Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Flypaper, Supply, Demand and the Economics of Jihad

From the Boston Globe:

Study cites seeds of terror in Iraq

WASHINGTON -- New investigations by the Saudi Arabian government and an Israeli think tank -- both of which painstakingly analyzed the backgrounds and motivations of hundreds of foreigners entering Iraq to fight the United States -- have found that the vast majority of these foreign fighters are not former terrorists and became radicalized by the war itself.
However, interrogations of nearly 300 Saudis captured while trying to sneak into Iraq and case studies of more than three dozen others who blew themselves up in suicide attacks show that most were heeding the calls from clerics and activists to drive infidels out of Arab land, according to a study by Saudi investigator Nawaf Obaid, a US-trained analyst who was commissioned by the Saudi government and given access to Saudi officials and intelligence.

A separate Israeli analysis of 154 foreign fighters compiled by a leading terrorism researcher found that despite the presence of some senior Al Qaeda operatives who are organizing the volunteers, ''the vast majority of [non-Iraqi] Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq."
But the impact of the foreign fighters has been enormous. They are blamed for the almost daily suicide attacks against US and Iraqi forces and have killed thousands of civilians, mostly members of Iraq's Shia Muslim majority. Their exploits have been responsible for much of the headline-grabbing carnage recently, contributing to the slide in American public support for the war.
Other fighters, who are coming to Iraq from across the Middle East and North Africa, are older, in their late 20s or 30s, and have families, according to the two investigations. ''The vast majority of them had nothing to do with Al Qaeda before Sept. 11th and have nothing to do with Al Qaeda today," said Reuven Paz, author of the Israeli study. ''I am not sure the American public is really aware of the enormous influence of the war in Iraq, not just on Islamists but the entire Arab world."
For example, while the unprovoked attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were largely condemned by clerics as violations of Muslim law, many religious leaders in Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations have promulgated fatwas, or religious edicts, saying that waging jihad in Iraq is justified by the Koran because it is defensive in nature. Last October, 26 clerics in Saudi Arabia said it was the duty of every Muslim to go and fight in Iraq.

''These are people who did not get training in Pakistan or Chechnya, [and they] ended up going to Iraq because they considered defending Iraq a must for every Muslim to go and fight," said Rita Katz, director of the Search for International Terrorist Entities Institute in Washington and an Iraq native.
One indication that a heightened degree of Arab solidarity is a leading factor is that they are almost entirely Arabs and not Muslims from other countries, such as those who volunteered to fight in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. Another motivation, the studies and analysts contend, is the centuries-old struggle between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam. All the foreign fighters are Sunnis, according to the analyses, and many of their targets are Iraq's majority Shia Muslims, who have gained political power in Baghdad for the first time in hundreds of years.
Intelligence officials worry that some of ''Iraq alumni" will use the relationships they build on the battlefields of Iraq and return to their home countries as hardened Islamic terrorists.
The CIA's National Intelligence Council concluded in a report earlier this year that ''Iraq and other possible conflicts in the future could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills, and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are 'professionalized' and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself."

Analysis: I’ve never been a big fan of the “flypaper” theory in Iraq and this article points out some of the flaws in that thinking. Afghanistan was flypaper in the 80’s and look where that got us. This article points out some interesting cultural undercurrents at work that I’m not sure we understood before the invasion.

The nature of the Sunni-Shia split was an underestimated factor. Killing infidels has a double meaning for Sunni Jihadis. If you’re a radicalized Sunni, you can go to Iraq and get the chance to kill Americans and Shia, a Jihadi two-fer. Plus, the murder of Shias has a twisted religious legitimacy attached to it. Not only are you attacking the infidel invaders, you’re also defending the “true” faith. It’s not really murder if I blow up a bunch of Shia kids, right?

I never really looked at it this way until it started happening. I knew that that Saddam’s regime had repressed the Shias, but I thought that had more to do with internal politics and the fear of Iran’s influence over the Shia population. I didn’t know how deep the animosity ran throughout the Middle East.

That type of strife is foreign to me. I was raised a Methodist. We might have had ideological differences with the Catholics down the street (too much kneeling and not enough fried chicken), but we weren’t making suicide vests in the church basement either. The Sunni-Shia split is like the troubles in Northern Ireland on crack and speed.

