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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Enemy Number One

Christopher Hitchens writes that Al-Zarqawi is more dangerous that Bin Laden. Read the whole thing. He also includes this very salient point:

Until recently, it has been surprisingly easily accepted that there is scant evidence for any tie between Saddam and al-Qaeda. But it begins to look rather as if Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in person and in action, IS that tie. (And probably always was: why should a consecrated jihadist have spent so much time trying to kill Saddam's deadliest enemies in Iraq, the Sunni Muslim Kurds?)
While Zarqawi is a bad guy, I think that the most dangerous man we face is Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda's #2 man and the brain behind 9/11. He isn't nearly as public or flamboyant as Zarqawi or bin Laden, but he is ruthless and smart. He also knows how to bide his time and strike when we least expect.


Blogger Andrew said...

Hitchens is living in bizarro world, at least on the al-Qaeda/Saddam issue. The admin has been pushing since before the war to use Zarqawi as a link. In fact, this was becoming so rampantly popular that I actually spent a post in June troving through reports and news, trying to figure out the detals.

I'm not going to link directly, but if you go to my blog, a link to the post is in the right-hand sidebar. The short of it is that he had little involvement with either. If you want to envision him as anything, think of him as rogue mujahadeen who was trying to set up his own al-Qaeda equivalent in Kurdish Iraq (because the no-fly zone protected it from Saddam). Of course, now he's decided to cede leadership to bL and join causes, probably to bring in more foreign fighters.

10/28/2004 08:57:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

I read you post Andrew. Frankly, it isn't very convincing.

First off, Al-Qaeda as an organization was designed to be an umbrella group for various terrorist factions. That was it's purpose and nature. It's links spread worldwide, offering support although not necessarily operational control to groups throughout the world.

Zarqawi went to Afghanistan for training. Then he went to northern Iraq to establish a terrorist camp and battle the Kurds. It is also known that he went to Baghdad frequently and was even for a time hospitalized in an elite Fedayeen hospital.

I will freely admit that his fame and power have risen since the occupation, before his rather spectacular (and grusome) successes in Iraq he was certainly a fairly small fish.

One good question, which Hitchens raised, is why did Zarqawi choose to fight the Kurds in the first place? He is a Jordanian so it wasn't exactly like he was fighting for his homeland or anything. Obviously he claims that this is because the Kurds are infidels and allies of the west, however, the Kurds were also Saddam's enemy.

It is also patently obvious that Zarqawi's current resistance group is composed of foreign islamist fighters, old regime elements, and remnants of the Fedayeen (who are in fact foreign islamist fighters and old regime elements combined) based upon the swiftness of cohesion of these disparate elements it seems obvious that there were pre-existing connections.

I also find your admiration of Zarqawi and your claim that he is not undemocratic to be laughable and disgusting.

10/29/2004 12:51:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I also find your admiration of Zarqawi and your claim that he is not undemocratic to be laughable and disgusting.First of all, if we're throwing around those kinds of personal judgments, let me just say that your constant reduction of everything to "the good guys" vs. "all the bad guys who work together and who have it in for the good guys" is idiotic. It's a variant on the "good" vs. "evil" theme, which is the stupidest and most short-sighted idea anyone could ever adopt (unless they were a leader trying to manipulate their base a la GWB and ObL). It's patently untrue.

Like everywhere, the stuff going on in the Middle East involves a combination of:

1) The Personal Vanity of Leaders: bin Laden, al-Zarqawi, the Bush Administration, and al-Sadr are all quite obviously in it for personal gain. Not necessarily in terms of money or power, but in terms of personal vanity and the ability to lay claim to history. Regarding the Bush admin, they've said this themselves. It's about hubris, and the need to be the "hero"--the next Saladin or Churchill.

But of course this needs to be held up by something, and that something is:

2) Idealism, an eye for revolution. All four of the leaders I mentioned above made rather explicit promises to their would-be supporters. They (personally) would work to reshape the Middle East and make right everything that has gone wrong. This is what sells it to the followers. If you look at the followers of any of these groups, you see people motivated predominantly by hope, not "good" or "evil". Zarqawi's guys wanted a Sunni-controlled Iraq. Sadr's want a Shi'ite-controlled Iraq. Bush's want a Western Iraq, which will eventually seed a Western Middle East, and bin Laden's want a pan-Arabic Sunni caliphate free of Western interference.

With the exception of al-Zarqawi and bin Laden's, these are all mutually exclusive. And until last week, it's pretty obvious that those two were vying for credit. They have similar ideology (like Britain and the US for instance), which means they drew from followers with similar histories, but Zarqawi was trying to stay seperate so that he could show-up bin Laden.

However, unless you can somehow claim that a non-secular Iraq or Middle East is "evil", none of their sales pitches involve anything evil. Well, until they start talking about their enemies. That's when they all start sounding like idiots, from an outsider's view. They all think the other one's evil, and they all think the methods of the other one are evil.

