Steven Den Beste has another lengthy and detailed piece on Iraq where he identifies what the terrorists in Iraq are trying to do. Based on the evidence, I think he’s right. They’re trying to get the current government to collapse by inciting a popular revolution in Iraq.
The problem is that it isn’t working. The Iraqi government is very popular in Iraq, and the attacks against Christian churches, Iraqi police, and the Iraqi people has had the exact opposite effect of what the terrorists intended – rather than forcing the Iraqi people into rejecting their new government and embracing shari’a the Iraqi people are rejecting the terrorists as anti-Islamic savages. The terrorists goal of using low level attacks to drive the Americans off hasn’t worked. Despite the over 900 casualties in the Iraq war, staying the course remains the most likely option.
However, I think that the terrorists are hoping for a Kerry win. The reasoning is simple – if Bush wins, it will be interpreted as a mandate to stay the course in Iraq. The US won’t be pulling out any time soon. If anything, the two-term limit of the American system will embolden Bush to continue to push against the states funding the insurgency in Iraq. Despite the canard that Bush’s policies has created more terrorists, that seems to be untrue. People don’t sign up to fight a war in which they know they’ll be killed – they sign up when they know there’s a very real chance of victory. People aren’t going to flock in to fight a losing war – and the last three years has seen the greatest series of failures for the terrorist movement after 20 years of slowly metastizing across the Arab world.
The terrorists know that Kerry’s political base is rabidly against the war. They know that a Kerry Administration is dramatically more likely to cut and run than Bush would ever be. They know that the best way they can make that happen is by continuing to weaken the coalition in Iraq. They know that if they can get some of the weaker members in the coalition to leave, it strengthens Kerry’s argument that Bush is alienating our allies.
That’s why I don’t think that we’ll see al-Qaeda attack in the US – that would likely reinforce Bush’s political position by underscoring the need to have a strong leader against terrorism. It would also lead to a massive backlash – the US is not Spain and we’re not going to roll over as they did. They’ve already learned that lesson once, and they’re not going to repeat their same mistakes.
No, the best thing they could do is engineer a massive event in Iraq that highlights that conflict – a conflict that could well hurt Bush. The assassination of someone like Prime Minister Allawi would bring the attention to Iraq and help Kerry. A major explosion in Baghdad, especially one that involved a large number of US troops in an area where the media could cover it would be exactly the sort of “October suprise” that could weaken Bush.
Attacks on oil installations abroad would also raise oil prices and hurt Bush – which is why those are another terrorist target. However, al-Qaeda’s al-Battar group may have already gone ahead with this plan too early and brought the wrath of the Saudi government on them – their operational capability may be severely limited now that the Saudis have stopped tolerating them and started capturing or killing Qaeda members in the Kingdom.
Fortunately I think that the insurgents are facing a losing battle. The Iraqi people have turned against them, and they’re under pressure from all sides. They have to engineer a “victory” for themselves, and they need to do it soon. No doubt something along those lines is being planned. The question is if they can pull it off – the terrorists need to be able to rely on the tacit support of the people in order to operate freely – and every Iraqi they kill only makes things worse for them. Not even Fallujah is as safe as it once was as Iraqi informants are leading the US to bomb Qaeda safehouses in the city.
The terrorists need to create that kind of “win psychology” in order to gain any long-term success and be able to escalate their operations to the scale where they’d be able to fight off the reformers who would strangle them. If democracy takes off in the Middle East, they’ve lost, which is why they need to be able to stop attempts at reform on a regional level. This means that they have to be able to constantly replace captured or killed jihadis, maintain a steady stream of new recruits, as well as recruiting those who can carry out operations more difficult and sensitive than planting IEDs. This is not an easy task, and the war on terrorism has hampered those abilities to a significant extend. Al-Qaeda is likely unable to plan and execute an attack of the scale of September 11 at this point – they’ve been reduced to small cells that while still dangerous, aren’t as well organized or funded as they were. As Captain Ed notes, the capture of Naeed Noor Khan has definitely effected al-Qaeda’s ability to communicate from cell to cell.
This war is winnable, and we’re now playing on offense. The terrorists understand that the only way they can reverse these trends is to get the US to pull another Mogadishu and leave the Iraqi people to the wolves. If that happens, they get their victory and the flood of recruits and prestige that comes with it – which is why it is crucial to see that never happens. This is also why the mountains of Afghanistan and the warrens of Fallujah are certainly praying for a Bush loss and a Kerry who will cave to his own base and pull the US out of Iraq.