Five years after 9/11 the United States is not winning the inaptly named "war" on terrorism. Individual victories have been won, and some enemy capabilities have been significantly degraded. But the larger struggle rages on, and seems likely to continue to do so for a very long time.
Al-Qaeda today has become an ideological movement rather than merely a single entity. Indeed, this transformation may constitute the greatest threat now posed by Al-Qaeda. Ideologies are much more difficult to destroy than organizations. While the strategic threat from what has been called "Al-Qaeda prime" may have lessened, the tactical threat posed by grassroots groups that now operate worldwide under its ideological umbrella has multiplied. As American complacency deepens and memories of 9/11 fade, Al-Qaeda, or its offshoots, wait. Unlike Americans, jihadists have a glacial sense of time.
Osama bin Laden knows all this. And that is why he probably continues to smile. Despite Al-Qaeda's failure to overthrow any Arab regime, or to mount another terrorist attack within the United States, Osama bin Laden undoubtedly believes that the long-term correlation of forces remains in his favor.
From the jihadist point of view, the war of attrition in the Middle East is succeeding in weakening American and Western resolve to keep substantial numbers of military forces in the region. In their judgment, that war of attrition needs only to be sustained for ultimate victory to be attained. Jihadists know that many other parties in the region, for their own reasons, will continue to abet their efforts. That too is a reason for their likely long-term, continuing, geostrategic optimism.
Iran may now be preparing an "army of martyrs" in case the United States attacks its nuclear infrastructure. Forty-thousand suicide bombers are said to have already been trained, out of a projected total of 55,000. This army is reportedly slated to attack U.S., Israeli and Western interests throughout the world, in the event war between the United States and Iran should erupt. Certainly, even without any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, that army provides Iran another arrow in its quiver for a possible deployment in Iraq, Lebanon, or elsewhere.
In Iraq, reports indicate that Iran now has officers from its Revolutionary Guard and intelligence services spread throughout the southern Shi'a part of the country. In addition, Iranian experts are said to have well-established relationships with Iraqi Shi'a involved in the oil industry in southern Iraq. Iranian agents have penetrated Sadr City in Baghdad and are participating with Iraqi Shi'a in the campaign to ethnically separate Sunnis from Shi'a in Baghdad.
American, Israeli and NATO intelligence services are investigating unconfirmed reports that Iran may have transferred some of its uranium enrichment facilities to such Syrian cities as Latakia, Tartus and Deir el Zour. It is believed by some that Syria has become a dirty and dangerous complex for Iranian nuclear, chemical and biological activities.
The Iranian shadow across the Middle East is long. Iran is already a major power broker in Lebanon, through its control of the Lebanese Hizballah movement. Recently, Hizballah reportedly received a large infusion of military equipment from Iran through Syria, including drones, anti-tank and surface-to-surface missiles. These weapons have clearly been used in the long-prepared Hizballah war against Israel. The 12,000 to 20,000 Hizballah missiles pointed southward toward Israel that are capable of reaching at least as far as Haifa confront Israel with a perhaps unprecedented geostrategic problem.
For its part, the Lebanese army is said to have facilitated the delivery of these arms, arguing that Hizballah remains an indigenous resistance movement against Israel. Hizballah apparently has further reinforced its military position in south Lebanon, facing Israel. For example, Hizballah is said to have recently paid handsome compensation to hundreds of homeowners in southern Lebanon, transforming the former homes into "closed bases for Iranian-supplied missiles." Reports indicate that Hizballah may now have become a "front-line division of the Iranian army." All of this accounts for the heavy price Israel has paid as a result of its thrust into Lebanon.
