Sunday, July 03, 2005

Why is al Qaeda alive and well?

On September 11, 2001 I watched the twin towers of the Wold Trade Center collapse on TV, killing thousands of Americans. My first thought was, "God help the people who did this," because I knew that we would track whoever did this down and destroy them.

Boy was I wrong.

Three and a half years later, al Qaeda, the organization that attacked us, is doing fine. Their leadership is intact, they frequently attack U.S. troops, they launch periodic successful attacks against civilians, they have plenty of recruits and their leader, Osama bin Laden, is a hero in the Islamic world.

We have everything we need to demolish al Qaeda. There are nearly 300 million Americans. We control most of North America. We have allies all over the world. We have the finest military ever seen. Following 9/11 we had unprecedented international support. Why hasn't al Qaeda been destroyed? Because the conservative Republican power elite that controls the U.S. government failed to mobilize America and failed to focus our firepower on those who attacked us. It turns out that liberal Democrats are much better at this sort of thing.

In December of 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, destroying much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Liberal Democrats controlled the Presidency and Congress. By the summer of 1945, Japan and her ally Germany lay utterly defeated; their armies and fleets smashed, their cities reduced to rubble, and millions of U.S. soldiers occupied their land. All without an insurgency in sight. Furthermore, the U.S. gained the gratitude of the world, and, after wisely rebuilding Germany and Japan, even the respect and admiration of their defeated enemies.

In September of 2001 al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington D.C., destroying the World Trade Center and seriously damaging the Pentagon. Conservative Republicans controlled the Presidency and Congress. In the summer of 2005, al Qaeda and their Taliban allies are alive and well. They have been pushed out of most of Afghanistan and lost much of their middle management and a lot of foot soldiers, but their leadership is intact, they can easily replace their losses, their videos and webcasts find a large, appreciative audience throughout the Islamic world, and they launch frequent, successful attacks against U.S. forces and allies. The U.S. is reviled world wide, accused of gross human rights abuses, regarded as a bully, and has completely lost the high moral ground. In one opinion poll China, a brutal dictotorship, had a more favorable rating than the U.S.

How is it that in the same length of time, a bunch of liberal Democats could be so successful at war and conservative Republicans perform so poorly?

Perhaps al Qaeda is a tougher enemy than Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan? Hardly. Germany conquered most of Europe and Japan took most of Asia. In late 1941 they were the preeminent military powers on this planet. By contrast, the Arab world hasn't conquered anything in centuries. They haven't even been able to destroy Israel, a mere 300 miles long and 70 miles wide with only a few million people. Furthermore, al Qaeda is only a tiny fraction of the Islamic World, never numbering more than a few tens of thousands. Comparing Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to al Qaeda is like comparing a fully equipped battalion of U.S. Marines to a pissed-off little old lady with a cane.

The Republican power-elite like to say al Qaeda is just too hard to find, too elusive, and that's why they are alive and well three years after 9/11. Baloney. I imagine the dog ate their homework too. Al Qaeda is alive and well because the current administration spends ten times more resources on Iraq than on chasing al Qaeda, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

The reason liberal Democrats won the Second World War and conservative Republican failed to do the same against a much weaker enemy is that Franklin Delanore Roosevelt (FDR) mobilized the whole nation and focused all our energies on victory. In response to 9/11, George Bush told us to 'go shopping' and lost focus on al Qaeda within a couple of months.

FDR, an extremely liberal Democrat, called on the whole nation to sacrafice to win the war. A day after Pearl Harbor the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany and Japan and a commission was formed to investigate Pearl Harbor. Thirteen million men went into the military. Millions of women replaced them in the wartime factories, every family raised a victory garden, the rich paid more taxes, oil and metal were rationed. It was a huge national effort and we won.

What did conservative Republican Bush call on the nation to do in 2001? He told us to take vacations and then doled out tax cuts. The Republican controlled congress never declared war on anything. The Bush administration fought tooth and nail to avoid a 9/11 commission, although they eventually lost. Worse, Bush declared war not on al Qaeda, but on terrorism. Al Qaeda can be destroyed. It's members can be killed, its bank accounts seized, its camps destroyed, its allies driven from power. You can't kill terrorism, you can't blow it up. It's a noun.

