"If I were a Muslim, I'd probably be a jihadist. The thing that drives these guys -- a sense of adventure, wanting to be part of the moment, wanting to be in the big movement of history that's happening now -- that's the same thing that drives me, you know?"
No. I don't know. And I sorely wish I could tell him so -- "him" being David Kilcullen, senior counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, senior U.S. commander in Iraq.
With this bizarro depiction of jihadists-as-swashbucklers, Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, an Australian Army officer "on loan" to the U.S. government, should probably have been sent back with: "And I suppose if you had been a German during a certain world war, you would have been a Nazi, eh? Who more than those Third Reich 'guys' wanted to be in 'the big movement of history'? Grr. Thanks, mate, but no thanks. Go play Abu Robin al-Hood down under."
Of course, Kilcullen made his outrageous comment almost six months ago to The New Yorker's George Packer and is still on the job. But when a key counterinsurgency adviser in Iraq identifies with jihadists, it's not just a matter of surrealism -- hallucinations -- at the top. As they say at NASA when things are about to fall out of the sky: Houston, we've got a problem.
Why? Such remarks convey either noncomprehension or indifference to the evil nature of jihad. Or both. Such neutrality, if that's the word for it, also marks Kilcullen's discussion of his big, formative idea: lessons drawn from what he refers to as "an Islamic insurgency in West Java and a Christian-separatist insurgency in East Timor."
In the latter case, the language is jarring for what Serge Trifkovic has described this way: "In the motivation, patterns and perceptions of the actors on the ground -- killers and victims alike -- East Timor was an Islamic jihad against Christian infidels" that left as many as 200,000 East Timorese dead. In Kilcullen's Islam-blind view of the world, such events become plain-vanilla conflicts without moral distinction, differentiated only by the advent of global media coverage -- a large obstacle, he maintains, to winning counter-insurgencies. Indeed, he compares Indonesia's role in East Timor (where Indonesia ultimately failed, he says, due to global media) with the U.S. role in Iraq. This is a weirdly shocking way to see the American struggle against varyingly jihadist factions -- particularly for someone advising the U.S. military.