As if all this were not enough, a variety of groups are reported now to be arming in Lebanon and creating or recreating their own militias or alternative sources of support. Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze community and a strongly anti-Syrian Lebanese politician, is creating a militia in the Shouf Mountains. Samir Geagea, a veteran Maronite commander in the Lebanese Civil War, is doing the same in north Lebanon. For their part, Saad Hariri, the son of the late Rafik Hariri and a leading Sunni power broker in Beirut, as well as the Lebanese Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, are said to be now pushing to naturalize and enfranchise all of the 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon in order to ensure that they are political allies. Specifically, and with the support of Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese Sunni leadership is reported to be considering the creation of its own Sunni Palestinian Islamic army to counter the Shi'a and Iranian challenge in the country. Does a reprise of the Lebanese Civil War loom?
Meanwhile, Syria has now entirely rebuilt its intelligence network in Lebanon so that it will be able to negotiate with America over its future relationship with Lebanon from a position of greater strength than it has now. Simultaneously, Syria is maintaining a steady flow of arms to the Palestinian movements under its influence in Lebanon. It is reported that Syria is counting on its Palestinian allies in Lebanon to instigate strife in the country, should Damascus come under increasing pressure as a result of the investigation of the slaying of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
While all of this is happening, Al-Qaeda is reported to be reconstituting its cells across the Middle East and in Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia under a younger leadership. Local cells are said now to have freedom to undertake operations without reference to any higher authority. If this is true, decapitation of the monster (for example by the elimination of Bin Laden or Zawahiri) may accomplish little.
Al-Qaeda reportedly also has developed plans to undertake sophisticated military operations against American, European and Israeli targets as well as to assassinate government officials. In the tradition of the Taliban's destruction of the monumental Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda-related groups are even reported to have discussed the possible destruction of the pyramids or even the Sphinx in Egypt. However far-fetched this may be, it does suggest that informed opinion in the Muslim Middle East believes that Al-Qaeda is far from moribund. That itself is significant.
In addition to the cells it is reported to have formed in Palestinian camps and elsewhere in Lebanon, Al-Qaeda may now have infiltrated cadres and arms into the Occupied Territories. The weapons reportedly include hundreds of machine guns and pistols, as well as new types of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It is also reported that Al-Qaeda has established a cell in the Occupied Territories named the Islamic Army of Jerusalem. Members of the cell are said to have infiltrated from Jordan and Egypt.
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates is reported to be functioning as a center for terrorist financing. Terrorist money transfers are said to be concentrated in Dubai. As a result, the UAE is said to have been spared attacks by jihadists, and is likely to continue to enjoy favored status as long as this situation holds.
All of this suggests that the United States is going to find it increasingly difficult to achieve any of its (various) originally proclaimed objectives in Iraq and, by extension, for the rest of the Middle East. Both the death rate of U.S. servicemen and the number of insurgent attacks so far this year is running ahead of those rates in 2004 and 2005. All that remains is for the United States to find the proper face-saving formula to begin significant troop withdrawals, perhaps a cosmetic agreement between Sunnis, Shi'a and Kurds (with no guarantee of any durability).
Do not bet against Al-Qaeda, in some form, establishing a long-term presence in Iraq, as it already has in the Caucasus and is regaining in Afghanistan. Also, do not bet against Iran becoming the most influential outside player in Mesopotamia. In the end, a war whose originally (and still) proclaimed purposes have been to defeat terrorism, eliminate weapons of mass destruction, and make Iraq safe for democracy, will likely prove a failure on all counts. Al-Qaeda and its allies continue to receive a graduate education in guerrilla tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran seems ever more determined to push ahead with its nuclear program, and democracy is now widely understood as a cover for long-term U.S. occupation. One can only wonder at the ignorance, or perversity, of those neoconservative ideologues and their ignorant fellow travelers who orchestrated a war that has driven American popularity to all-time lows, put Iran on the threshold of becoming the dominant power in the Persian Gulf and made Osama bin Laden a far more admired figure in parts of the Islamic world than President George Bush. The Great American War to bring democracy to Iraq, and indeed to the rest of the Arab world, will probably end with there being less democracy, more terrorism and a greater number of weapons of mass destruction in the region than before it began. The corridors of history are cunning.Essay Types: Essay