August 15, 2006:
How goes the war on terror? For many people, there is no agreement on how to measure progress. Many Americans are content that there have been no more attacks in the United States since September 11, 2001. But for many others, the losses in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen as a defeat. Iraq, in particular, is a contentious issue. The main disagreement is that the U.S. government says the Iraq invasion was essential to bring the battle to the terrorist heartland. In that it succeeded. Most of the terrorist activity in the world has been in Iraq since 2003. But most of those attacks, while fitting the usual description of terrorism, are, for the most part, carried out by Sunni Arab nationalists, trying to regain their control of Iraq, and subjugation of the majority Kurds and Shia Arabs. The Iraqi violence triggered al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia. That is considered important, because Saudi Arabia has been the major source of Islamic fundamentalist recruits and money for al Qaeda. That has declined, partly because so many Islamic militants went off to Iraq and got killed, or survived and returned disillusioned.
The removal of Saddam Hussein, and his Sunni Arab minority dictatorship, certainly upset a lot of people, and not just Middle Eastern despots who saw themselves as the next target. But Iraq also upset a lot of people in the West who believed that Western troops in Iraq just aggravated Moslems and "created more terrorists." Not much agreement on whether that is a valid point, or even how to measure it. On one side of the argument, it's pointed out that the number of terrorist recruits had been growing for over a decade before September 11, 2001. It comes down to those who believe the terrorists will eventually go away, and all we have to do is use police methods to keep them at bay until they do. But the other argument is that there is something rotten in Arabia, and something has to be done about it. Many Arabs agree.
Opinion surveys indicate that a lot more Moslems are a lot more pissed off at infidels (non-Moslems) since the invasion of Iraq. But these enraged folks are not getting to the source of their hatred. Moslems are mad at their own inability to govern themselves efficiently. Al Qaeda began as a movement to remove Moslem tyrants from power. But the numerous Moslems killed by al Qaeda terror in Iraq has caused a sharp drop in al Qaeda popularity. Except in Europe, where 20 million Moslems, angry at bad treatment by xenophobic Europeans, cheer on Islamic terrorists.
But in the United States, there has been much less enthusiasm for violence among Moslems. Thus, there's a lot of smoke, and not much fire, when it comes to American counter-terrorism operations at home. For example, the United States has compiled a list of 200,000 terrorist suspects and called it the "no-fly list." These people are not allowed to fly. But this list has not led to a single terrorist arrest. Since September 11, 2001, American counter-terrorism agencies have arrested about 1,200 people as terrorist suspects. None have been convicted of any terrorist links. Some 400 people have been charged with being terrorists, but only ten percent of those have been convicted of anything.
Much progress has been made to interrupt fund raising by terrorist groups. Information gathering in European and American Moslem communities has increased enormously. That, however, put the spotlight on an issue that, previously, was largely ignored. Namely, that there a lot of angry Moslems in Europe. Angry mainly at the fact that Europe, unlike the United States, does not welcome immigrants, and make it easy for them to become part of their new culture. At the same time, many Moslem migrants were not interested in changing much. Would these angry Moslems have been less angry if Saddam Hussein had still been ruling Iraq? No one can agree on that.
What there is some agreement on is that the Moslem world has some serious internal problems that have stymied economic growth and the development of honest and efficient government. Most Moslem nations are run by unelected, and often corrupt, rulers. Everyone agrees it would be a swell thing if this sad state of affairs could be put right. So far, there has been no general agreement on solutions. Those who believe in democracy are opposed by Islamic conservatives who consider democracy to be un-Islamic. While Islamic conservatives want to chuck the tyrants out, they also want to replace the secular dictators with religious ones. Sharia (Islamic) law, and rule by the clergy has already proved itself not much better than secular despots. However, one cannot debate this point, as it is based on religious faith.
There have been two Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe since September 11, 2001, and many Europeans blame this on the American presence in Iraq. But American blame the Europeans for not staying on top of their own problem with Islamic radicals, and not backing the United States in its effort to take the battle to the enemy. Europeans tend to admit that the invasion of Afghanistan was justified. But that's not the source of Islamic terrorism, just the place al Qaeda was able to flee to after all other nations had shut them out. It's Arabia where most of the bad guys, and their money, comes from.
Getting general agreement on the impact of the Iraq operations will take years, perhaps decades. And that's the way it usually is when a war is fought in the shadows, against an enemy who lives among us, and is trying to scare us into admitting defeat.