The War On Terror and bin Ladin

Al Qaeda Leaders Seen in Control
Experts Say Radicals In London, Egypt May Have Followed Orders

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 24, 2005; Page A01

LONDON, July 23 – The back-to-back nature of the deadly attacks in Egypt and London, as well as similarities in the methods used, suggests that the al Qaeda leadership may have given the orders for both operations and is a clear sign that Osama bin Laden and his deputies remain in control of the network, according to interviews with counterterrorism analysts and government officials in Europe and the Middle East.

Investigators on Saturday said that they believed the details of the bombing plots in Egypt and Britain – the deadliest terrorist strikes in each country’s history – were organized locally by groups working independently of each other. In Sharm el-Sheikh, where the death toll rose to 88 people, attention centered on an al Qaeda affiliate blamed for a similar attack last October at Taba, another Red Sea resort. In London, where 52 bystanders were killed in the subway and on a bus, police have identified three of the four presumed suicide bombers as British natives with suspected connections to Pakistani radicals.

But intelligence officials and terrorist experts said they suspect that bin Laden or his lieutenants may have sponsored both operations from afar, as well as other explosions that have killed hundreds of people in Spain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Morocco since 2002. The hallmarks in each case: multiple bombings aimed at unguarded, civilian targets that are designed to scare Westerners and rattle the economy.

The officials and analysts also said the recent attacks indicate that the nerve center of the original al Qaeda network remains alive and well, despite the fact that many leaders have been killed or captured since the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings in the United States. Bin Laden may be in hiding, the officials and analysts said, and much is still unknown about the network. But they added that his organization remains fully capable of orchestrating attacks worldwide by recruiting local groups to do its bidding.

If The Power of Nightmares is correct in its assessment of al Qaida as a has-been organization deliberately trying to reassert its relevance via 9/11, then you’d have to say it did so. Assuming these analysts are correct. 9/11 suckered us into striking back not only at deserved targets in Afghanistan but Iraq as well (thanks to neocon ideology, Iranian intelligence operations via Chalabi, and the dollar signs in the eyes of big oil and military/defense contractors). All the serious studies I’ve seen point directly to Iraq as the biggest recruiting tool, and new training center, radical Islamicism has ever seen.

So we grind ourselves into military and economic dust on an Iraq that’s making informal alliances with Iran while al Qaida grows stronger and launches attacks from London to Egypt. Is that the plan?

We’ve been talking about this for what… the past year and a quarter at least? The short to medium term goals of the Neocons and Al Qaeda are one and the same… they are allies until they reach their long-term goal (Al Qaeda for a unified Islamic state, the Neocons for a single global corporate community.

Al Qaeda becoming more powerful is what the Neocons call A Good Beginning.

The world only wins if BOTH sides lose. A third force has to emerge to make sure that happens.

What does a baseball team need? A baseball team to oppose them. If none exists, they teach some people baseball so that they may fight against them.

What you have to analyze are the very rules by which the Neocons and Al Qaeda operate… the flags and ideologies they hide behind are of little relevance to the results they create.

It is the rules of their game that must be destroyed.

Their game: “We cannot communicate with you, so we place upon you intimidation, fear, and confusion, and bend you to our will. Through this we achieve the Ultimate Good and complete our ideological worship. Your domination is our salvation.”

Their destruction is not difficult. It takes an embrace of humanity, a support of human identity and desire, a glad welcome of debate and a need to understand and communicate. It takes the humility that says “I share my reality with them and they with me”, the comraderie that says “My fate is tied to this ship”, the wisdom that says “we seek a greater reality for ourselves”.

Do the very thing that the Neocons and Al Qaeda cannot stand. Learn about yourselves and the things that you fear are enemies. Divide victory and defeat as the chaff from the wheat of your identity’s proceeding greatness.

“My greatness lies not in my victories but in my willingness to put my identity into battle. It is not defeat I mock but rather self-righteous withholding.”