Earlier wars on nouns, the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs, have been dismal failures. After decades, there's still plenty of poverty and lots of drug use. Neither of these 'wars' will ever end and the war on terror will go on forever as well. How do you make war on the Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh (two home-grown American terrorists)? You don't. You arrest them, try them and punish them (which the Clinton adminstration did). The Republicans haven't convicted anyone of anything related to 9/11.

The U.S. did one thing right. We took the magnificant army bequeathed to the nation by Clinton and the Reagan/Bush administrations and seriously damaged the Taliban regime, al Qaeda's primary ally, in Afghanistan. But before the dust settled the best troops, the most troops, the most money, and the most attention immediately shifted to Iraq. Only one problem, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

So instead of ruthlessly persuing al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and finishing them off, instead of pouring tens of billions of dollars into Afghanistan to turn it into a stable, democratic country with the rule of law, instead of building on the tremendous international support for our Afghan invasion, the Republican power elite invaded Iraq. The result: today Afghanistan is a mess, the Taliban are resurgent, and U.S. troops there have lost much of their initial popularity. Afghanistan today shows signs of becoming another disaster like Iraq.

Having failed to truly mobilize America to the task at hand, the Republicans compounded their error by forgetting who attacked us and who didn't. America attacked Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. While the liberation of Iraq was popular with Iraqis since we got rid of Saddam Hussein, the subsequent occupation has been a disaster. The bulk of the U.S. Army and Marines are tied up in a viscious insurgency that shows no sign of ending and we have lost the gratitude of ordinary Iraqis as their relatives are killed and their homes destroyed by U.S. firepower. It doesn't help that thousands of Iraqis are imprisoned by mistake, isolated from their families, and occassionally tortured. Gratitude turned into hatred everywhere except Kurdistan, which, not coincidentally, was never occupied by U.S. troops.

Not only is Iraq a massive distraction from destroying those who attacked us, the Iraq war is an ideal training ground for al Qaeda and generates plenty of recruits. Before the current Iraq war, the U.S. military seemed invincible. Now al Qaeda knows how to fight us. The Iraq insurgency, which includes al Qaeda troops, has successfully fought America to a standstill. The insurgency controls large pieces of territory and even parts of the capital Baghdad. They have the initiative, attacking when and where they choose. No place is safe from them. The war is going very badly for us.

Even worse is the gift the Iraq war gives to al Qaeda recruiters. Reports suggest that they actually turn suicide bomber recruits away because they have too many to use. It's a safe bet that the next al Qaeda attack on the U.S. will be carried out by Iraq veterans.

What to do?

First, declare war on al Qaeda. Better late than never. Then do whatever it takes to destroy Osama and his allies.

Second, like we did in Germany and Japan, spend whatever it takes to turn Afghanistan into a wealthy, stable democracy. This will be very expensive and worth every penny.

Third, in the next couple of U.S. elections take control away from the conservative Republicans that so monumentally screwed up the war. Failure should have consequences.

Fourth, declare clearly that the U.S. will not stay in Iraq. Then get out as soon as there is any chance of the elected government surviving.

Fifth, remove our troops from the Mid-East and put the money saved into replacing oil with energy sources we control.

Finally, the next time someone attacks us, never turn aside until they are demolished.


Blogger Rich McClellan said...

Hi Al!

It's nice to have found you.

Your essay on al Qaeda is interesting but there are a few problems, IMO.
1. Be careful comparing/contrasting the fight against Japan and Germany (and Italy) since they showed up on a battlefield wearing uniforms representing a nation. Fighting al Qaeda is closer to fighting a guerilla war, organized crime, or drug smugglers. It is difficult to measure progress when fighing an unconventional enemy like al Qaeda. We can't point to a map and show how the front has moved, cite armies annihilated, or government representatives captured.
2. Mobilizing the US to fight al Qaeda isn't necessary and wouldn't do much to increase our chances of squashing it. As you wrote, our military is good enough to conquer nations that harbor them. A better move is to strengthen (and not weaken) our intelligence services.
3. Invading Iraq was a potentially brilliant move, but true to G. W. Bush's character, it was done without much planning or thinking things through and the result is a disaster.
4. Holding the Republicans politically responsible is a good idea, but what about criminally responsible? They've misapproriated funds to prepare for war, lied to the Congress to get an authorization vote, and encouraged guards to use interrogation techniques that are illegal. Heads should be rolling.

6:43 PM  

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