Click for big version
Cartoon by Malcolm Evans.
For more, see Copenhagen: Cartoon Comment from Malcolm Evans
So, Barack Obama was in Oslo yesterday to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize and cheque, only nine days after expanding the war in Afghanistan. No contradiction there since – as Juan Cole has pointed out – “peace” doesn’t mean “pacifist.” But before going into what Obama might need to do in future to justify the prize, we should spare a thought for those who have been having an even worse decade than the US for the past nine years, and by that I don’t mean the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m talking about al Qaeda.
Ever since that peak moment on September 2001 it has been all downhill for the agents of global jihad. Supposedly the 9/11 strike was going to generate a massive over-reaction from the West that would help radicalize the Islamic masses and topple client regimes from North Africa to Indonesia. Well, it hasn’t turned out that way at all. Instead, as the Stratfor news service recently pointed out, the core command structure of al Qaeda has been neutralized, while the array of client regimes ( Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia etc) have remained remarkably intact.
As a result, al Qaeda’s decentralized network of jihadi franchise holders are getting bogged down in a series of national and regional wars, without making any global progress. To make matters worse, the jihadis have been turning on the citizenry with suicide bombings that – when taken together with the crackdowns by the security forces of the client regimes – have served to discredit Islam as a political rallying point.
It is not as if al Qaeda shouldn’t have seen this coming. During the civil war in Algeria during the 1990s, the very same process had been played out at terrible cost to ordinary citizens, and it has virtually destroyed Islam as a political vehicle. One can blame the bloody Algerian outcome on Islamic extremists, on French agent provocateurs, and on Algerian government hit squads – but the end result was that a 1990s decade that had begun with Islam as a potent rallying point for political reform in Algeria ended with Islam being almost totally discredited as a political brand. Durign the 2000s, much the same process has played out, globally, for al Qaeda.
This failure has tactical implications for the US military, and for its New Zealand help-mates. Even if the Taliban resurgence leads to the destruction of the corrupt Karzai regime, this would not necessarily entail a victory and rehabilitation for al Qaeda. As Scoop argued some weeks ago and Stratfor analyst George Friedman has also now pointed out – the Taliban are just as likely to turn on the foreign jihadis and liquidate them, as to embrace them. After all, it was thanks to Bin Laden that the Taliban got driven from power in early 2002, and they have had to suffer a great deal subsequently in order to regain the position they once held. At the very least, al Qaeda would be a negotiation pawn in the hands of any future Taliban government in Afghanistan, and not its master.
In other words, we are not in Afghanistan to beat the Taliban or rebuild the country. We are engaged purely in a war of attrition – a holding action for a weakening global jihad, and a lesson for the Taliban that it should not use its inevitable local victory as a springboard for any actions further afield. That phase is due to wind down from 2011 onwards, as New Zealand pulls out its SAS troops entirely, and Obama begins the US troop withdrawal.
In the meantime, Juan Cole has drawn up a very useful list of five things Obama can do to justify his peace prize:
1. Get out of Iraq on schedule. We can’t stop their low-intensity conflicts, and they are more likely to compromise with each other if we are not there.
2. Resist calls for Iran to be bombed. Such a raid would guarantee that Iran would start a crash program to develop a nuclear weapon, and there would be no way to stop it short of full-scale war.
3. Stop allowing the CIA to operate drones with which to assassinate people. It is illegal and shameful. The US military must be in charge of defending the country by force or we are a police state.
4. Get the Palestinians a state by the end of 2011, even if by unilateral recognition. Palestinian statelessness is the biggest human rights scandal in the world, since citizenship is the right to have rights. This step alone would solve the bulk of US problems in the Arab world and would deal a deadlier blow to al-Qaeda than capturing Bin Laden.
5. Stick to the plan of beginning a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in summer 2011. Karzai and the generals will attempt to embroil us in a decades-long quagmire. No one will remember his Nobel peace prize if President Obama lets that happen.