Brian (Rucker, that is, not Koontz), the beauty of the dual theories is that either one can be used to justify opposition to military intervention against Iraq (or Afghanistan, for that matter.)

On the one hand, the “Qaeda central control has been severed” theory allows people to argue that it’s pointless to fight terrorists with military means, since the extremist threat is so decentralized and amorphously directed and derives more inspiration than direction from bin Laden.

On the other hand, the “Qaeda central control is still intact” theory allows people to argue that it’s pointless to fight terrorists with military means, since the extremist threat is so robust and agile and impervious to the disruptive efforts of things like bombs and commandos.

Either way, an anti-war position is well served…our military response is either a useless cudgel or an ineffective pinprick.

(My favorite sub-species of this argument: Belli begrudgus, the mumbled support for “justified intervention” against the Taliban immediately and lustily followed by a passionate explanation of how our bombs over Afghanistan only served to worsen our lot and ensure blowback.)

And our military approach seems to be working effectively in what way, would you say? Aside from serving as the best thing that ever happened to al Qaida in terms of motivation and recruitment as well as bleeding America economically and militarily?
Cute quips aside, you’re fucked and you’re too smart not to know it.

Do you doubt – for even two seconds – that Islamist extremists would today be targeting England, France, Spain, and the U.S. even if the invasion of Iraq had never occurred? That our globally-approved operation in Afghanistan would not today be the warrant with which extremists justified their nail-bombings of civilians in a half-dozen countries?

If so, you need to get serious.

In 1993, terrorists first tried to topple the World Trade Center towers because of – umm, why exactly? Do you even know or remember or care? Hint: It couldn’t have been Afghanistan or Iraq.

In 1998, the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were leveled, because of why? If you guessed Iraq, you’d be wrong again, but hundreds of maimed and mangled were just as dead as the victims of atrocities today carried out “in the name of Iraq.”

In 2001, the twin towers were brought down because of – lemme guess, was it our aggression in Afghanistan? Or was it our support for Israel, or our jets in Bahrain, or the fact that Prince Turki attended Georgetown University, or the Crusades perhaps?

You are fucked if you think that al Qaeda’s ever-shifting/ever-mutating “grievances” dictate a rational plan by which the West might safely extract itself from the crosshairs of Islamic extremism.

Since you asked me about the efficacy of military intervention against al Qaeda, I want to throw back at you a lost future that haunts me deeply: Had Richard Clarke been granted the green light for his “Delenda Est” invasion in 1999, bin Laden might have been snuffed in the Hindu Kush and the 9/11 plot with him. We’ll never know, because gun-shy policymakers chose instead to delay the confrontation until we had already paid a terrible price here at home. (Shades of Goebbels’ taunting: “They left us alone and let us slip through the risky zone, and we were able to sail around all dangerous reefs.”)

In other words, one judicious application of military power might well have averted 9/11 and all that has followed in its wake – in much the same way that a French thrust in 1933 would have, as Goebbels later readily admitted, averted World War II. (And while I know that it’s oh-so-gauche to compare Islamic extremism with Nazism, I’ll risk Godwin’s ridicule to make what should be an obvious point.)

War won’t solve the problem of extremist terror. Ultimately, only the maturation of the Islamic world will do that. But in the meantime, we need to do what needs doing to forestall the very real possibility of Middle Eastern fanatics delivering Judgment Day to an unsuspecting city. Richard Clarke looked ashen as he apologized to 9/11 families for his inability to persuade the government to take military action against bin Laden in 1999. Who among us would want to face the Senate and the American people to issue the same apology after a biochemical or nuclear 9/11?

One more thought. Here is some brutal strategic calculus that you need to do for yourself, some game theory in the mold of the most ruthless Nash equilibrium. Let’s play a game:

  1. Let’s say that, in the days after 9/11, you are told there is a 25 percent chance of an apocalyptic terrorist assault on an American city within 10 years, due to a NBC weapon moving from the hands of a state into the hands of a terrorist network.

