Way back at the beginning of this war, and continuing through tomorrow, we have debated how to win the hearts and minds of the people of the Middle East. I have always viewed this discussion as important, but perhaps ultimately unknowable, because as Machiavelli loves to remind us, these things are all about winning and losing. The war, not the debate.
During the Cold War there was an endless discussion about our enemy, just as there is today. Back then, the main question was: are we fighting a global movement (international communism), and its attendant ideology, or are we fighting an imperial state (the Soviet Empire)?
I am not sure we know the answer today. But we do know that when the Soviet Empire fell, communist ideology was discredited. That is why, in “The War Against the Terror Masters,” I argued that we shouldn’t worry so much about “exposing the evils of radical Islam” as about winning the war. I said that nothing is more devastating to a messianic ideology than the defeat of the messianic leader. And so it seems to have been in Iraq.
Yes, I know it isn’t really over yet. I know–I insist–that we are fighting a regional war, and that we must still contend with Iran and Syria. However, we have defeated al Qaeda and al Mahdi in Iraq, and that’s a huge event. I am sure that the jihadis are having more trouble recruiting volunteers, because that’s the way it works.
For quite a while now, Nibras Kazemi has been one of the keenest analysts of the Iraq situation, and he’s written a serious essay about it. His blog, Talisman Gate, has an excerpt, although you really will benefit from reading it all.
Here’s the excerpt (the last paragraph says it all):
My paper on the failed jihadist attempt to resurrect the caliphate in Iraq was published online today, [cue trumpets and cymbals] so without further ceremony, here it is:
The Caliphate Attempted: Zarqawi’s Ideological Heirs, their Choice for a Caliph, and the Collapse of their Self-Styled ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ (opens up as a PDF document).
Here are a few paragraphs from its conclusion that may give you all a feel as to its relevance:
It has been the purpose of this paper to demonstrate that not only did al-Zarqawi (who was killed in June 2006) and his successors choose to turn Iraq into a battleground on their own initiative but that they subsequently chose Iraq as the incubator for their grand vision of a unified Islamic empire under the aegis of a ruling caliph. They did so without instructions from or consultations with the traditional leaders of Al-Qaeda hiding out in the Hindu Kush Mountains. Rather, they presented the jihadist world with a fait accompli: the Islamic State of Iraq, thereby capturing the imagination of a new generation of jihadists who were already enthralled by the alleged victories of the Zarqawists in Iraq.
The Zarqawists believed that they were winning at the time when they declared their state, taking the gloomy forecasts of an American ‘quagmire’ and ‘defeat’ in Iraq, as peddled by the U.S. media, as a sign that they were about to turn a corner in the war. As far as they were concerned, there was no greater service to Islam—not even ‘Servitude of the Two Holy Shrines’ of Mecca and Medina—that would compare with what the jihadists were proffering in Iraq, a distinction that ranked them as the elite and vanguard of a victorious Islamic regeneration. The merit of a successful jihad, waged against the world’s greatest power, earned them the authority and responsibility for resurrecting the caliphate, since they alone were the rightful ahl ul-hel wel-’aqd of their time…Their ‘state’ would be the “real caliphate” once again, set to expand under Muhammad’s own banner from the very heart of the Dar al-Islam, from ancient Baghdad and its environs; a venture far more ambitious and daring than a marginal emirate within the remote folds of the Hindu Kush.
The Islamic State of Iraq was to be the shield and spear of Islam, facing down infidel foes from within and without. It was to be the harbinger of glory and redemption, the “ummah’s hope” for an avenger to its many humiliations. And should the jihadists meet some slight setbacks here and there, then that too shall pass, for as al-Baghdadi says when giving his reasons as to why he is confident that the Islamic State of Iraq shall persist: “we are certain that Allah will not break the hearts of the embattled monotheists and turn us into the object of ridicule by the oppressors.” Yet, it does not seem as if the Islamic State in Iraq is about to make a comeback, especially since the Iraqi Sunnis that it claimed to be fighting on behalf of, and to whom its laurels shall accrue in victory, seem to have irreversibly turned against it. So could it be, after all the blood, treasure and prayers that went into the Islamic State of Iraq, that Allah too had turned His back on the jihadists?
The corollary to the military defeat now being experienced by the jihadists is the even more agonizing prospect of doctrinal collapse: the heralded caliphate is stillborn; the glorious vision of a reinvigorated Islamic State has been smashed. The anguish and demoralization brought about by this byproduct of battlefield victory cannot be overstated, for to smash the dreams of a man who lives for a cause, who endures cruel deserts and damp caves while awaiting martyrdom, is a fate far worse than death. In a battle of wills where a young man is able to summon the necessary willpower to press a button and to detonate himself among innocent bystanders for the cause of jihad and for a deferred utopia of a resurrected and avenging Islamic world power, nothing breaks the will of the individual jihadist than to see, in real time, his ideology bear fruit and to watch that fruit rot away right before his eyes. Such has been the impact of the ‘Zarqawist’ Islamic State of Iraq—the caliphate to be, under the Commander of the Faithful Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi the Qurayshite—and the bitter aftertaste of its ruinous downfall.