Stern on Iraq and terrorism
August 21, 2003 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Chaos in Iraq is breeding support for terrorists. This is a refreshingly lucid piece by Jessica Stern on the situation in Iraq. Stern has also written recently on al Qaeda's protean nature. She is the author of Terror in the Name of God, and apparently she was the inspiration for Nicole Kidman's character in The Peacemaker.
posted by homunculus (15 comments total)
If terrorists (as opposed to 'terrorists') did bomb the UN headquarters, I find it especially ironic that Bush accidentally walked into actually telling the truth about the occupation for once, not to mention created a situation in which he can draw a post facto rationalization of the war.
posted by ~rschram at 12:45 PM on August 21, 2003

not to mention created a situation in which he can draw a post facto rationalization of the war.

Yeah, because the areas of Iraq ruled by Saddam were terrorist hotbeds before the US arrived. I like this take:

"Whoever is running that country has allowed it to turn into a hornet's nest that threatens the stability of the Middle East, and with it, the safety and security of the United States, and of the world."
posted by riviera at 1:12 PM on August 21, 2003

The author does makes a statement that makes me question her judgement:

"Most ominously, Al Qaeda's influence may be growing. It has been linked to attacks as far apart as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Morocco."

Exactly the opposite is true.

Those were amateurish attacks executed in countries that have been lukewarm in pursuing their local jihadists. And because they killed mostly local muslins, these attacks have greatly lessened support in all those countries for Islamic terrorism. In short, they are rather desperate measures taken by people who are losing, not winning. You have to have some very serious blinders on to see anything else.

From the article, it doesn't appear that the author has actually been to Iraq lately. Her sources seem to almost all be moderately anti-US intellectuals in London - is it any surprise that they see only failure?
posted by Jos Bleau at 1:58 PM on August 21, 2003

We've probably created far more terrorists in the past two years than we've ever faced in the last two hundred. And the harder we try to crush them, the more we create.

This should be obvious to anyone in a position of political significance. This greatly contributes to my notion that the primary agenda here is not what the Bush administratoin claims it is.

"The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."
posted by joquarky at 2:09 PM on August 21, 2003

And the harder we try to crush them, the more we create.

Um, any evidence, other than Star Wars?
posted by ednopantz at 2:25 PM on August 21, 2003

Um, any evidence, other than Star Wars?

Isn't Star Wars evidence enough?

"but i was going to toshi station to pick up some power convertors!"

posted by chrisege at 2:35 PM on August 21, 2003

I'm so confused. Help me out; we defined who the enemy was, based on fallacious evidence of our own (allies included) manufacture. We attacked the enemy, and defeated them. Now the enemy continues to fight, but they're not the enemy now, they're terrorists. The sylogism is clear, whoever resists us is a terrorist. So Stern is pretty much right on target. Terrorism will (has been on the) increase because we've put more people in the position of resisting us. No blinders needed. I can see quite clearly that we are swelling the ranks of terrorists just because we want them to swell. We define it, and so it goes.
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:52 PM on August 21, 2003

Those were amateurish attacks...

Saudi Arabia. Indonesia. Morocco.

I see...
posted by y2karl at 3:07 PM on August 21, 2003

Where "refreshingly lucid" means "doesn't disagree with my already ascertained point of view", of course.

For counterpoint, see this OpEd which posits just the opposite: that we're seeing increased assaults on soft targets now because the attempted "Mogadishu strategy" has failed, and the would-be insurgents are getting desperate.

I'm more inclined to believe that.
posted by jammer at 3:54 PM on August 21, 2003

you will notice that in all three cases, those were regimes in denial. Look at how much faster the Jakarta bombing investigation has moved compared to the Bali investigation. It took weeks for them to admit that they couldn't handle it and bring the Aussies in. This time, they started off with Australian help. The organizer of both is in US custody.

The Saudis have finally recognized that yes, they do have a problem, and their crackdown is pushing thousands of angry men with bad beards to flee the country for, among other places, Iraq. Will they be warmly welcomed and be able to hide? Who knows?

However deadly, Bali was comparatively amateurish: 2 car bombs a couple of blocks away? Kenya and Tanzania were far more sophisticated operations, to say nothing of 9/11. Bali was about as deadly as K&T, but no one was saying that the sky was falling then. These guys may very well have peaked.
posted by ednopantz at 5:55 PM on August 21, 2003

jammer, from that editorial:

We've taken the War Against Terror to our enemies. It's far better to draw the terrorists out of their holes in the Middle East, where we don't have to read them their rights, than to wait for them to show up in Manhattan again.

