The recent Special Forces strike in Somalia illustrates once and again the foolhardiness of those who want us out of Iraq. While Ted Kennedy spouts his usual rhetoric in the National Press Club, drawing fatuous comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq, between the Viet Cong and the motley crew we face in Iraq, our enemy is being chased in the deserts of Somalia just as it is in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
As we hunt down the killers who attacked our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya long before there ever was an Iraq war, even long before September 11 finally awakened us to the shape of the new world we live in, we have to remind ourselves again and again that our enemies in the war on terrorism were not created by our action in Iraq, nor will they disappear after we leave that country to its own devices.
This is indeed a nonlinear war in more ways than one. As their original leadership, the Bin Laden-Zawahiri types, sit and contemplate events from the caves of the Afghani-Pakistan border, new Al-Qaeda leaderships sprout around the globe, wherever there are young, impressionable, Muslim men vulnerable to the persuasive tactics of ruthless, fanatic, and anti-Western mentors. With calculated opportunism, they choose their targets according to the vulnerabilities of the soft underbellies of Western societies, whether it is the public transportation systems in Europe or transatlantic airlines—or innocent civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan. The events in Somalia remind of us of certain lessons we should have learned by now.
Lesson 1. The enemy in Iraq, like that in Afghanistan, in Europe, in America, or the Philippines, is the same. It may not share the same structure or leadership, but its nature doesn’t vary much.
Lesson 2. Retreating in the face of that enemy is construed by it as weakness on our part—a weakness that was tested in 9/11, in London, in Madrid, and before, in Nairobi and Dar Essalam.
Lesson 3. Our enemy’s motivation is a hatred of modernism and a romantic, if perverted, notion of a return to a glorious past that exists only in their imagination. It has been a constant theme since the first manifestos of Al-Qaeda declared war on the “Crusaders, Jews, and Nonbelievers.” The ideology has been laid clearly since then 1990’s: Islam (an auto-invented version at least) must take over, and they, the leaders of Al-Qaeda, are the princes (emirs) and Islam’s advance guards. Even the fiction that is used by some—that the Palestinian cause is their primary motivation and that if we settle the Israeli/Palestinian issue, all will be kosher, does not withstand real scrutiny. Al-Qaeda has never operated in Palestine or in Israel. Some might attribute that to the efficiency of Israeli security but that is not enough when you consider the numbers of potential recruits among Palestinians.
Lesson 5. The symbiotic nature of the enemy in Iraq in particular is worth emphasizing. Until recently most of the suicide attacks and beheadings in Iraq were committed by Al-Qaeda operatives recruited the world over by efficient networks working in broad daylight. The overall strategy of the fight against the Americans and the incipient Iraqi democracy on the other hand is mostly the work of the Saddamist remnants. The two groups worked in tandem but separating them now may be possible depending on the degree of pressure that each group is able to withstand before crying uncle. Similarly in Somalia, Al-Qaeda groups have allied themselves tactically with the Islamic Courts and the militias but once Ethiopian and Western pressure was brought to bear on them, each side tried to hightail it separately to safety as fast as they could.
Somalia is not Iraq; Iraq is not Vietnam; Afghanistan is not Philippines. Each fight is different requiring different tactics and alliances. To be simplistic in drawing analogies between different times and different geographies and enemies does a disservice to the debate we should be having about Iraq. That debate should not be about how fast we can get out of there but, rather, about how best we can defeat our enemies there.
Exterminating Al-Qaeda and its networks wherever they exist is the only possible solution to win the war on terror, and that stands true for Iraq as well.