And this means continued problems for Iraq. The insurgents don’t have to kill Americans to win the perceptions management battle. All they have to do is keep murdering Shias to create a climate of instability and illegitimacy for the Iraqi government. A steady flow of foreign fighters insures the continuation of violence. A future-martyr from Saudi Arabia is only concerned about his own heavenly rewards. He doesn’t have to worry about the future Iraq that he is helping to create. A native Iraqi has a better chance at realizing what’s at stake for his and his family’s future. So stopping the flow of foreign fighters is key.

Of course, stopping the flow of foreign fighters is no easy task. You certainly don’t solve it by invading other countries like Syria. That just widens the playing field—and not to our advantage. So how do you stop the flow of Jihadis into Iraq? Border control and operations against recruiter cells in supplier countries certainly helps. But, we spend billions trying to secure our own borders against illegal immigration and drugs, and don’t have much to show for it.

Drugs and Jihad have one thing is common: Demand=Supply. There is a demand for martyrs and willing supply throughout the Arab world. I don’t think the call to Jihad is that much different from our country’s own experience in war. In the Civil War, joining the fight was preached from the pulpit in abolitionist churches. Going to war was God’s work. Later, during WWII, those not in uniform were castigated. Our current war is the first fought largely without that societal pressure so I think that we’ve forgotten how powerful it can be.

The pressures that our society created to fight also lead to the creation of big rewards for veterans. WWII vets are honored with the mantle of “Greatest Generation”. Imagine the power of this label, and witness the bitterness of the Vietnam generation at being robbed of similar glory.

Now imagine what is at work within the Arab world. There is a call to glory and sacrifice. The pressure and rewards within the context of their culture are great. A generation of young men is heeding the call. So how do we get ahead of this? How do influence the Arab world to get beyond the cult of murder?

First, we attack the demand. We must meet our objectives in Iraq and leave as quickly as we can. We can’t cut and run, but we can’t linger either. As long as we are “occupiers” then we’re creating demand for the Jihad.

Next, we address the hopelessness of the Arab world. I would never consider going to a foreign land to commit a murderous suicide. So why does that appeal to so many Arab men? We have to bring all our country’s resources to bear on this problem—economics, diplomacy, education, and whatever else Western culture can muster.

Finally, we need to examine what caused our own lack of understanding of the forces at work in Iraq. In the future, we need to fight smarter.


At July 20, 2005, Anonymous Tony Zbaraschuk said...

One should note that Anglicans (the predecessors of Methodists) and Catholics were executing each other four hundred years ago... we've changed a bit since then, of course.

At July 22, 2005, Blogger Joe Katzman said...

Afghanistan was flypaper in the 80’s and look where that got us.

The collapse of the Soviet empire?

Second, you note the Shia-Sunni issue, withut grasping its moral significance. Let's see... Sunnis preach hate and send terrorists to kill Shi'a, in order to keep them down and terrorize them (all they're missing is burning crescents on front lawns) - and WE are somehow in the wrong and should leave? What the fuck?

How about instead, we need to bring the government of Iraq up to full proficiency, make it clear that states who continue to collude in sending these people will face real consequences (like noting to the Saudis that they have a substantial Shi'a minority on the oil coast, and they wouldn't want to see those people begin to radicalize...), and support the Iraqi Kurds, Shi'a, and Sunnis of goodwill come what may so Islam's version of the Klan ends up losing.

The mentality that sends these people is the same mentality of thwarted supremacism, violence, and fanaticism that will send more 9/11 style bombers over the long term, driven by the same golden chain and promoters of religious hate. They will always find justifications for hate, oppression, and evil - and I don't care about their justifications. I do care about doing whatever ultimately proves necessary in order to crush them, and not just in Iraq.

And you might consider what happens over the longer term if things in Iraq truly do become Sunni (20%) vs. Shia (60%) and Kurds (20%). Many Sunnis are making just that calculus - and they may not know the story of General Custer, but they get the idea. If the Sunni population becomes hostile territory for the foreigners whether through fear, al-Qaeda's unbelievably inept "hearts and minds" strategy, or other means, the Supply/Demand equation you note begins to break down.


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