Monday, September 25, 2006

That's Not Good for Business

The rhetoric of those who did not wish the US to invade Iraq in 2003 posited that an occupation of Iraq would breed radicalism rather than fight it. A newly- leaked National Intelligence Estimate, the holy writ of the American Intelligence Community, indicates among other things, that Iraqi veterans frequently return to their home nations and begin “exacerbating domestic conflicts or fomenting radical ideologies.” Further, it highlights jihadi’s use of the interweb, the seeming inability of the US to contain Islamic extremism, and the willingness of more than a dozen people to leak exceptionally classified information to the New York Times. Read in concert with Arnold Wolfers’ criticism that polemics use the rhetoric of national security to pursue private agendas, a cynic might be tempted to conclude that there is now clear evidence that invading Iraq hurt America’s global war on terror.

Assessing the meaning of this NIE is a difficult proposition. Without the full text of the document for scrutiny, drawing conclusions about it is obviously premature. Further, one has to wonder about the motives of those who would leak such classified findings. Nevertheless, given the compelling claims made, one also has to ask what it would mean if invading Iraq enflamed Islamic extremism.

Just one year ago, most studies asserted that Iraq was mostly a domestic struggle fought by Iraqis. Depending on the latest numbers, which are unknown to this author, the demographics of the insurgency might be transforming. Given the experiences of the Afghan jihadis against the Soviets in the 1980s, it seems safe to assume that the recruitment of well-funded, dedicated, and usefully-skilled foreigners did not begin to takeoff until the insurgency had revved up considerably. During the Afghan conflict, foreigners played a relatively small role within the leadership cadre of the mujaahidiin with a few obvious exceptions—read Bin Ladin. Since the parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan are myriad (though far from complete), the lessons of the latter should instruct American tactics in the former. In the long-run, it was international support, both moral and financial, that allowed the Afghans to resist the Red Army.

What if this is the case in Iraq? How much international support is al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army receiving? To what extent are the Shi’ah militias in thrall to Iran? For that matter, who is funding the Sunnis? What is the demographic makeup of the principal militias, of their leadership cadre? Would sealing the borders following the 2003 invasion have prevented the entrance of foreigners? Are they sealed well enough to stop them now? Aside from the meager wages of rhetoric, how much is the Islamic world willing to donate to the insurgent cause? If this becomes a truly global jihad, is Iraq doomed to the same fate as Afghanistan? It seems, as always, there are more questions than answers.

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