  2. Now I tell you that a series of large-scale military confrontations will reduce that chance to below 1 percent, thanks to the damage inflicted on regimes likely to be responsible for such a weapon.

  3. Now I tell you that the price for this (other than the obvious costs of the wars) will be the inflammation of low-level extremist violence for a period of the same 10 years, as extremists conduct a campaign of Madrid/London-scale bombings. Under no circumstances, however, will the cumulative casualty toll ever reach the tiniest fraction of the toll from the averted super-strike.

  4. Your call.

And if you think this model is strictly hypothetical, you’d be in for a big surprise.

Of coure the terrorists would still be targetting us, but that’s not the point. If there are more willing suicide bombers because of our actions in Iraq, and there has been no significant headway made against the terrorists, then the war in Iraq has done nothing but make the situation worse for everyone. Your argument amounts to saying it doesn’t matter whether you give a man who wants to kill you a gun, because he wants to kill you whether you give him a gun or not.

That is precisely the point here. We’ve got a non-hypothetical war going on and all reports seem to indicate that the invasion of Iraq (I didn’t say a thing about Afghanistan - that’s a mess that shouldn’t have been as we should have stayed focused on it until the place was rebuilt properly) as being A Very Bad Move.

Preemptive war isn’t any kind of precident we want to be setting. In some ways, hopefully, Iraq’s cured us of any illusions at least in regards to full-scale invasions. Iran’s certainly not worried about us now we’re revealed to be as toothless as we are and displaying toothlessness is, what, the polar opposite of what our “show of resolve” is supposed to accomplish?

Meanwhile bin Laden’s evidently out there and his movement is evidently growing. They’ve got easy targets to practice on in Iraq which, by my lights, seems to be a very much failed state currently propped up by a foreign occupying force and little else. And they’ve got plenty of operatives flooding in to take orders from intermediaries in Pakistan and god knows where else.

Do you really think Iraq accomplished anything positive? It was a fool’s errand from the get go driven by political theorists with precious little grip of the real world (re: CIA “B Team” under Reagan and Bush I) who were led along a primrose path by Chalabi, at best a manipulative Iraqi nationalist of ill-repute and at worst an Iranian asset. And anyone who disagreed with them was shouted down or accused of ineffectiveness. Maybe there was an abundance of caution because they understood where the alternative would take us?

Do you really think Iraq accomplished anything positive?

Yes, certainly in Fouad Ajami’s sense, even though the occupation has been a total travesty.

Look, I’ve got nothing but contempt for the way the administration has handled things in Iraq. But that doesn’t negate the result Ajami talks about – that “every single Arab I speak to insists on the seminal role that the Bush administration has played (in the region’s recent moves toward democratic reform.)”

Either way, we can’t get bent out of shape by Qaeda using Iraq as the latest in a long line of justifications for their carnage. As usual, Blair put it best yesterday:

“Let us expose the obscenity of these people saying it is concern for Iraq that drives them to terrorism. If it is concern for Iraq then why are they driving a car bomb into the middle of a group of [Iraqi] children and killing them?..They will always have a reason and I am not saying any of these things don’t affect their warped reasoning and warped logic. But I do say we shouldn’t compromise with it.”

we can’t get bent out of shape by Qaeda using Iraq as the latest in a long line of justifications for their carnage

That’s not the problem, Dan. The problem is that Iraq strengthens al Qaeda, alienates the moderate Arabs who should be our best leverage against them, and destabilizes the Middle East.


Daniel, Bush could have “played a seminal role in the region’s recent moves towards democratic reform” without a clusterfuck invasion. I don’t think he’s had any “seminal role in democratic reforms”, but even if, it’s not like invading Iraq was a necessary or sufficient condition for that.

Tony Blair is famously good at spinning. That’s how he’s been so successful in British politics. Those unused to him can be lulled into taking his smug sincerity at face value. Here he engages in the clear manufacture of a straw-man argument. Nobody has seriously suggested that it is concern for Iraqis that is driving the terrorists to greater and greater acts of violence. That’s an easy argument to counter because it patently isn’t true. The real argument is that the involvement of Britain and America in Iraq is acting as a catalyst to many a would-be suicide bomber who might otherwise have remained nothing more than an over-zealous young idealist.

