhere in the region. But it must be done carefully, intelligently, and must not be rammed down peoples throats. Pushing too hard and too quickly drives people who feel their way of life is threatened into the arms of militant groups. Nobody wants to think outsiders are controlling their lives.
You accuse me of lacking moral clarity, and then state the Saudi government is a despotic regime. Yes I would certainly agree with you that the Saudi regime is despotic. Yes I agree Saudis are unable to make many choices without fear of punishment. So why is America working in partnership with Saudi Arabia? How can you claim ‘Our society’s freedoms and values are superior’, when you then state one of America’s principal global allies is despotic and evil? These double-standards confuse America’s friends, and encourage America’s enemies to hate even harder.
After stating his/her own views the moderator asked for focus on the future of terrorism. I believe issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, political reform in Saudi Arabia, and the global perception of America, are all relevant in a discussion about future threats, but clearly the moderator disagrees with my views.
However for 10 years I have been among those warning that terrorists like bin Laden are an enormous threat. I warned years before 9/11 they would try to launch 9/11-type attacks and needed to be tackled aggressively. Anti-American groups are now emerging in countries which were previously pro-Western. What is the moderators answer to this?? You want to chase down every anti-American and kill them?? You seem to believe there is a finite number of terrorists out there. Have you not listened to what the panel is saying? The militants are growing in number. They are spreading to numerous countries. There is not a list of anti-American individuals you can kill, ticking off each name, before heading home. Killing without addressing the root causes of terror is just going to create more terrorists. It will not make the future world safer for American children.
In terms of Iraq, I welcome the toppling of Saddam and believe the country will eventually stabilise. But I agree with panel members who express concerns about the conduct and consequences of the war & occupation. In Saudi Arabia last year, a place the moderator seems to think I visited wearing blinkers and bearing the attitude of a gap-year student, the quiet talk was of young men who have disappeared and gone north to fight in Iraq. I visited one town where several of the 9/11 hijackers came from: scores of young men from the area have vanished to fight in Iraq. Many of these men – who seem to number between 1,000-2,000 – will become militarised in Iraq in the same way men like bin Laden were militarised in Afghanistan during the 1980s. When Iraq is ultimately stabilised these young Saudis will return home – posing a threat to the Saudi oil wealth on which we are all so dependent – or taking their war abroad, perhaps striking again at Western targets.
I agree with everything Mr Kohlmann said, particularly his concerns about the intense and distinct hatred of America that is seething around the world. He is absolutely right that this hatred will ultimately lead to the development of new terrorist networks.
Mr Kohlmann and Mr Darling both mention the threat posed by lone wolf terrorists. It is clear bin Laden and his immediate supporters have shown the way to other militants around the world. Nobody needs authorisation from bin Laden to launch an attack against the West. We can expect more attacks by groups and individuals with no direct connection to bin Laden, and which have never previously appeared on the intelligence radar.
How do other panel members think we can stop and defeat the current terror threat?
The moderator says the answer to terrorism is for us to ‘crush Islamism’, and chase down the bad-guys and kill them all.
Can I ask the other panel members – is the moderator correct?
Can military force defeat what I believe is a spreading ‘bin Laden state of mind’, or what Dr Gunaratna calls the al Qaeda movement?
FP: Thank you Mr. Reeve.
I am starting to think maybe we are talking past each other on some of these issues here.
My point on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that our key emphasis should not be criticizing the U.S., but forcing the Palestinian leadership to give up terror and to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. That will be the necessary beginning of ending the conflict. Until then, criticizing the U.S. will do nothing for us, unless the criticism entails advising the U.S. to put even more pressure on the Palestinian leadership to crack down on -- and cease its own affiliation with -- terror.
Muslims who are against extremism and terrorism are our allies. But playing footsie with Islamists and their ilk who want to kill us and destroy our way of life is self-destructive. Of course we need to study the way they think and to understand it. But our focus should be on wiping out those who are preparing terrorist strikes against us, just like our focus was to crush the Soviet and Nazi Empires.
Mr. Reeve, when you tell me that I assume that “people who live under oppressive regimes are not brave enough to speak their minds” and that I think they are “cowards,” that is when we are on two different pages my friend. My parents were dissidents in the Soviet Union so I know the story quite well, thank you. I am actually coming from the other end of the spectrum: I resent fellow travelers visiting despotic regimes and coming back telling tales of how they met some people who said they like it the way it is. Whether or not this happened is not my concern. My concern is for the dissidents who languish in jail in those societies and to support the freedom fighters in those societies.
