by Austin Bay
October 11, 2005
Perhaps senior Bush administration officials thought
establishing a democratic Iraq would be quick work. In an essay I wrote for
the Dec. 9, 2002, issue of The Weekly Standard, I described what I thought a
very difficult path to peace:
"Pity Gen. Tommy Franks or, for that matter, any American
military commander tasked with overseeing a post-Saddam Baghdad. For in that
amorphous, dicey phase the Pentagon calls 'war termination' ... U.S. and
allied forces liberating Iraq will attempt -- more or less simultaneously --
to end combat operations, cork public passions, disarm Iraqi battalions,
bury the dead, generate electricity, pump potable water, bring law out of
embittering lawlessness, empty jails of political prisoners, pack jails with
criminals, turn armed partisans into peaceful citizens, re-arm local cops
who were once enemy infantry, shoot terrorists, thwart chiselers,
carpetbaggers and black-marketeers, fix sewers, feed refugees, patch
potholes and get trash trucks rolling, and accomplish all this under the
lidless gaze of Peter Jennings and Al Jazeera."
Crammed with the nitty-gritty of governance and economics, the
sentence ends with a caustic reminder of the importance of media
October 2005: Peter Jennings has passed away, Al Jazeera is
still with us -- though arguably less antagonistic since the Iraqi
presidential election of January 2005. The terror war within Iraq continues
to pit terrorist hell against democratic hope. A multitude of economic and
governmental challenges linger.
But current combat in Iraq is not simply the result of slapdash
postwar planning. The United States has two strategic goals that have taken
years to mesh in terms of political, economic and military operations.
Goal One: engage Al-Qaida on military and political battlefields
in order to destroy its claim to "divine sanction" and to "speak on behalf
Goal Two: seed development of modern, democratic states in the
politically dysfunctional Arab Muslim Middle East.
Achieving both goals defeats Al-Qaida. Goal Two is a
multi-decade project. Reaching it requires sustained, courageous effort, but
Iraq's January election and its constitutional process are signs of
progress. Sensational carnage and "expert pessimism" dominated the
international media's January election coverage. Despite the dour
predictions, Iraqi voters responded, waving ink-stained fingers -- a
terror-defying demonstration of political change. Al Jazeera didn't miss it.
Military defeat in Afghanistan dealt Al-Qaida's claim of "divine
sanction" a hard blow.
However, smashing Al-Qaida's claim to act on behalf of "all
Muslims" is far more complicated than killing or arresting terrorists.
Undermining its megalomaniacal appeal meant exposing it as the inhuman,
ungodly Mass Murder Inc. it is. The optimal outcome would be to expose
Al-Qaida as a threat to Muslims and detrimental to the best ideals of Islam.
When Al-Qaida's zealots blow up trains in Spain or subways in
London, those are attacks of their choosing conducted on "infidel terrain."
The genius of the war in Iraq is a brutal but necessary form of strategic
judo: It brought the War on Terror into the heart of the Middle East and
onto Arab Muslim turf. In Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's theo-fascists have
been spilling Arab blood, and Al Jazeera has noticed that, too.
Arabs have also seen the Iraqi people's struggle and their
emerging political alternative to despotism and feudal autocracy.
Zarqawi's murder spree has revealed fissures among Al-Qaida
fanatics. Last week, the United States released a letter coalition
intelligence believes Al-Qaida's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, sent
to Zarqawi. Zawahiri describes Iraq as "the greatest battle for Islam in our
era." But Iraq has become a political and information battle that Zawahiri
realizes Al-Qaida may be losing. According to The New York Times, Zawahiri
told Zarqawi to attack Americans rather than Iraqi civilians and to "refrain
from the kind of gruesome beheadings and other executions that have been
posted on Al-Qaida websites. Those executions have been condemned in parts
of the Muslim world as violating tenets of the faith."
In February 2004, Zarqawi acknowledged a democratic Iraqi state
would mean defeat for Al-Qaida in Iraq. To defeat democracy, he has pursued
a strategy of relentless, nihilistic bloodbath. It's a brutal irony of war:
In doing so, he is losing the war for the hearts and minds.