That argument is pretty much without a counter, which is why Blair continues to dodge it.

In today’s lead article in the neoconservative mouthpiece Salon, an essayist points out that the Pape “Dying to Win” argument makes no sense when one considers that suicidal Islamic terrorists constitute a tiny, radical movement utterly alienated not just from the West but from its own culture, neighborhoods, and families:

The British bombers and to a lesser degree other takfiris (Islamist militants who adopt Western appearances and behavior as a cover) live surrounded by friends and family who are horrified to learn of their secret activities. (This was true, as well, of some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.) These terrorists belong to small, underground cells and might make occasional trips to Pakistan for training or indoctrination but are, in their home country, opposed to the larger community. Their actions bring their families and friends grief, confusion and shame, not pride and honor…

The members of al-Qaida and its affiliated groups are more alienated than Pape will allow; many of them have chosen an idealized, even abstract community over the real, flesh-and-blood neighborhood they live in. While it’s true that genuine political grievances against the West have won some sympathy for them in the Muslim world, their full political agenda isn’t widely supported in most Muslim nations.

The essayist, Laura Miller, reminds us that so far exactly 43 people have killed themselves in Qaeda suicide missions worldwide, almost half of those in the 9/11 strike alone. (How very easy it is to extrapolate a global “resistance” from 43 cultists.)

It is true that Iraq has provided a convenient avenue for young Saudi Wahhabists to try on their fashionable new marytrdom. It’s also true that these men come to Iraq to detonate themselves amid crowds of children and police recruits and whatever restaurants happen to be street-accessible.

As a student of history, I’m going to join in with the Guardian’s 2004 prediction that even Saudi society is not going to tolerate that bullshit much longer:

In both Egypt and Algeria, militancy followed the same trajectory: the terrorists burst on the scene in spectacular fashion, exploiting long-held and profound grievances, riding a wave of popular support and striking with seeming impunity at carefully selected targets. Their campaign provoked massive and vicious repression by the regimes which destroyed the central leadership of the insurgents. Brutalised and leaderless militants, no longer united in one carefully orchestrated campaign, then embarked on increasingly violent and indiscriminate attacks. The result in Egypt was the killing of 68 defenceless tourists at Luxor in 1997 and, in Algeria, the massacres of thousands of innocent villagers.

Instead of being seen by the general population as heroic warriors defending their interests, the militants became baby-killers whose campaigns were morally repugnant (and very bad for the economy). Their legitimacy – and thus the crucial support from the community that is the key for any insurgent fighter – was gone…

…The results are clear. Collateral damage (i.e. dead Muslims) in strikes in Saudi Arabia last year provoked outrage in much of the Middle East. After the bombs in Istanbul last November, the al-Qaeda offshoot responsible was forced to apologise for the deaths of so many Muslim bystanders. Killing Muslim police officers, guards or soldiers in Iraq or Saudi Arabia is equally unpopular. Ninety per cent of the intelligence reaching Saudi counter-terror specialists, security sources say, comes from disgusted locals…

…The main reason for the failure of the Islamic revolutions in Algeria and Egypt was that most people wanted nothing to do with men who mutilated and maimed innocent people. In the global context, that holds true too. It is the moderation and humanity of the vast proportion of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims - and their reaction to acts like the beheading of Johnson - that will see us through the darkness that lies ahead and take us towards an end to both terror and the war on it.

Further writing by people struggling to understand “suicide bombing” terrorism.

[A View From the Eye of the Storm](]Why do suicide bombers do it?


Haim Harari’s speech was very interesting. But even I (characterized as a raving anti-capitalist) find “power and money” a little simplistic as motivation. One can envision a sort of multi-national Muslim theocratic “shadow government” that seeks to remove democracy and/or “infidel occupiers”, so as to remain in control through corruption.

