Monday, May 07, 2007

Understanding Al Qaeda

The wisdom of Bruce Riedel.

One of the biggest risks I bear as a C-Span junkie is joining a program in progress. Invariably I hit a stimulating discussion when the moderator is apologizing for having "time for only two or three more questions". And that's what happened when I tuned in to a discussion at the Woodrow Wilson International Center this morning. There were three or four scholars behind the mic in front of the cameras; only one was fielding the remaining questions. I was transfixed. As soon as I got home, you know I had to Google him.

I had never heard of Bruce Riedel before, but he wasn't hard to find. He's Senior Fellow, of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Foreign Policy Studies. His resume? Not too shabby:
Special Advisor, NATO, Brussels, Belgium (2003-2006); Member, Royal College of Defense Studies, London, UK (2002-2003); Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs, National Security Council (2001-2002); Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs, National Security Council (1997-2001); Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs, Office of the Secretary of Defense (1995-1997); National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asian Affairs, National Intelligence Council (1993-1995); Director for Gulf and South Asia Affairs, National Security Council (1991-1993); Deputy Chief Persian Gulf Task Force, Central Intelligence Agency (1990-1991); Various assignments, Central Intelligence Agency (1977-1990)

Department of State Meritorious Honor Award, 2006; Distinguished Intelligence Medal, 2001; Secretary of Defense Distinguished Service Medal, 1997; Intelligence Medal of Merit, 1991.
Since I have no way of capturing the transcripts of this morning C-Span's broadcast, (But you can watch & listen!) I'll just parse his comments from the first Google hit I scored:
The al Qaeda organization sees Iran as one of its great enemies. This was because al Qaeda - a very strict Sunni Islamist organization - views Iran's Shia faith as apostasy.

What al Qaeda in Iraq now most fears is not the continuing deployment of American forces. They've come to the conclusion we're going to leave, whether it's in 2008 or 2009.

The terrorists' key concern is what comes afterwards and specifically the worry that Iraq will be very Shia-dominated and very closely aligned with Iran.

So they've openly talked about the advisability of getting their two great enemies to go to war with each other in the hopes that they will take each other out.

Al Qaeda would especially like a full-scale U.S. invasion and occupation of Iran, which would presumably oust the Shi'ite regime in Tehran, further antagonize Muslims worldwide and expand al Qaeda's battlefield against the United States.

The biggest danger is that al Qaeda will deliberately provoke a war with a 'false-flag' operation - say, a terrorist attack carried out in a way that would make it appear as though it were Iran's doing.

The United States should be extremely wary of such deception.In the event of an attack, accurately assigning blame will require very careful intelligence work.

In the ultimate world of al Qaeda, they envision freeing the Muslim world of Western influence and forcing Western powers out - and by that, they also mean Israel, which they see as the ultimate example of Western intrusion into the Muslim world.

During 2002, we had al Qaeda on the ropes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We should have relentlessly gone after the al Qaeda leadership. We should have put unremitting pressure on the Pakistanis to do everything they could, and we should have sourced, funded and manned the effort in Afghanistan to finish the job.

Instead, we made a mistake, a decision to go after a war in Iraq that we didn't need to fight, which diverted resources and created a cause celebre that al Qaeda has exploited quite effectively.
These are excerpts, but you get the drift. Follow the link provided above and see what I missed! If you are short on time, skip ahead to the Q & A!