Al-Qaida in Iraq's emir, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, provided us with the most telling insight into al-Qaida's assessment of our strength and al-Qaida's huge problems -- problems existing on Arab Muslim turf. Intercepted in Iraq in January 2004, Zarqawi's letter to al-Qaida's senior leaders bewailed the attraction of democracy in Iraq.
A secular, democratic state run by Iraqis was his nightmare, and would seal al-Qaida's defeat in Iraq. This "new Iraq" would also create a modernizing political option in the Middle East. Zarqawi concluded he had to foment a sectarian war in Iraq between Shia and Sunni Arabs, and the resulting bloodshed and chaos would inflict a psychological and military defeat on the U.S. and its Iraqi allies.
Measured by the grand map of the would-be caliphate, al-Qaida has arguably lost significant ground since 2001. Several Sunni and Shia conflicts continue, but the strife Zarqawi sought to fatally ignite failed to shatter Iraq. He did incite defeatists in the U.S., but it was Zarqawi who was defeated in Iraq.
Pakistan teeters -- it remains a radical Islamist opportunity, but its success depends on Pashtun tribal fortunes. The same al-Qaida dependency obtains in Afghanistan. If Pashtun Taliban factions choose to make new political settlements in Pakistan or Afghanistan, the al-Qaida commanders they currently harbor are a trading card for concessions in both Kabul and Islamabad.
Al-Qaida's ideology remains psychologically influential, and Hasan is likely an example of a sympathizer turned terrorist operative on his own initiative. Hasans are a definite danger. In the aftermath of his assault, Americans are more closely evaluating violent, anti-American threats as indicative steps toward violent, terrorist action.
Diminishing the space for domestic terrorist sympathizers may well be the fruit of his murders. And that would be another defeat for al-Qaida's tyrants.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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