The declassified NIE excerpts
Now that parts of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) have been declassified for the public they highlight not only the physical battlefields of the War on Terror but also their propaganda effects. For example, the potential growth in the Jihad comes from perceptions which create "self radicalized cells"; just another name for men whipped into a rage based upon what they hear or read about American's evil actions in the world.
- Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion. (page 1)
- We assess that the operational threat from self-radicalized cells will grow in importance to US counterterrorism efforts, particularly abroad but also in the Homeland. (page 1)
Therefore the greatest threats come not from the battlefield but from places that read about the battlefield, and in particular the Muslim populations of Western Europe who are steadily angered by what they read about Iraq.
- The jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests. Extremist networks inside the extensive Muslim diasporas in Europe facilitate recruitment and staging for urban attacks, as illustrated by the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London bombings. (page 1)
Although Afghanistan is the battlefield closest to al-Qaeda cells believed to be hiding along the Pakistani border, it has a relatively low value as an inflammatory issue. What drives Jihadis into action is outrage over Iraq. However, not Iraq by itself but rather two out three possible perceptions about Iraq. The NIE excerpt specifically suggests that two perceptions: that America is oppressing Muslims and/or "losing" in Iraq would inflame Jihadis. The third perception -- an Iraq viewed as a victory for US policy would actually dampen down the Jihad.
- The Iraq conflict has become the cause celebre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight. (page 2)
- We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train, and obtain logistical and financial support.
The reason that a successful effort in Iraq would have such a damaging effect on the Jihadi cause goes beyond the "strong horse" effect. A working democratic Muslim state (one both democratic and Muslim and different from a Western democracy) would strategically damage the Jihad because it has no proven program for social, political and economic advancement. Sharia law is -- get this -- "unpopular" with Muslims, except perhaps with extremists in Western Europe. The greatest fear of Islamic extremists is that Iraq might succeed. Therefore on no account must it succeed or be perceived as succeeding.
- The jihadists. greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution.an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari.a-based governance spanning the Muslim world.is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists. propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade. (page 2)
Thus, the vulnerabilities of both America and the Islamists are largely in the realms of perception. Insofar as the kinetic battlefield are concerned, the contest seems to have been one sided. The al-Qaeda has been taken to the cleaners. Their top echelons in particular have been decimated. They therefore have turned to Iraq to find a new lease on life, something that has been highlighted by critics. Without Iraq, so the argument goes, the Jihad would already have been history. The counterargument lurking in the NIE is that defeating the Jihad involves more than liquidating al-Qaeda; it critically requires a demonstration that democratic Islamic progress is a superior alternative to Sharia law.
The other issue raised by the NIE is the danger that the "self radicalized" Western Muslims may be empowered by the technology and battlefield methods developed in Iraq for possible application in their home cities.
- We judge that most jihadist groups.both well-known and newly formed.will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics. (page 3)
The threatened spread of battlefield technology is real. But there is worse to come. Because even IEDs lack sufficient punch, the Western Jihadis aim to inflict real damage on the West by aiming to acquire terrorist WMDs. And the suggestion is that Islamic militants radicalized by Iraq may then be used by hostile nations as proxies to attack Western Europe or America.
- CBRN capabilities will continue to be sought by jihadist groups. While Iran, and to a lesser extent Syria, remain the most active state sponsors of terrorism, many other states will be unable to prevent territory or resources from being exploited by terrorists. (page 3)
It is curious that Afghanistan, which once roused a worldwide Jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s (attracing Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri) has been overshadowed by Iraq, despite the fact that it is the "home" of al-Qaeda. This is probably because Iraq is the "big news". But there's no reason why Afghanistan shouldn't regain its status as cause celebre once Iraq leaves the news. Iraq is a cause celebre because it is the plat du jour. It seems implausible that the Jihad's list of causes should be so short. In fact, as we will see later, the invasion of Iraq was not necessary at all to provoke the attack of September the 11th.
Nor is Iraq the only place where the Jihad can obtain combat experience for use against Western targets. While there is no denying Iraq is a valuable source of combat experience, in the past such training was provided in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kosovo and Lebanon. And it still is. In fact, Afghanistan threatens to reprise its role another school for Jihadi combat experience independent and concurrently with Iraq. Unless combat between the Islamic rebels and US-led forces were to cease altogether, there is no reason to think the supply of trained fighters would dry up if Iraq were not available.