Yes, there is complexity in bringing freedom to a place where there has been slavery. No it cannot be done overnight. No, in many cases, it cannot be done with a simple military invasion. But we must support freedom fighters in the Arab Middle East.
In terms of U.S. allies: powers have to have temporary “bad” allies sometimes to defeat bigger and more dangerous enemies. We had to ally ourselves with Stalin to defeat Hitler. We had to ally ourselves with Islamists to defeat the Soviet Empire, etc. Those were the right things to do under those difficult and precarious circumstances. Mr. Reeve, if you are now saying that we better scrutinize our “friendship” with our Saudi “ally” in the terror war, then I agree with you. But let’s not deny that there are always strategic realities, and we must often walk with a bastard to kill a bigger bastard who threatens us with greater peril and destruction. If it turns out that temporary “allies” are actual enemies that cause us more harm than help, then, yes, we need to cut them off.
Yes, we can’t just have a simplistic policy of chasing down every anti-American Islamist and killing him. Obviously that strategy in a vacuum is silly. What I do mean is that there is a place for tough military force – like there was in Iraq. And military force should not be postponed for the sake of trying to figure out why the likes of bin Laden, Zarqawi and their followers are full of hate. Yes, military strikes against our enemies may engender more enemies. But there is also a great price to pay for not pre-emptively attacking those who plan to use WMDs against us.
Mr. Reeve, you pinpoint a crucial problem: how can we influence a Muslim to become a peaceful modern citizen and not influence him to turn to terror? Yes, we have to understand what leads a Muslim away from plans to go to college and, instead, toward a road where he ends up blowing himself up in some café. But I would argue here that our criticism should not be so much directed at America, but on the leadership of the Islamic world that has a duty to instruct Muslims to turn away from terror and suicide bombing and to tell them that martyrdom against infidels is not a religious duty.
Mr. Kohlmann, go ahead.
Kohlmann: As Mr. Reeve points out, the inquiry now turns to possible solutions to our current predicament. One immediate idea I would suggest is for Americans to try and step in the shoes of our adversaries. Many times we scoff at Bin Laden and Zarqawi as mindless fanatics, yet there is a definite--if ruthless--method to their madness. Despite their abhorrent tactics and contradictory ideologies, the opponents of Western civilization are still undoubtedly winning the propaganda war. They have succeeded--at least in part--in convincing millions of people across the world that America is evil, corrupt, and treacherous. They have even dared to attack the very abstract notions of democracy and freedom. Zarqawi has achieved more in broadcasting a handful of hostage beheadings over the Internet than the Pentagon has after investing millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars into its own press conferences, radio stations, and television channels. Beyond America's borders, the most significant memories of U.S. military involvement in Iraq will forever remain scenes of torture at Abu Ghraib prison--not those of American troops helping pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdaws Square. It seems easy to blame this situation on the mass media, but clearly there is plenty of blame to go around.
Military force will perhaps always be a necessary element in a viable 21st century counterterrorism strategy. But given America's current situation in the world, Theodore Roosevelt's advice to "walk softly and carry a big stick" seems more than appropriate. By installing such a large and imposing military force in a prominent Middle Eastern country, we both antagonize local nationalist forces and present religious fanatics with an obvious terrorist target to strike at. We can still project necessary force around the world without excessive bravado and brandishing of swords. President Bush would be well advised to keep any unnecessary vocal belligerency towards rogue nations like Iran, Syria, and North Korea in check. Even should we decide that a revolutionary regime like North Korea is a clear and present danger to the United States, it accomplishes little for us to announce that fairly obvious conclusion in a charged public forum. These paranoid rogue governments now regard themselves as isolated and under constant threat of foreign invasion. Unless we desire open war with them, there is no need to further stoke the coals of nationalism and resentment.
This last point is part of a larger issue at hand here: the imperative need to separate out political games from deadly serious matters of U.S. national security. Rarely in America's history has that need been more dire. The analysts charged with the duty of assessing threats and reporting critical data to policymakers must not be under political pressure to produce particular results--whether that pressure is real or merely perceived. Key decisions taken by the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies to save American lives cannot be open to second-guessing over motives and timing.
