The Century Foundation (TCF) has produced a new report called Defeating the Jihadists: A Blueprint for Action (2004). Among it nine authors are terrorism experts Richard Clarke and Steven Simon. Presented as a joint product, it does show some signs of committee-type compromises in some of the wording. But it is a good presentation of a lot of important current material on the jihadist threat. (It was advertised through the Blogads on several blogs I follow, which is how I first heard of it.)
The opening lines of the chapter "The Nature of the Threat" talk about the how central of the war of the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets was in the development of the present-day jihadist movement:
The Global War on Terrorism [GWOT], as the Bush administration has labeled it, is actually a struggle by governments around the world to deal with a revivified radical and violent minority Islamist movement that has taken on greater international dimensions in the twenty-first century than it has previously in history. Throughout the twentieth century, radical groups arose in various Muslim nations seeking to use Islam as a justification for their use of violence against existing governments. These groups failed and seldom had a significant effect in more than one country at a time.
The Afghan War against the Soviets (1980–1988) served as a magnet for disenchanted elements from throughout the Islamic world. After that war, an informal network developed linking these violent radicals in over twenty nations. Subsequent struggles in Bosnia and Chechnya, in which Muslims fought non-Muslims, strengthened the network. By sharing their knowledge and experience, using the greatly expanded international travel and communications systems, these groups strengthened one another. They also shared funding, training, logistics, propaganda, and ideology. This sharing and the use of the new technologies transformed these groups into a global network dedicated to fighting "holywar" against those who do not share their views. Although the meaning ofjihad in Islam is broader than fighting war, these radicals proclaim them-selves as jihadists.
Suggesting that we think of the jihadist movement as a series of concentric circles, the report gives a good brief sketch of the way in which Bin Laden structured Al Qaeda to act not only as a force on its own, but as a catalyst to other organizations and for the larger jihadist movement. As they explain:
Following 9/11 and the disruption of al Qaeda, affiliated jihadist groups stepped up their attacks. In the three years following 9/11, these groups successfully carried out twice as many major attacks as they and al Qaeda had in the three years prior to 9/11. Whether this wave of terrorism was part of a preplanned al Qaeda response to a U.S. invasion of fghanistan or was improvised by al Qaeda or the network, the result was a demonstration that with or without al Qaeda as a terrorist organization, the global jihadist network is still a threat. The connections among the various national groups already existed, thanks to al Qaeda, and are now strengthening.
Their view of the jihadist movement in terms of concentric circles is a valuable way of conceptualizing the fact there is a wide range of sympathy and support for the jihadists within Islam, ranging from the minimal grounds of the common religion, to the many who sympathize in some degree with the "Islamist" viewpoint, to a hardcore of supporters willing to take specific actions to help the jihadist groups, to a tiny core of actual leaders and group members. It's ridiculous to claim, as some extremists Christians and secular rightwingers do, that the religion of Islam itself is "the problem." Likewise, it would be a mistake to ignore the fact that the jihadist ideology is a religious outlook, not just a political program disguising itself as religion, and therefore some of their ideas and goals resonate with Muslims who have little or no sympathy fortheir terrorist acts.
The TCF report gives the first definition I've ever seen on the Bush administration's campaign claim that 2/3 of Al Qaeda's management had been captured. It says that the claim is based on "the current status of the individuals who were believed to be members of al Qaeda’s consultative council, or Shura, in the summer of 2001." But it goes on to point out that the figure is essentially meaningless, because Al Qaeda's two top leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, remain at at large and because Al Qaeda replaces the managers who are killed or captured. Al Qaeda has long had at its disposal more qualified recruits for its "management" positions than it actually made into formal parts of the organization, so it has a signficant pool of willing and qualified recruits.
Before a full-blown propaganda campaign for war against Iran gets started, a campaign already in its early stages in the pronouncements of some neoconservatives like Michael Ledeen, it's worth noticing reliable sources who are reporting on the connections of Iran to international terrorism. This report notes that after many leaders and cadre of Al Qaeda escapted the US intervention in Afgahnistan in late 2001, the were helped by some in Pakistan and also Iran:
Other al Qaeda leaders fled into Iran, elements of whose government had regularly supported and facilitated the travel of al Qaeda personnel throughout the late 1990s. The Tehran government claims that the al Qaeda personnel who entered the country have either been handed over to authorities in their home countries or are under "house arrest" in Iran. There is, however, some evidence that while in Iran, al Qaeda leaders sanctioned or directed terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia.