Flaws in this argument -- a variation on the post-facto 'flypaper' theory -- fall into a number of camps: one, the notion that there's a defined number of 'terrorists' that can only go down as you shoot them, and that using Iraq as a game of Counter-Strike with live ammo will frag 'em all. Two, and related to this, the notion that the foreigners who've packed up and gone to Iraq would have gone to Manhattan otherwise. Three, the notion that having soldiers and civilians used for target practice and demolition duty is just fine as long as it happens 'over there'.

In short, calling a bunch of killers 'desparate bastards' doesn't make the people they've killed any less dead. Claiming an increased body count as a mark of success -- because 'we've got them where we can get them' -- also smacks of Monty Python's Black Knight.

The funny thing is that the US knew that such arguments were bullshit back in the 80s, when they poured funds and weapons into Afghanistan while jihadis went there from round the world on the equivalent of a Gap Year. The longer the US could sustain Afghanistan as a jihadist's playground, the more likely it was that the influx of people who joined the conflict because it was there -- rather like people who'd never pick up a top-shelf mag in WH Smith's but can peek all they like at
posted by riviera at 6:18 PM on August 21, 2003

jammer, from that editorial:

In Iraq, we can just kill the bastards. And we're doing it with gusto

FYI, this is a classic chickenhawk statement (absolutely useless except for its insulting potential)
posted by magullo at 4:57 AM on August 22, 2003

We've probably created far more terrorists in the past two years than we've ever faced in the last two hundred. And the harder we try to crush them, the more we create.

Go read a history book.

This article almost begs the question. But what is amazing is people really don't know what questions to ask. Nothing or very little will change until iraq gets a standing army. What they need is a secret police....right, to root out all those terrorists, saddamistas, and other assorted riffraff.

they need a secret police (intelligence;)
so, when they get one and they start lining saboteurs along walls and shooting them, what will the world say then. "WE SET THEM UP WITH SECRET POLICE?, MY GOD IS THAT NOT WHAT THE U.S. FOUGHT FOR, TO RID SADDAM..."

Stern mentions the "Protean nature" of al-qaeda and others. hmmm, that was boring and it reminds me of this piece
posted by clavdivs at 8:40 AM on August 22, 2003

I raise the question of "What, in Iraq, will be enough?"

There are a thousand, ten thousand criticisms that things aren't *Canadian* enough in Iraq *right now*. That only when Iraqis are acting like *Canadians* will everything be all right, because *anything* less is "chaos". Not Saudi, or Egyptian, or Kuwaiti, or Israeli enough, but *Canadian* enough.

Phrased in those terms, you see the nonsense of the argument. For example, compare the "violence and death" of Iraq with, let's say, Los Angeles. Just pure numbers, a gang banger's gun no different from a Baathist sniper's rifle. Iraq might be more deadly, but by how much, really?

Will Iraq be more like Los Angeles when they put as many violent criminals in prison as does Los Angeles County? When Iraq has a government like Los Angeles? When they manage their own affairs and it's neither better nor worse, just government doing what a good government does: cleaning up trash, policing the streets, providing water and power somehow, and helping to keep small business doing business?

How boring, how dull, and how peaceful and prosperous.
But *these* are the criteria of what "success" will mean in Iraq.

Will there be a big neon sign saying "All is good in Iraq now!" No. And will you believe things are going well even if you are taken there, and showed around town, unless there are Canadian flags everywhere?
posted by kablam at 9:10 AM on August 22, 2003

However deadly, Bali was comparatively amateurish: 2 car bombs a couple of blocks away?

You are confusing warblog model airplane builder thinking--talking about weapons systems, ordnance and throw weights--with politics. The comparative size of the explosions doesn't mean jack shit. Smaller and simpler doesn't mean amateurish. (And what the hell is the difference between an amateur and a professional terrorist? This amateur talk is spin, propaganda...) The bombings at Tanzania and Kenya, for all their size and execution, were hardly a blip on the American radar screen during the Get Clinton years. It had to take a hit on our soil to get us to finally wake up and smell the coffee.

Terrorism is creating terror--fear. The bombing at Bali had a real impact on Bali, a Hindu enclave in Muslim Indonesia, by destabilizing an economy idriven by tourism. It had a real impact in Australia. It created fear and doubt. It rallied the Islamist troops. Your argument is along the lines of See! Those trailers for generating hydrogen for artillery balloons were the smoking biolab WMD gun! Strictly Chickenhawk-head-in-the-sand wishful thinking.

It doesn't matter because I say so is your way of being in denial. The attack in Iraq, like that in Bali, was a raging success--it put fear into people. That's why they call it terrorism.
posted by y2karl at 9:38 AM on August 22, 2003

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