It is worth mentioning that Iraq was a cause celebre before it was a cause celebre. What motivated Osama Bin Laden to order the destruction of America in 1996 was the UN sanctions and the No-fly zone put in place by George H. Bush and William J. Clinton. Osama's fatwa specifically condemns William Perry! not Donald Rumsfeld in what was effectively the death warrant of the World Trade Center and the USS Cole. Among the grievances cited in his Fatwa was the defilement of Saudi soil by the American force gathered to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. In short, the provocation that brought down the World Trade Center was not Operation Iraqi Freedom but Operation Desert Storm.
Those youths will not ask you (William Perry) for explanations, they will tell you singing there is nothing between us need to be explained, there is only killing and neck smiting. ... O William, tomorrow you will know which young man is confronting your misguided brethren! A youth fighting in smile, returning with the spear coloured red. ...
The crusader army became dust when we detonated al-Khobar With courageous youth of Islam fearing no danger If (they are) threatened: The tyrants will kill you, they reply my death is a victory I did not betrayed that king, he did betray our Qiblah And he permitted in the holy country the most filthy sort of humans. I have made an oath by Allah, the Great, to fight who ever rejected the faith ...
The youths hold you responsible for all of the killings and evictions of the Muslims and the violation of the sanctities, carried out by your Zionist brothers in Lebanon; you openly supplied them with arms and finance. More than 600,000 Iraqi children have died due to lack of food and medicine and as a result of the unjustifiable aggression (sanction) imposed on Iraq and its nation. The children of Iraq are our children. You, the USA, together with the Saudi regime are responsible for the shedding of the blood of these innocent children.
It may be that no adequate substitute can be found for Iraq, either as a propaganda cause or a training ground for Jihadis; and that therefore it would be in American national interest to withdraw from it, on the argument that no alternative cause celebre can be found. Against that proposition should be set the NIE judgement that success in Iraq would weaken the radical Islamist cause and that therefore an American failure would boost the Jihad. This reveals the deep interplay between perception and battlefield kinetics that runs through the NIE excerpts. As a kinetic battlefield Iraq is neither the first nor the last over which America and its enemies will struggle. There is nothing inherently unique about it. What is singular is the mechanism that generates favorable perceptions for the Jihad from any battlefield. The system that energizes the Jihad from any battlefield that is input into it; that turns every battle against radical Islamism into a cause celebre is a much more general threat. Unless some means is found for delinking the process of fighting terrorism from the process of radicalizing Western Muslims, there is no particular gain from abandoning Iraq, unless one were prepared to abandon every other active battlefield. What is the sense of removing one load of grist if the mill keeps on running? Consequently the one thing the Press left out of discussing the NIE, which heavily emphasizes the role of perception, is the role of the Press itself. Iraq the battlefield -- with its success and failures -- is largely what the combatants have made it. Iraq the symbol is largely the manufacture of observers. Both are factors in the War on Terror.
In judging the effects of perception versus reality the key issue is which is controlling, perception or reality? Because if perceptions can be formed independent of reality, then it really doesn't matter what you do: the only thing that matters is what people present. In this specific case, Osama bin Laden explicitly accuses American-enforced UN sanctions in the nostalgic era of containment of killing 600,000 Iraqi children. Whatever one may think of Kofi Annan, the Oil for Food Program or the sagacity of President Bill Clinton, it is doubtful whether those sanctions caused the death of 600,000 children. Because if that were true, then obviously OIF, if it achieved nothing else, stopped a genocide of historic proportions. But despite the fact that nothing of those sort of deaths happened, reality didn't matter. That Osama bin Laden perceived 600,000 children to have died in Iraq was enough reason to condemn America to death. Osama's fatwa is a clear example of perception making reality unnecessary. No adjustment in policy, no alteration of reality could have changed the picture for Osama because he was receiving his transmissions from an alternate universe. And for so long as he believed that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children were being starved by America, that perception was enough to cause September 11 no matter what anyone did. Hence, any solution to the problem of the chronic and seething anger of the Islamic world has to address the question of how perception can depart so completely from actuality. If reality by itself doesn't matter, then the root of today's world crisis must partially lie in the way we generate our perceptions.