Oswald Spengler wrote in The Decline of the West that it was Napoleon's tragedy that each of his victories utlimately advanced the economic and political power of his nemesis, England. One wonders if Osama bin Laden isn't, at least in some ways, serving America as the same sort of convenient enemy: one whose apparently growing power and successes in the field actually work to favor the strategic interests of the very forces he is ranged against.
Counter-intuitive? Perhaps. But take Osama's most successful operation to date: the World Trade Center attack. As Christopher Hitchens once noted, if the terrorist had resisted his exhibitionistic tendences and instead mounted a slow, silent and covert take-over of Pakistan, Al Qaeda would now be an irresistible enemy possessing nuclear weapons. Instead, succumbing to his malignant narcissism, ObL slaughtered thousands of innocent people in a grand theatrical gesture that alerted America and the world about the threat he posed to civilization. The death of every sailor at Pearl Harbor gained some measure of meaning from the fact that the attack propelled us into World War II; some day, God willing, we will see that the losses of 9-11 were the price our generation had to pay to rouse ourselves to defeat Islamofascism.
Secondly, if you lay a map of oil regions in the Middle East and Asia over one showing American bases and military presence in the War on Terror, you'd find they roughly overlap. Coincidence? Right, and Mullah Omar's the next guest host on SNL. Under the rubric of fighting Al Qaeda, the U.S. has moved assets around the Caspian Sea and into Central and South Asia, where they will eventually serve to check Chinese penetration into those regions in search of oil. America and the PRC are on a collision course similar to Britain and Germany before World War I. What we can hope is that the liberation of Iraq, Afghanistan and (to anticipate my argument) Iran will, in the long run, create good will toward the U.S. and gain us allies in a coming conflict with Beijing.
More recently--December 27, to be exact--the "pious, charismatic, gentle, generous Muslim" (to quote ObL-mesmerized Michael Scheuer; see Redzone's The Trouble with Hubris) issued a communique denouncing Iraq's elections and declaring support for Zarqawi. A curious piece of work it was, too--ominous and chilling in the inimitable bin Laden style--yet at the same time awkward and emotionally clumsy. In fact, it may have been a tactical mistake, a clue to the next phase of the War against Islamofascism--and an inadvertent boon to America.
Let's go to the videotape. Donning the guise of that peculiarly Islamic phenomenon, the terrorist/imam/politician, Osama branded Iraqis who participate in January's elections as "infidels," guilty of "apostasy." While these denunciations sound like bad De Millian dialogue to us, they are, in Muslim circles, serious business: many conservatives and radicals consider apostasy a crime punishable by death. Exuding further holiday cheer, bin Laden anointed Zarqawi as the "emir" of Al Qaeda's Iraqi operations--and even requested donations, noting that terror operations in Iraq cost "200,000 euros a week." (A Terror Telethon? Make your GSM encryption-call today, 800-257-2332.)
As a ploy to win Iraqi hearts and minds, this can't be a winner. Iraqis hate foreign jihadists. "Who do they think they are, coming here to kill our people?" is a typical comment. Even those who despise the U.S. castigate non-Iraqi terrorists. As one Fallujan policeman told me, "American soldiers are here with fighters from Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia--all to steal from Iraq!" For bin Laden to ally himself with Zarqawi is tantamount to saying, Al Qaeda to Iraq: Drop Dead.
Moreover, if he's championing a man the Iraqis loathe, he's attacking one they love: Ali al-Sistani. Not only has the Grand Ayatollah pushed hard for elections, he has declared it a Muslim's "duty" to vote and--in the Shia's idea of a get-out-the-vote technique--warned that those who abstain will "go to hell" (Karl Rove, eat your heart out). By condemning the election process, bin Laden--who, as far we know, is no aalim, not even a talib ilm--is opposing Sistani politically, while accusing the marjah of apostasy. Add to this the fact that he's appointed as his "emir" a man who has made a point of killing as many Shia as he can, and you have to wonder whassup with Mr. Terror Master. Why is he so determined to alienate the Shia? What does he hope to gain--and how does this affect American interests?
The answer may lie in the conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims for the leadership of Islam--a civil war that has raged ever since Yazid's troops decapitated Hussain and brought his head back to Damascus in the 7th century. Among certain radical Sunnis--and their Havana-cigar-smoking, yacht-sailing, "royal family" allies getting petro-rich off America's obscene addiciton to SUVs--elections in Iraq will mean the Shia dominate, or have influential power, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, forming a veritable crescent that, joined with Bahrain, will nearly encircle Saudi Arabia. It can't be lost on the House of Saud that the Shia will control Iraq and Iran's substantial resources--not to mention the fact that the Saudi's 200,000 Shia sit atop the richest oil fields of the kingdom. Nor should we forget that Iran may soon have its Shia Bomb.
What's a Sunni radical to do? Enter bin Laden, with his skill in harnessing the tensions of the Muslim world. By condemning Iraq's elections, he is declaring his opposition to Shia interests across the Middle East--something the decadent royal Saudi family with their connections to the U.S. cannot do. In this way, he hopes to position himself as the most effective challenge to a potential American-Shia alliance. Creating a civil war in Iraq--hence his support for his Shia-hating "emir"--is perhaps the best way to prevent the balance of power shifting from Riyadh to Tehran.
What's in this for America? To begin with, bin Laden's intervention can help cement the functional, and perhaps operational, ties between the U.S. and Iran that have formed to shepherd Iraq's elections past the teeth of Sunni opposition. In addition, bringing Zarqawi on board the Al Qaeda team can only convince Iraqis--if further convincing is necessary--of the monstrousness of the so-called "insurgency." It might also induce the mainstream media to underscore, rather than legitimize, the obscenity of the "resistance"--but such miracles are few and far between.
On a larger scale, the Shia may ultimately prove our best allies in the Muslim Middle East. Iran's revolution is played out, its people perhaps the most pro-U.S. in the region. A nuclear Iran seems all but inevitable, as does our necessity of accepting Shihab IIIs with Tel Aviv and Riyadh in range. Let us pray to all our gods for the rapid arrival of what everyone expects: a second, truly democratic, Iranian revolution.
As for Iraq, if--I find myself unable to add "and when"--democracy takes root there, the country's people will someday see beyond their current resentments and come to honor U.S. sacrifices in liberating them. Spread that gratitude across the Shia crescent and bin Laden's efforts to mount the white horse of Sunni supremacy will backfire, drawing Washington and the Hawza closer together and isolating Saudi Arabia. Which is another way of saying, advancing U.S. interests by wresting the Middle East away from Our Friends the Saudis and their pernicious Wahhabi ideology. Then we can begin the epochal task of helping Shia moderates wean their religion from the mind-numbing, spirit-dulling, woman-oppressing strictures of shari'a--but that's for my next post.