Even if you don't believe the 100,000 Iraqi deaths figure (most of whom are apparently women and children), you must admit that the Iraqis would believe numbers of that order. And are you going to try to tell me that some charasmatic guy couldn't walk up with those numbers and convince people that America is pure evil? Oh sure, you won't agree because you are somehow a better judge of good and evil than these people, but that doesn't really change the way they see it. The followers of all these guys caught in a fight to liberate Iraq (hah!) from an evil occupier from the other side of the world. If you were fighting this kind of "good fight" you don't think you'd resort to suicide bombing and public executions if that's what it took? Would you sooner resign yourself to service with the evil occupier, just so you didn't have to break some "rules" about who's a valid target?

Just because these people kill civilians or behead people doesn't mean that they're particularly undemocratic. Zarqawi, at least, is selling a pragmatic approach, where democracy is fine as long as "fair" representation is given to Sunni's. If you don't believe him, fine. But you're wrong. That's what he's selling, and that's what his followers believe. The brutality of their methods is justified because their cause is even bigger. (Sounds like somebody else... somebody who wanted to circumvent the Geneva Convention because the "evil" of terrorism transcended that standard... hmmm...)

This isn't about "good" and "evil", and you can't just write everybody off as being "bad guys" who are all teamed up aganist us. Not only is it ignorant and lazy to do so, but because the stakes are so high, it's frightening. That kind of discord with reality makes it all the less likely that we succeed at optimal cost. Where being wrong doesn't cost us victory (and let's hope it doesn't), it costs us in mis-steps--and the cost can manifest in everything from casualties to money.

The worst part is that you're so hard-headed, I doubt anything I could say would ever change your mind. You'll go through your whole life thinking that their is one standard for "good" and "evil". You'll think that you know what falls into each category, and that either (a) other people don't, or (b) that large swathes of other people know what's evil and choose to do it anyway. And you'll be party to conflict after conflict as you fight "evil" army after "evil" army, never thinking that maybe it's just a matter of charasmatic leaders who have prioritized values differently than you. That maybe you're nearly, but not quite, as misinformed as the people you think are "evil". That maybe your own charasmatic leader has led you astray because of his own warped prioritization and his own vanity. These things will never occur to you because you'll always be convinced that you know what "good" is, and that you know sufficient facts for to apply that conception to the situation.

But look: even if you live in a world of moral absolutes, you need to question yourself sometimes. You need to wonder if everybody's always operating with enough information. You need to wonder if many people really do evil things knowingly, and whether its ever possible that you may partake in a horrible evil unknowingly. You need to wonder if the right way to settle conflicts is by making them contrasts of intentional "good" and "evil". You need to wonder if there's something to gain from putting yourself into the psychology of the other and seeing how the two views diverge, so that you can efficiently start putting them in accord. You need to wonder what it would be like to second guess all your assumptions--maybe not about principles, but about priorities, facts, and knowledge--to see how the world can be the way it is.

But all this is lost on you, I know. And while it doesn't disgust me, it saddens me becauase I know you're smarter and more capable than that.

(And if you read the both the post and the linked articles, you'd see that the rest of your comment didn't say anything worthwhile. Your narrative is unsubstantiated where not blatantly inaccurate, and your argument is already refuted by the linked articles. You need to read things, Dave. Not skim them while typing up your reply. If you're going to make strong and insulting claims, at least go so far as to inform yourself first using the resources provided.)

10/29/2004 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

Actually Andrew and I did fully read your post and all of the linked articles that are currently active. I have read numerous other things as well. Perhaps in the future I will build a complete post on Zarqawi, giving sources for all my conclusions but as these have been formed over time, from many sources, this is a daunting task. I stand by what I have written concerning his nature and his motivations.

Since Sept. 11 I have made a very concerted effort to understand the nature of those we face. I certainly do not believe that all Muslims are evil, or that Islam is an evil religion. I want what is best for the people of the region, as well as what is best for us. I am saddened by the death of innocents in war, but feel that there is equal culpability for letting thugs and murders attack and destroy a people.

I believe however, that their is such a thing as good and evil. I plan to write a post on that, hopefully today. I look forward to your comments on it.

In regards to Zarqawi being democratic, in his own words, linked to on your blog: "I come back and again say that the only solution is for us to strike the religious, military, and other cadres among the Shi`a with blow after blow until they bend to the Sunnis."

Zarqawi is not a good man. His actions against innocents are enough to make that perfectly clear. He views democracy as a threat.

Please note that I did not say that you were disgusting. Merely that this one opinion that you hold is wrong and disgusting. I believe that you are a good person, who has the well-being of others at heart. I think you are gravely mistaken in your understanding here though.

10/29/2004 11:54:00 AM  

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