In any case, it’s good to see some in the West are genuinely trying to understand the enemy.

Also, I have to admit it is somewhat relieving to see how, even with the horror coming out of Iraq on a daily basis, the occupation may yet prove a good thing.

What do you think? Is this WWIII?

I took a while to reply to Daniel’s post because I really wanted to consider his last arguments. I think I agree that it’s not purely a nationalistic liberationist drive that’s what’s motivating the terrorists. But, as the very reviewer he quotes points out, a religious ideological fundamentalism. However, I think where al Qaida does get its support in various communities is spawned by a sense of liberationism and nationalism. Look at the hotbeds where the fighters coalesce and train. Afghanistan, Kosovo, Chechnya, Kashmir, Iraq, etc. There you do have locals supportive of their operations. Why would Britains offer to become suicide bombers? Because they’re young, confused and alienated? Possibly. But they seem to have relatives and friends that are quite assimilated and so what’s different here? I’d say that as long as al Qaida’s recruiters have sales pitches that are convincing around the West’s attempts to dominate Islam you’re going to have “idealists” buying in.

It’s also probably worth noting that the review was hardly a ringing endorsement of neocon ideology. It accuses the Religious Right as being cut from the very same stock as Islamic terrorists in reaction to a modern world they don’t understand and that overwhelms them with ideas they just can’t integrate very well. And I think there’s something to this, it reminds me of a very interesting book called On Being America that I read a year or two ago which advanced the very same premise about modernism, along an American model, both tempting and alienating foreign cultures hugely and creating all kinds of stress. It suggested a middle way, we should stop insisting every culture follow our rules (largely economic rules imposed by the World Bank and IMF) and let them develop markets and democratic systems their own way. I seriously doubt the author would have embraced the neocon notion of democracy by force as a sensible solution - it only gives strength to reactionaries and those who feel disempowered and overwhelmed by an alien system.

Ultimately, if I can understand rational justifications for resenting western corporate-consumer culture and feel revulsion about how we’ve historically handled our affairs in the middle east I think it’s only applying Occam’s Razor to think that maybe others might be using those issues as fodder for their own much more serious resentments. And some of those folks, certainly a minority, seek justification for radical violence against the perceived agents of this in religious dogma. People from a host of cultures with a host of grievances, some nationlistic and some ideological, find an umbrella in the notion of brotherhood that underlays Islam. Just as we’ve historically found excuses for violence in the idea of a “free world”, or in another epoch “christiandom”, which was largely defined in terms of capitalisic free markets for our own mongers and solicitors rather than the freedom of the serfs living under the ruling castes of our allies in the developing world.

As for the article about Saudi society, I think you’re painting that a bit optomistically even in light of the cited article:

It is too early to start cheering. The picture is uneven. For every individual turning against terror there is probably someone who is now convinced that force is the only way to ‘resist the West’. The cold truth is that the invasion of Iraq seriously set back the ‘war on terror’.

Terrorist strikes are only justified - in the eyes of many Muslims - if they are part of a last-ditch struggle against an aggressive West set on humiliating and dominating Islam. Our governments seem to be going out of their way to prove that this is the case. Every incident like Abu Ghraib, every dead civilian in Baghdad and every Israeli tank shell fired on the Gaza Strip makes it easier for the militants to claim convincingly that their campaign of violence, repugnant to so many, is legitimate. The al-Qaeda ideology is still flourishing and strong in many, many parts of the world.

I’d go even farther than the author of this article. Islamicist violence was already on its way out before 9-11. The attacks on the United States were generally concocted as a response to the failed uprisings in Algeria and Egypt. Had we limited our response to attacking al-Qaida’s bases in Afghanistan and then properly rebuilding the country to serve as an example of our good intentions, a country that harbored the terrorists who attacked us rebuilt into a democratic and modernized society which could thrive - is there a more generous symbol (and a more pratical one in terms of a stable state for us) in Islamic symbology? While we hear all the time about charities used as conduits for funding terrorists the reality is there are thousands of well-funded Islamic charities because giving is such a cornerstone of the religion.

