The Islamist Hail Mary?

Thomas Friedman gets back into his more perceptive mode by arguing that the Islamists, defeated in Iraq, may try to strike in the United States:

Despite all of that, I fear that we may now be entering the most dangerous period since 9/11. Why? Because I’ve always believed that one of the most important reasons there has been no new terrorist attack in America has to do with the U.S. invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not only that the Bush administration has taken the fight to the enemy, but that the enemy has welcomed that fight.

To the extent that the Baathists and Jihadists have a coordinated strategy, their first priority, I think, is to defeat American forces in the heart of their world. Because if they can defeat America in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, it will have so much more resonance than setting off a car bomb in Las Vegas – especially now that 9/11 has set the terrorism bar so high in terms of effect.

If the Jihadists can defeat us in the heart of their world, and force us from Iraq, it will have a huge impact on the Arab street and shake every pro-American Arab regime. The Jihadists have always understood that Iraq is the ballgame. Iraq is the big one. Winning there is what really advances their agendas.

The reason things may be getting more dangerous now is that the formation of a freely elected government in Iraq may signal that the Baathist-Jihadist insurgency is being gradually defeated. The U.S. may even be able to withdraw some troops. And there is nothing worse for the Baathists and Jihadists than to be defeated in the heart of their world – and, even more so, to be defeated in the heart of their world by other Arabs and Muslims who are repudiating the Jihadists’ vision and tactics.

I fear that when and if the Jihadists conclude that they have been defeated in the heart of their world, they will be sorely tempted to throw a Hail Mary pass. That is, they may want to launch a spectacular, headline-grabbing act of terrorism in America that tries to mask, and compensate for, just how defeated they have become at home.

I think the single largest reason that the Islamists haven’t attacked the United States is that they’ve realized they don’t understand the American people at all. I firmly believe that Osama bin Laden thought that 9/11 would bring America to its knees and force us to see it their way — that we’d all act like the academic left and spend all our time hand-wrining about “why do they hate us?” Our reaction after 9/11 was the exact opposite — we went in kicked the living hell out of al-Qaeda and liberated Afghanistan.

More importantly, we didn’t just stop there. The heart of Islamist terrorism is in the Levant, not the Hindu Kush. The liberation of Iraq put the democratic genie out of the bottle, and once loosed, the terrorists were in deep trouble. Austin Bay quite perceptively notes that the Islamists were playing from the Vietnam playbook and knew that the press would be following along. The problem was that our military was not. Now that Islamists are not only on the defensive and losing in Afghanistan, they’re on the defensive and losing in the heart of their own territory. Defeating Afghanistan defeated an outpost of terror — defeating the terrorists and Islamists in Iraq is defeating terror on the outskirts of its own capital. If the democratic imperative continues to spread to Damascus and Riyadh and Tehran, the heart of the Islamofacist movement will wither and die.

Friedman is quite correct in pointing out that means that we should not get complacent at home. The nightmare scenario isn’t another aircraft attack (they’ve already done one, and the presumption that a terrorist takeover will be a simple hijacking and not a kamikaze mission has been forever shattered), it’s the possibility of a biological, chemical, or radiological attack on the US. Such an attack could easily do far more damage than the attacks of 9/11. Weaponized smallpox, anthrax, VX nerve gas, sarin, ricin, poisons in the water supply — all of these could have a death toll far worse than September 11. Attacks on oil refineries could cripple the national economy by pushing up the price of gas beyond the already-high levels. We’re still vulnerable, and vulnerability requires vigilence.

We need a combined strategy — playing defense is no solution as all it takes is one attack to kill thousands, and we can’t forget homeland security while we help create a more democratic Middle East. In sports, a good team can play both offensively and defensively — our nation must do the same.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.