FP: Mr. Darling
Darling: Here is my closing statement. For the record, I'm honored to have been selected to participate in this symposium. I'm not sure why exactly I was chosen given that I don't have anywhere near the credentials or experience of the other 3 men, but I nevertheless appreciate the honor of participating.
Well, I'd just like to start by echoing Dr. Gunaratna's comments on the issue of what Zarqawi has been able to achieve both prior to and immediately after the US invasion of Iraq. The key point I would like to hit on, and I think that this is a key thing that many ordinary people and policy-makers unfortunately don't understand as far as the Iraqi insurgency is concerned, are the stakes if the US fails in Iraq. Dr. Gunaratna's analogy of the Afghan mujahideen and their defeat of the Soviet Union to our current situation in Iraq is an apt one - if Zarqawi is able to claim anything resembling even a partial victory over the United States there, it will have the same effect for him that defeating the Soviets did for bin Laden and his fellow travelers during the late 1980s.
I say "anything resembling even a partial victory" because post-Soviet Afghanistan was still consumed by violence and destruction years after the USSR that spawned it had fallen, it was hardly a success story as far as countries go, yet that didn't matter as far as the jihadis and their imitators were concerned. You can see the legacy of that type of mentality today in countless countries around the world, and that is what I mean when I say that resolution of the situation in Iraq right now is an absolute necessity in the current struggle against international terrorism.
I agree with Mr. Kohlmann on the need to understand how our enemies think. Back when he was working at the CIA, Michael Scheuer produced an excellent analytical work on just that, "Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America," that I would very much recommend as a primer on anyone seeking to understand the mindset of our enemies. In addition, Mr. Kohlmann's own Global Terror Alert does a superb job of making the day-to-day jihadi communiques, propaganda statements, and other such literature available in English to the general public in an amazingly timely fashion and I would recommend anyone interested in following such things take a look at it on a regular basis.
With respect to how the US will proceed for the future, I would say that barring any extremely irrational actions on the part of North Korea (and I trust all the panelists will forgive my not trusting to the wisdom of the Dear Leader in this regard), Iran, or any other rogue state that I don't see the military option being employed in the near future for a variety of reasons, among them sheer logistical difficulties that I think have become painfully apparent to everyone with respect to the situation in Iraq. Nor do I think that a military solution to the various problems the United States faces in these areas should be considered either necessary or ideal for much the same rationale that you don't try to solve every household problem you run across with a hammer.
That said, I am concerned by what I see as a convergence of issues emanating from Iran, particularly the persistent reports since mid-2002 or so that much of the membership of al-Qaeda's Shura Majlis or "Management Council" as some US officials have called it, have reconstituted themselves inside Iran under the protection of hardline elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) such as Qods Force with the backing of senior IRGC commanders such as General Ahmed Vahidi, Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani, and others.
While the official word out of Tehran is that these individuals were detained in the wake of the May 2003 Riyadh bombings, there appears to be a variety of sources ranging from the Arab and Western press to Spanish anti-terrorism Judge Baltasar Garzon to US officials to Saad al-Faqih who are saying that this is not the case and the al-Qaeda leadership remains active and plotting. Combine that with the ascension of the hardliners in the last round of Iranian "elections" and repeated claims by US, Iraqi, and Jordanian officials that the IRGC has or is currently supporting both Zarqawi and Ansar al-Islam, and I think that the only conclusion one can come to is that this is a major problem for the future. READ MORE
I don't want to turn this into a debate on how the US or the EU should handle Iran since we could quite easily spend a whole other symposium talking about nothing but that (though there is an excellent op-ed on this particular subject in the April 13 edition of the Los Angeles Times), but I just thought I'd throw that out there as a problem that someone is going to have to deal at some point in the future since the topic of this symposium is the future of terrorism.
Ultimately, and this is where I keep going back to the recommendations at the end of Dr. Gunaratna's book on how to approach a solution to the problem. If you want to destroy al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers and successors, you have to not only have to succeed in destroying them militarily (though I most certainly do not want to underscore the importance of doing so) but also in discrediting the ideology they possess. I agree with Mr. Kohlmann that there is more than enough blame to go around as far as why exactly al-Qaeda still has the level of appeal that it does, but I think that's more or less fait accompli at this point - the appeal exists, whatever the reason, and we now have to work to counter-act it.