But no. Because of a host of reasons we diluted our efforts there to pursue schemes laid out decades before by political theorists with strong ties to Likud. They, in turn, use intelligence shilled by what appears to have been an Iranian asset with motives of his own to justify their own predisposition for an invasion of Iraq. Opposition, skepticism, is shouted down. A fiesty and fearful American public wants to punch somebody more substantial out for 9/11, and the media doesn’t only have its finger on the pulse but seems to share the circulatory system entirely.

And so here we are. Al Qaida may be on life support but I’d say we’re the ones who bought them the machine.

Here’s a pretty good encapsulation of the discussion about the motive forces behind Islamic jihadism.

The “what-we-do vs. who-we-are” debate over the extremists’ motivations pits scholars like the Frenchman Olivier Roy, author of “Globalized Islam,” against experts like Mr. Cole; former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, who led the hunt for Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s; and the University of Chicago’s Robert Pape. The principal petri dish in which their views have formed is the war in Iraq.

For Mr. Roy, a sociologist at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris, it is a vision of a dominant global Islam at war with a democratic and globalizing West that drives Islamist extremists. In that context, he says, Iraq is a convenient propaganda tool for recruiting young Muslims, including their Westernized and disaffected brethren, but it is not central to the Islamist ideology.

On the other hand, Mr. Pape says in his new book, “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” that it is not so much religion but US policy that drives Islamist violence. He concludes that the presence of US forces in Muslim countries, as in Iraq, increases the likelihood of another 9/11.

One problem with faulting policies is that it doesn’t explain why stances that have long been unpopular in the Muslim world did not result in violence before now. “For a long time, some of our policies have angered people in the region - such as decades of support of Israel - and that didn’t spark the kind of violence we’re seeing today,” says Martha Crenshaw, a terror expert at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.

Like Ranstorp, Professor Crenshaw sees something closer to a combination of the two explanations for the violence. “This is not a spontaneous attraction of anti-American values, but a continuity that in some eyes, for example those of some young Muslim men, is being verified,” she says. “In effect they are seeing an ideology that seems more and more right because of events - such as the US going in to Iraq.”

Michigan’s Professor Cole says he agrees that the Iraq war is “irrelevant” to the leaders who formulate and profess the Islamist ideology, but he says it is not at all irrelevant to the local constituencies that would act as the leaders’ foot soldiers.

“The ideology is a kind of software that can be installed in certain people’s minds,” he says. “The question is whether we are helping or hurting the recruitment drive.”

It may be that the young Muslim men who are willing to carry bombs for a cause are not so much full of hatred of Western values, but disappointed that they have been drawn to them - only to find, whether they are in Cairo or Leeds, England, that the door is shut. In any case, says Cole, the war in Iraq is “poor” counterterrorism. In his view, it is creating more foot soldiers for global Jihad rather than fewer.

I think I’m in the “it’s both” category but I tend to agree more with those who think we shouldn’t prove extremists right by attacking countries willynilly or demeaning our own respect for the rule of law and value of human lives and rights. Leave that to the terrorists.

Did the Bushies let Bin Laden get away? Well, it is hard to fight a war against an idea without an active boogieman

In a forthcoming book, the CIA field commander for the agency’s Jawbreaker team at Tora Bora, Gary Berntsen, says he and other U.S. commanders did know that bin Laden was among the hundreds of fleeing Qaeda and Taliban members. Berntsen says he had definitive intelligence that bin Laden was holed up at Tora Bora—intelligence operatives had tracked him—and could have been caught. “He was there,” Berntsen tells NEWSWEEK. Asked to comment on Berntsen’s remarks, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones passed on 2004 statements from former CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks. “We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001,” Franks wrote in an Oct. 19 New York Times op-ed. “Bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Berntsen says Franks is “a great American. But he was not on the ground out there. I was.”

Irresponsible and unaccountable. Your White House.