There is a good section summarizing the ideological/religious vision of the jihadist groups. This report doesn't dwell on the effect of the Iraq War on the jihadists, though it does note:
Although the U.S. invasion of Iraq was generally opposed in the Islamic world, many understood the heinous nature of the Saddam regime and welcomed its end. The ongoing U.S. military presence in Iraq, how-ever, has widely been seen throughout the Islamic world as an unjustified military occupation akin to the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The terrorist movements (both indigenous and foreign) involved in resisting the U.S. military presence have links to the international jihadist movement. Moreover, the movement successfully uses the U.S. occupation as a propaganda tool to recruit adherents and funds.
The limits of "public diplomacy"
Public diplomacy is the currently fasionable phrase for public information campaigns, which can include really substantial operations like the Voice of America or more simple public-relations/PR/propaganda campaigns. The TCR report observes:
Although there is certainly truth to the notion that U.S. outreach in the region has been hindered by an inability to comprehend the nuances of Arab identity, linguistics, history, and iconography, those concerns are less important than the much stronger connection between anti-American attitudes and American foreign policy. Simply put, the effects of U.S. military, political, and economic engagement in the Middle East are too dramatic to be easily recast by rhetorical campaigns. Public diplomacy has a role to play in shaping America’s image abroad, but in the immediate context of Arab public opinion, its impact will remain at the margins.
They discuss some of the issues on which public diplomacy needs to focus. Although the report cautions that an Israeli-Palestinian settlement would not in itself stop the jihadists'campaigns, they also make it clear what a central issue it is:
Of course, on no issue is the divide [between the US and the Muslim Middle East] greater than with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not surprisingly, the Pew Center recently found that 96 percent of Palestinians, 94 percent of Moroccans, 77 per-cent of Kuwaitis, 99 percent of Jordanians, and 90 percent of Lebanese believe that U.S. policies in the Middle East "favor Israel too much."Given the importance of this issue in the Arab world, there is little doubt that this fuels much of the animosity felt by Arabs toward the United States. Like all states in the international system, the United States must pursue policies based on self-interest, the special relationship with Israel included. However, realism also dictates that the United States internalize the cost of lost popular support in the region. Operating under the assumption that this can be offset or wished away through spin or smart campaigning is simply wishful thinking.
And since Turkey is the prime example of a predominantly Muslim country with democratic government and good protection of individual rights, they emphasize that the increasing economic prosperity that would come from Turkey joining the European Union would be a good thing for the West in its relations to Islamic countries. I think that's true, though I'm not so sure about the report's dire prediction that without EU membership, Turkey is in serious danger that "it can devolve ino the kind of chaos that we have witnessed in Pakistan and Algeria."
Looking at particular countries
For me, the most informative section was the chapter providing a "country-by-country" approach discussing the current situation of five Islamic countries. In a difficult dynamic for the US, the authors argue that in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the US is so unpopular thatthe governments encourage anti-American sentiment as a means of gaining popular support. But in an oddly fatalistic line of argument, they argue that in Saudi Arabia in particular, "Anti-Americanism ... serves as a pretext for opposing forces of change within Saudi Arabia." But then they argue that changes in American policy "will have little significant impact on the scope and quality of anti-Americanism" in that country. This doesn't really make sense to me.An aggressive US policy of energy diversification, a real Israeli-Palestinia settlement and a winding-down of war in Iraq would radically change the context.
The authors point out the problem in the ideological assumption that is so key to the "neoconservative" worldview - as window dressing, at a minimum - that democratization in Muslim countries will result in a more pro-American and pro-Isreali orientation:
The implications of reform in Egypt are hard to assess. A look at the effects of liberalization in the past suggests that reforms affecting wages, food prices, and rents can spur instability. In 1977, demonstrators in Cairo protested Sadat’s reforms, which had sent the price of food staples soaring. Yet, reforms in the political realm are more likely to find favor. Democracy continues to be a broadly popular concept in Egyptian society and progress toward it—sponsored from within and not by outside actors—will be met with approval. Unlike Saudi Arabia, where the ulema stand to lose from the process of democratization, in Egypt no major sector of society—apart from the regime—is threatened by democratization. In fact, Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, whose ultimate objectives remain deliberately cloaked in ambiguity, would make serious gains if their informal support were translated into formal political power. ...
[Despite a "yearning" among the Egyptian population for reform in the post-Hosni Mubarak era, expected to begin soon], it is unclear whether genuine political reform, if it were to happen, would result in the kind of democracy that Egyptian liberals—and Washington—wish for. Hopelessness, financial hardship, and an increasingly Islamist mind-set have become as pervasive in Egypt as has longing for meaningful political expression. Those factors may be as much of a barrier to democratization as regime intransigence.