I do however think that the recent Iraqi elections, which were made possible by a whole hosts of factors, are part of that counter-action, because they demonstrated in a particularly dramatic fashion for the entire Middle East to see that it is possible to bring about legitimate political change through methods that, if I may be crude for a moment, don't involve an AK-47 or a machete. I think you can already see how much appeal that idea holds from recent events in Lebanon and other parts of the region.
Now I don't want to sound too triumphalistic in this regard, as there are still more than enough things that could or are still going wrong in Iraq, Lebanon, and various other parts of the world to keep me worried late at night. The situation in Afghanistan may yet collapse, as Michael Scheuer has predicted.
Ultimately however, it seems to me that the US-led coalition against terrorism has laid the groundwork, albeit in a somewhat inept and hap-hazard fashion, for the crude formations for the beginning of a counter-ideology against that espoused by bin Laden and his lieutenants. Again, we are not at the end or even the beginning of the end with respect to the long process of destroying his and other allied terrorist networks anymore than we are at formulating a definitive counter-ideology, but with respect to the latter I do think that the Iraqi elections played a step in showing that at some point further down the line there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
FP: And the Iraqi elections were made possible by American military action. Dr. Gunaratna, final word goes to you sir.
Gunaratna: If the American troops withdraw while the insurgency is continuing, it will boost the morale of the insurgents and the violent Islamists worldwide. As Mr. Darling argues, we must not underestimate the centrality of Iraq in the conflict between the west and the jihadists. Muslim youth radicalized by propaganda will continue to flow to Iraq in the coming months and years, and Iraq will be their new battleground to gain expertise and experience. Yousef Al Aiyyeri, the Saudi author of the Blue Print for Fighting in Iraq, states that "if democracy is established in Iraq, that will be the death of Islam." Violent Islamists see the conflict in Iraq this way and they will fight in Iraq as long as it takes.
America has made a fatal mistake by invading in Iraq. But today, it will be an even greater mistake for the US forces to leave Iraq. Iraq forces will not be ready to take on the insurgents for the next few years. US must remain the dominant force and the Iraqis the support force until the country is stabilized. US must work with the Europeans and Middle Eastern nations to invest in Iraq, and develop Iraq as a model Muslim state of the 21st century. By its untimely intervention in Iraq, America - and the international community - lost a great opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan as a model Muslim state in the 21st century. America and the international community must not fail in Iraq or else Iraq will be the new Afghanistan of the 1990s! Having gone to Iraq without correctly assessing its consequences, US and international failure will come from pre-mature withdrawal.
FP: Thank you Dr. Gunaratna.
The overthrow of Saddam Hussein liberated twenty five million people from a fascist regime and cancelled out the possibility that a psychopath might pass WMDs to terrorists.
We have just witnessed an election in Iraq that is engendering a domino effect. Inspired by Iraqis’ defiance of terrorists’ threats, the citizens of Lebanon have decided that they too can take control of their own lives. The Syrians are making the first movements of withdrawal from Lebanaon. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak is promising the first real presidential election in his country’s history. The Saudis are suddenly mumbling something about giving their women the right to vote. Even Palestinians -- for the moment in any case – have stopped cheering in jubilation and handing out candies in the streets when their children blow themselves up in Israeli markets, cafés and discos.
And yet, critics are still saying that the overthrow of Iraq was a mistake.
President Bush is clearly applying the Cold War’s historical lesson to the circumstances of the terror war. It is a lethal strategy against the Islamist enemy: since terrorism can only breed in totalitarian environments, plant freedom in the Arab Middle East -- where the root of Islamist terror resides. This tactic will eventually rob terrorism of the oxygen it needs to breathe.
In this context, the American liberation of Iraq was crucial, despite the many high prices that have been paid for it, and will be paid for it. But the price for freedom is never free, and the victory over communism and fascism didn’t come with any discounts either.
Simon Reeve, Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, Evan Kohlmann and Dan Darling, thank you kindly for joining us for this edition of Frontpage Symposium. We greatly appreciate the wisdom and expertise you have offered us here today. We hope to see you again soon.
Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Soviet Studies. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s new book Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of the new book The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.