Sunday, December 13, 2009

Stratfor says the jihadists are losing

George Friedman of Statfor argues that while the US is in an uncomfortable position in the Middle East, its adversaries, that he describes as Jihadists (I'll follow his convention just for convenience here) are in a much more uncomfortable position. I think he misreads the Jihadist's goals to arrive at this conclusion.

The basic argument is that attacks against targets in countries whose regimes are supportive of the US increase the repression against anti-regime groups in those countries. By this argument, the attacks that the Jihadists have been able to launch have made their movement weaker. Friedman misses that the Jihadist war really is a huge asymmetric war of attrition - waged between people who live in the region and people far away.

First, Friedman misreads the goals of the Jihadists. The idea that the Jihadists have as a tangible goal the creation of a Caliphate is commonly held but just simply and bizarrely wrong. I've never heard anything remotely resembling that from any of the mainstream spokespeople of the resistance camp. The Jihadists are fighting against the US and Western direct and indirect interference in the leadership of their region. There were anti-Apartheid fighters who dreamed of a communist state - others dreamed of a united Africa. But what they were fighting was White rule in South Africa. What would come after was infinitely less important.

The 9/11 attack, and before that the decision to attack US targets, was not aimed, directly, at overthrowing pro-US regimes. There were moral and strategic components to the attacks. Morally, strategy aside, there was the emotional idea that the US should be directly punished for the harm it does to Muslims in the Middle East. Strategically, the idea was that by increasing the cost of the US position in the region, it is possible to make continuing to influence the region prohibitively expensive, thereby causing the US to leave.

The moral goal was achieved. Americans have lost family members the way Egyptians have lost family members to the authoritarian Mubarak regime that Barack Obama is so fond of. The US is not secured from the repercussions of its policies by its distance. The US has been able to, at manageable but non-negligible expense, intercept and prevent further attacks so far, but there are also elements of luck and unpredictability to that. Possibly another attack will succeed next year. If not, the US is spending money preventing the next attack that it is not spending on other US priorities.

The strategic goal has not been achieved. What is the limit that the US is willing to spend to ensure that there will always be a Jewish majority state in the Middle East? Whatever the limit, we are closer to it today than we were in August 2001. So progress has been made towards that goal, even though the goal has not been attained.

To understand role Israel as a Jewish state plays in the Middle East, it is helpful compare it to the very similar case of White South Africa. White South Africa was not accepted by its neighbors and because of that it and its supporters had to expend resources in many ways for White South Africa to remain politically and militarily dominant over those neighbors. White South Africa's peculiar strategic requirements made civil war in neighboring countries valuable in themselves because energy and attention consumed in those wars would not be directed at challenging White South Africa. Legitimate leadership, any leadership that followed, for any reason, the sensibilities of the people ruled were a threat to White South Africa anywhere in the region. Supporters of White South Africa made resources available to opposition movements and anti-legitimate rulerships throughout the region to prevent legitimate regimes from taking power.

This is not to say the only US interest in the region was the protection of the White state. This is not to say that without the White State, a Utopian nirvana would immediately be reached. Neither of these has to be true for White South Africa to be the most important driver for regional discord while it existed. White South Africa very clearly was the single most important driver for discord in its region. Post democracy majority Black South Africa has no need for a nuclear monopoly, for civil wars or for illegitimate regimes ruling the other countries of the region. There was a lot of misery spread throughout White South Africa's region in the interest of ensuring that a White State could remain secure.

There are over 200 million people in states that figure in Israel's nearby strategic calculations. Many of these people live under US-supported authoritarian dictatorships. Those who do not nearly all suffer from US-organized attempts to at least sabotage their economies. This is a cost that simply would not have to be borne but for the protection of majority status for about 5 million Jewish people in Israel. What these Jewish people are being protected from at the expense of everyone else in the region is the fate of White people in South Africa - meaning a negotiated settlement that leaves them with their property and rights intact but without a political majority.

The Jihadists have raised the cost for the United States of protecting Israel's Jewish majority. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan are part of that cost. The fact that the US' options are limited in preventing Iran from attaining a nuclear weapons capability is part of that cost.

As an aside, while Iranians are Shiites ,Al Qaeda is Sunni, and much is made of the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, the religious Sunni man who killed Sadat is a national hero in Iran. The most important dispute in the Middle East is not between Sunni and Shiite, but between the accommodationist parties and the resistance parties in the Middle East. I've seen Iraq's government described as Shiite accommodationists, though I don't make that charge yet myself because it is not clear how much leverage the US will be able to maintain in Iraq for how long. There are many Sunni groups in the resistance camp, including the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and Hamas in Palestine. The important dispute, the single most behaviorally predictive dispute in the region, is a direct result of differing reactions to the universally unpopular proposition in the region that there should be a Jewish majority state in Palestine.

So the question remains, have Jihadist attacks brought the world closer to a realization by the US that it can no longer afford to fight over 200 million non-Jews in the region to prevent a one-state solution? The US has not reached that realization yet, but it is difficult to think of a reasonable argument that the US is not closer to that realization today than it was in early 2001.

Another question - have the Jihadist attacks been the best strategy to reach that end? I believe non-violent protests, up to and including civil disobedience in the US and other countries of the West would work much better, especially at this point because the goals of the Jihadists are not widely understood in the West - that is a problem much more efficiently solved non-violently than violently.

But Friedman's contention that the Jihadists are losing misreads and overstates the case. They haven't won yet, but they are fighting a different battle than the one Friedman thinks they are fighting and they've made progress over the last decade.


lidia said...

"I believe non-violent protests, up to and including civil disobedience in the US and other countries of the West would work much better"

There is a lot of non-violent protests in the West Bank, some of it even made into mainstream media.

But I suppose that Hizballah (and even Hamas) were more sucsesful in subverting Zionist gegemony in the ME.

Arnold Evans said...

What I meant by that sentence is that sustained campaigns of non-violent protest in the West would work much better than violent attacks in the West.

The specific reason is that non-violent protest can go longer and advance a message more effectively before being quashed by Western security services.

As evidence that my above statement is wrong, the US would not have invaded Afghanistan or Iraq in the wake of any amount of non-violent protest - which means the strategy of increasing the cost of US involvement in the region would not have been as successful has it has.

Also to the degree that there was an emotional impulse for revenge, that impulse would not have been satisfied by non-violent protest.

At this point though, the invasions have happened and the cost of intervention has gone as high as it can plausibly go. Now the next step of actually getting Israel's Western supporters to decide to alter their support, I believe, is most effectively achieved non-violently.

I also assert that the project of ensuring Israel keeps a Jewish majority is so dependent on Western support that it is not viable if that support wanes.

But there is certainly a different dynamic in Lebanon and in the occupied territories. There is an entirely different discussion of the role violence and the capacity to credibly threaten violence plays in and around Israel itself.

I have not given issues of violence in the Palestine area enough thought to meaningfully criticize what the people there are doing now.

lidia said...

"I also assert that the project of ensuring Israel keeps a Jewish majority is so dependent on Western support that it is not viable if that support wanes."

yes, of course.

sunni groom said...

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