The Zawahiri Tape
Power Line thinks al-Qaeda is having a rough time of it, and Ayman al-Zawahiri's video, which describes their travails in Iraq and elsewhere is clear proof. The Zawahiri video with subtitles is shown. The video is worth watching in detail to get more than a superficial sense of Zawahiri's message. Here was how I heard it:
Zawahiri reminds his listeners of the establishment of the Caliphate-in-exile "which everybody applauded"; but bitterly notes that some of those who once clapped now opposed the Islamic State of Iraq "because it is not empowered", which I can only take to mean "in declining fortune". But never fear, he now claims, the "wind is blowing against Washington". Then he digresses and excoriates the Saudis, contrasting the way they sent the youth for Jihad into Afghanistan and but now have forbidden young men to go into Iraq; and who Zawahiri accuses of working tirelessly on behalf of the Americans to deliver Muslim lands into the hands of the Jew! He then switches to a audio clip from a commander who asks why he is getting no reinforcements, why Muslim scholars are hanging back from endorsing their struggle. At this point in watching the video, I realized that although the idea of the "moderate Muslim" may be laughed to scorn by conservatives, the concept was real to Zawahiri at least, as a bitter and galling reality. He seemed disappointed that the Ummah was not prepared to go as far as he.
The degree of despair can be gathered from the video's choice of metaphor. The Al-Qaeda tape compared the Muslim debates over whether or to follow it's lead in the Jihad to the idle discussions within Constantinople over how many devils could stand on the tip of a pin as the Muslims were battering the walls with catapaults -- except this time the roles were reversed. It was the hated Americans were doing the battering and the bickering Muslims who were counting the devils upon the pins. Even allowing for hyperbole, the choice of metaphor does little to convey confidence.
His commander exclaims "May Allah pluck your eyes out if you don't come an join the Jihad!". Quite a line that. It might be that al-Qaeda has been missing its recruitment targets lately and this video is the equivalent of the America's "Army Strong" pitch, except in this case it is more like Jihad On It's Last Legs.
Zawahiri urges the "youth" to hurry to Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Palestine and the Atlas Mountains. Support through propaganda (books and cassettes) are not enough. What he needs are sandals on the ground.
As to his boys in Iraq being too "unempowered" for recognition, Zawahiri ask bristlingly whether the Islamic State of Iraq could be any weaker than the Jihadis in Gaza, who only exists he says, at the sufferance of Israel and who commute to the West Bank only after consenting to a search? He asks if those semi-prisoners of Israel can be a government, why can't his boys in Iraq be given the same standing? (These passages were immensely revealing, because they frankly conveyed the fact that despite their bluster, and the media's amplification of it, the bald truth was that mighty Hamas and Fatah lived only because Israel let them. Whether the Israeli hand was stayed from decency or fear of Western political correctness is an open question, but clearly not out of a fear for Palestinian firepower, which Zawahiri can hardly conceal his contempt for. Indeed, Zawahiri goes on so long and hard against Palestine and Hamas that I strongly suspect he dislikes the spotlight on Gaza and the West Bank because, were he frank enough to admit it, it is a competitor for resources for his own project, the Islamic State of Iraq. Shorn of his holy Joe attitude, and Koranic pretensions, what Zawahiri is actually talking about is money, just like a used car salesman. The message is gimme, gimme! This is a better model than that Gaza jalopy you've paid so much for. Gimme.
Zawahiri then goes and declares how pure the al-Qaeda in Iraq is compared to Hamas, how unstained by innocent blood. He says this with a straight face, but his whiskers have me at a disadvantage. Then having denied any misdeeds, he makes the extraordinary offer to submit the Caliphate's leaders and men to Muslim judicial proceedings -- some kind of Islamic International Criminal Court -- strange that the Brussel's ICC's writ runs so short that Zawahiri doesn't even consider it from across the Mediterranean Sea. And my guess on hearing these words is that Zawahiri is feeling the heat, despite his disclaimers of innocence and heading off the complaints about al-Qaeda's bloody tactics in Iraq. He is saying "I promise to cooperate fully with any investigation". That would be the way it would be phrased in Washington. Then he claims is being wronged by the Mainstream Media, which reserves favorable coverage for those bozos Hamas when they are thugs, while his pure warriors are depicted as baby-killers by ignorant correspondents.
Zawahiri's explains that al-Qaeda's counterattacked in Iraq was to save it from the defeat which overtook Afghanistan. He says so plainly. He saw it -- initially at least -- as fundamentally defensive in character; a blocking action to an imminent American threat. And in my opinion, his great fortune lay in that Iraq was so close, to the sources of his Arabian manpower pool that he was able generate a much greater force than has been possible in Afghanistan. And yet despite the advantage of fighting in the heart of the Arab World he was running out of recruits, which is the entire point of his whole video. Maybe the American strategy of turning the Sunnis against the al-Qaeda has had international repercussions on his recruiting. Word is filtering back to other Arab countries that al-Qaeda is the enemy; that it's not all it was cracked up to be when it could be viewed from the romantic distance of Afghanistan. Up close it was ugly. In an indirect way the battlefield has produced what diplomacy was supposed to and could not. It has alienated al-Qaeda from some of its Sunni base. If I am right, it's a thunderclap. And I suspect I am right because right aferward Zawahiri waxes poetic on the great "conquests" of Islam. The attacks on the embassies, on the USS Cole. September 11. Attacks in Europe. But he has no victories to offer after that. Except one. Political victories in America. He offers a clip from Thomas Kean saying that America is facing a tough challenge as if to underscore how the winds are now turning against Washington, though the winds blow from Washington itself. Zawahiri then plays clips asserting that al-Qaeda has grown to Pan-Islamic power, with cells everywhere, even in London. (Interestingly enough, one of the reasons his cited experts give for al-Qaeda's increasing strength "is not just American policy" but the repressive policies of Arab governments. The same people our "realists" want us to rely upon once we withdraw from Iraq.) His cited experts say that if al-Qaeda can drive America from Iraq then not only will al-Qaeda's stock rise but those of Arab governments will correspondingly decline. But he fears those governments still and in his last statements warns of cryptic dangers "outside of Iraq", to pefidies of all types and I wonder whether he meant Iran.
I think anyone who has the time should watch the video in its entirety. Especially Senators, though I doubt they have the time. Zawahiri is not a man who exudes the air of a winner. The entire 23 minute segment shows a man who seeking comfort from past glories, is agonizing over a quagmire, worried he is losing international support, and whose army is breaking down from overstretch.