As the buildup of the case for war against Iran continues, it's worth thinking about the possibility, which the TCF seems to see as a realistic one, that the current regime in Iran could become more of a cooperative one for the US:
[R]egional dynamics arising from American interventions in the Middle East factor in as a key determinant of Iran’s stability. With American forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran will be forced to decide the nature of its relationship with the United States. Moreover, the possibility of the Khatami regime becoming an ally of the United States will also contribute to the importance of Iran determining its position vis-à-vis both the United States and a new Iraq. In this context, the traditional anti-Americanism of conservatives within the regime is an important factor. It is critical to distinguish between the regime and the population of Iran. Although conservatives who inveigh against the "Great Satan" dominate the regime, the population largely admires the United States. Iran stands apart in this respect in the region as one of the few states with a pro-American population in opposition to the anti-American sentiment of the government. [my emphasis]
Embracing the option of regime change and supporting armed opposition groups in Iran will quickly squander this sentiment, however strong or weak it may be at present. The TCF report doesn't address whether a more democratic regime in Iran will be more open to international agreements on nuclear weapons development; given the reported popularity of the nuclear program among Iranians, it's conceivable that a more democratic regime would be more determined to develop a nuclear weapons capability than the current regime.
The section of Pakistan warns that nuclear-armed "Pakistan is on the precipice of political instability." And Islamist parties are gaining support because President Musharraf's "strategy is to rely on religious parties for political support and marginalize mainstream secular parties, while asserting that Pakistan remains a democracy."
Al Qaeda and the ideology of jihad also continue to affect Pakistan’s stability. Public opinion surveys show that Osama bin Laden is an enormously popular figure in Pakistan. His popularity is inversely proportional to that of the United States, which functions as an all-purpose symbol of protest in a relatively discontented society. Bin Laden’s now fabled role in the war against the Soviets during the 1980s forms the nar-rative base of his popularity. American pursuit of bin Laden is emblematic, for many Pakistanis, of a larger war they believe the United States is waging against Muslims. His successful attacks against the United States in 2001 consolidated his image as a self-denying hero. [my emphasis]
And the TCF report also has some things to say about Iraq, which will not be welcome for Iraq War fans:
Little has been written on the impact the Iraq war has had on the terrorist threat facing the United States. It is a bitter irony that Iraq has turned into the very thing we went to war to prevent: a terrorist sanctuary with an al Qaeda and jihadist presence that far exceeds what was there during Saddam Hussein’s reign. ...
Some have argued that Iraq has expanded our security perimeter; that it is better to fight the terrorists in Iraq than here in United States. It would be a fabulous argument, if only it were true. It mistakenly assumes that the terrorists killing U.S. soldiers and civilians in Iraq are the same ones who would be trying to attack the United States. ...
[The Iraq War] has had little effect on the behavior of the real state sponsors of terrorism. In the aftermath of Saddam’s overthrow, some in Washington argued that Iraq would send an unmistakable message to Iran and Syria: Change your behavior, or you’re next. In fact, the opposite has happened. Not only has Iran continued with its nuclear program, but ourinvasion of Iraq has done little to deter Syria and Iran from continuing to sponsor anti-Israeli terrorism. ... Our mistakes post-Saddam have also afforded Damascus and Tehran the opportunity to “bloody our nose in Iraq,” quietly supporting the insurgency inside Iraq and encouraging Hizbullah operatives to do the same.Additional aspect of the problem
Some of the chapters in the report are more general summaries on issues like terrorist financing and particular approaches and techniques to combat terrorist groups. The report talks about particular devices that could be used as integral parts of a more thorough system of inspecting containers in seaports, like GPS tracking systems, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and scanning devices. Some aspects of the current system of container shipping offer opportunities to achieve much greater screening at relativly lower cost. For instance:
Virtually all containers coming into the United States pass through a few foreign seaports. In fact, approximately 70 percent of the 8 million containers that arrived in U.S. ports in 2002 originated from or moved through four overseas terminal operators. These operators, Hutchinson Port Holdings, P&O Ports, PSA Corporation, and Maersk-Sealand, are the second-to-last line of defense, and they should ensure that only secure boxes are loaded on ships that cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Their job would involve two steps. First, they should confirm that a low-risk container is in fact low-risk; if it is deemed high-risk, it should be handled in a way that minimizes danger and disruption.
The report highlights military weapon that is a favorite of co-author Richard Clarke:
One of the major successes of the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns was the use of the Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The Predator provided outstanding real-time intelligence to military forces and was able to conduct its own strike missions when armed with the Hellfire missile. This capability should be a cornerstone for future special operations counterterrorism missions. U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) should be provided with a dedicated Predator UAV capability, for both reconnaissance and strike missions, and sufficient infrastructure so it can be deployed globally.
The TCF report is also useful in providing a list current as of late 2004 of some of the more significant jihadist groups, with summary histories of their background and ties to Al Qaeda. So if you need a quick reference to distinguish between Al-Muhajiroun, Jamaat al-Tabligh, Jama ’at al-Tawhid w ’al-Jihad, Salafiya Jihadiya and Ansar al-Islam, then the handy guide in Chapter 3 is just the thing for you.