Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Scheuer: Why Al-Qaeda Won the Lebanon War

Yesterday, in announcing the launch of National Interest online, I called attention to Michael Scheuer's piece and his thesis that Al-Qaeda is the ultimate beneficiary of the recent fighting in Lebanon.

Here's an excerpt:

"Al-Qaeda and its allies benefit most from Hizballah’s defeat of the IDF; Israel, after all, was the first to yell uncle and look for un help. Al-Qaeda itself, and its supporters and admirers, already believe they have won the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where a diverse, often heterogeneous assortment of insurgent organizations have taken the American military’s best shot and have not only survived, but thrived. Those insurgents are now on the offensive against U.S. forces that they know are too small to prevail and will not be massively reinforced.

"Still, Sunni insurgents expected to beat the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda and its allies rank the bravery of U.S. soldiers far below that of its Red Army adversaries, as well as what they regard as the savagery of the Israeli military. Thus, the IDF’s defeat, with the emerging insurgent Iraq and Afghan victories, delivers to the world of Islamic militancy—Sunni and Shi’a—a singularly important message: Islam’s Afghan-jihad victory in Afghanistan was not a fluke. Alongside the USSR notch carved into the militants’ AK-47 in 1989 are now notches for three U.S. defeats—9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq—and three major Israeli defeats, Lebanon (2000), Gaza, and Lebanon (2006). The powerful, all-but-paralyzing myth of Israeli and U.S. military invincibility that once dominated Muslim minds now lies in smoking ruins."

The entire article is worth a read.

The interesting question is whether this does reinforce what I've discussed earlier, about the comparisons with the Crusaders--that the radical militant jihadis feel they can win a long-term war of attrition.

The comparison with the Christian Crusades is correct; it was a war of Christianity against Islam (as opposed to the earlier war(s) of Islam against Christianity.

Here we have entered the phase of a religious war of Judaism against Islam (supported by mostly English-speaking Christians).

Yes, in the long term Muslims will win (>50 years): internally already Northern Israel is pre-dominantly Arab and Muslim, East Jerusalem is not safe for Jews, etc.)

Externally, the Jewish State's military edge is eroding: there is no effective defense against ballistic missiles; for example.

Once the two-state solution is recognized to be impractical to implement the Palestinians will ask for the one-state solution the Jewish State (as the state of Jews) will be over.
An important part of projecting power is the image of strength and invulnerability. Over the last five years, Arabs have seen that assymetric tactics work if they are willing to take the losses and that if you can force your enemy out of his hi-tech bubble into having to fight you one on one you can inflict damage.

Recent developments have discredited the "moderates" who argued that Israel and/or U.S. could not be dislodged and so it was better to compromise and salvage something from the situation.
If Al-Qaeda's objective is to change Arab perceptions about US power, it has been doing a good job. If it's about establishing a pan-Islamic caliphate, not so good. Iran is 9/10 Shi'ite, and Iraq, with its 2/3 Shi'ite population ascendant, looks like the Sunni Arabs will get the short end of the oil dipstick there. Bahrain is another oil state currently under minority Sunni rule, where its Shi'ite population could be emboldened. And Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Hizbullah success (victory? I want to see how it goes a few years down the line before I come to conclusions) is also a coup for the Shi'ite cause. So you have a sizeable core of Shi'ites in power, sitting on a huge pile of gas and oil, with a budding nuclear program.

Mr. Sheuer makes an intriguing counterintuitive argument, but I think he is too quick to dismiss Iran and the Shi'ites in the Middle East power game.

Your points are right on target. BUt I am reminded of that old Arab proverb, I against my brother, my brother and I against my cousin, I, my brother and my cousin against the stranger. Pakistani Sunni extremists can lead pogroms against their Shi'te neighbors while simultaneously praising Nasrallah and Hezbollah.

Intra-Muslim rivalries matter but I think that outsiders have less ability to manipulate those cleavages. Israel has never been able to get any leverage by appealing to Shi'ites, for example.

Right you are. But there are many occasions in history when various parts of the Islam nation made nice with Christians to fight their Muslim brethren. Think, for example, Iran cooperating with the Great Satan against the Taliban.

Then there was the help you were accepting in Iraq from Tehran, until you intercepted those Iranian arms shipments to the Paleastinians.

It ain't easy to figure out, that's for sure.
Depending on what we consider Schuer's point to be, his argument may be insightful, or it may be misleading.

If it's pointing out that Western forces have failed to exterminate Arab militants, and that Arab insurgencies - like other insurgencies, can win attritional wars on their own territory, he is right, but this is not a new realization.

However, he frames it as "Al-Quieda and militant Islam are winning the war against the West", then he is misleading. I don't see exactly how terrorist attacks have brought the US government to the brink of collapse.

When you notice that all these "wars" we "lost" our on the territory of Arabs, rather than our own territory - well, *that* suggests a rather different frame, both for the overall military balance, and also for the picture we paint of our own civilization under siege from Islam. Why are all the wars in Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, if we're always the ones being aggressed?

The powerful, all-but-paralyzing myth of Israeli and U.S. military invincibility that once dominated Muslim minds now lies in smoking ruins."

To the extent that this ever existed, it lay in the leaders and soliders of conventional Arab armies fighting head-on wars, and I think it's very applicable today, as the performance of Saddamn Hussein's conventional forces in 2003 demonstrates. I don't think Islamic militants have ever considered us invincible.

On the other hand, I think that organizations such as Al-Quieda and Hamas, who have been directly targeted, have a healthy respect for our ability to kill them. That doesn't translate into surrender.

that the radical militant jihadis feel they can win a long-term war of attrition.

They're right to feel that way when "win" means "survive". Because they when survival is victory, then can win. Once their survival appears to be no longer at immediate stake, as for Iran in the 90's, they open their eyes and look around at the world, and realize they have no hope of "winning" in any larger sense than controlling the territory of their own populations.

Jordan Willcox '02
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