A Little Further Yet?
A Los Angeles Times story suggests that Pakistan, not Iraq, is the primary source of danger to the West.
Unlike Iraq, where foreign fighters plunge quickly into combat, recruits in Pakistan are more likely to be groomed for missions in the West. Aspiring holy warriors drawn to the Pakistani-Afghan border region today include European converts and militants from Arab, Turkish and North African backgrounds, investigators said.
"Pakistan worries me more than Iraq," a top Belgian anti-terrorism official said. "It's true that Iraq scares them a bit because many of them end up getting strapped up with the explosive belt right away. In Pakistan, they have time to be trained as operatives."
So was Barack Obama right when he threatened, as reported in the London Times, to take unilateral action against Pakistan and attack "high value" targets? One thing to consider is that only part of the problem is physically in Pakistan. There's a whole conveyor belt leading in and out of Western Europe. The LA Times continues:
But the path is not straight or easy. In the German case, at least a dozen suspects meandered among Koranic schools in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, then traveled through Iran into Pakistan. Several suspects were detained by Pakistani authorities en route to training camps, their seemingly improvised, sometimes amateurish odysseys contrasting with their alleged ferocity. ...
Even if many teachers and students are not violent fundamentalists, Arabic and Koranic schools in the Middle East are classic gateways of radicalization for European Muslims. German suspects also attended such schools in Saudi Arabia and Syria and roamed in Turkey, investigators say, drifting abroad for months at a time. ...
"It's impossible for them to cross Iran without help," the Italian anti-terrorism official said. "I think it implies support from the Iranian authorities." The attitude of Shiite Iran toward Sunni Al Qaeda has been ambiguous. Iranian authorities have arrested some Al Qaeda figures and protected others, seeing the terrorist network as a useful weapon against the West, anti-terrorism officials say.
The pathway to Pakistan wends through intermediate sites, each amplifying the aspirant's radicalism is with variations repeated for the different countries of Europe.
Success against the Taliban in 2002 drove al-Qaeda from its base in Afghanistan. That was a great victory yet it merely relocated them across the border onto fertile ground, where it has fastened onto a social fabric rife with genuine grievances against the corrupt and authoritarian Musharraf regime. The US now seems to be enjoying some success in Iraq, but would even victory promise? The LA Times story suggests that the ratlines already exist just beyond American reach in Iran and snake their way onward to Pakistan.
The false debate over whether US military action should have taken place in Iraq or in Afghanistan obscures the fact that no matter where conventional military action is employed there will always be one more country, one more failed state, one more sanctuary to which the Jihad's terror training camps can move. With the Third World full of failed or failing states, there's no shortage of places which Islamic radicals can simply destabilize by rerouting their funding and redeploying their killers. If Pakistan were lost Africa or Central Asia would provide places in which to relocate their training camps.
That raises the question of whether Pakistan -- or any place like Pakistan -- is really ever the center of gravity at all. Pakistan, even if invaded, subdued and cleaned up at great cost, is an ultimately replaceable asset to the Jihad. The real center of gravity may be the intellectual centers of radicalism, based in the "religious" schools of the Middle East, Europe or America or on the Internet; it may lie in the funding networks that are basically sustained by oil revenues; it may exist in Muslim ghettos of Western Europe, agitated by a mixture of leftist ideology and Wahabism. That may be the center of gravity, the real beating heart of the terror system.
The American political debate over the "War in Iraq" suggests a fundamental desire to avoid remembering that on September 11 the nation embarked on a "War on Terror" and not simply war in a particular place. It was probably unpleasant to realize that seriously addressing the roots of terror would require generating "all the sources of national power" -- and that meant the end of business as usual. It meant challenging the "schools" and ideologies that some have held beyond question; abandoning valued business partners; giving up the self-hatred that some have perversely characterized as "patriotism".
Pakistan may be the problem today. But if we send men into Waziristan, the Jihadis can still move to Eastern Pakistan, and Africa and Central Asia and ... We can forever continue our journey never reach the destination until we come to the place where it all begins.