Thursday, May 24, 2007

Caleb Carr on Bernard Lewis's "Was Osama Right?"

Caleb Carr sent TMP this missive responding Bernard Lewis's "Was Osama Right?" in last week's Wall Street Journal:

Lewis's piece is, unfortunately, a further demonstration that he has lost the laser-sighting he had before, during, and after 9/11; and he's lost it, as have so many, because of a genuine, deep, and almost unbelievable unwillingness to comprehend the complexity and importance of Iraqi Shi'ite politics.

But first off, the piece is an extraordinarily narrow view of the problem, in terms of American society. It is true that the American reaction to the Al Qaeda threat has not yet been deep or broad enough; but that has nothing to do with any inherent weakness on the part of the American people. As I'm often told by people in my impoverished corner of upstate New York State, which gives more than its fair share of troops to the cause, the population of America is still ready to be fully mobilized and to pay any price required -- if the reasons behind both can be adequately and respectfully explained by the administration. That's been problem number one since 9/12. In the vacuum left by that absence, the division of America, regionally and economically, as well as between military and non-military classes, has been the principal operating influence: 9/11 hit a narrow slice of America, in all of this categories; and it may well be that it will take a "major event" that kills thousands of Americans from all walks of life to inspire a modern Pearl Harbor-type response -- remember that the sailors and soldiers at Pearl did come from just such a broad cross-section of America, which was why that attack was felt so hard. It appears that AQ is busily preparing just such an event; the Las Vegas New Year's Eve plot (both Richard Clarke and I had already picked Vegas as the city most at risk, during this phase, although that's likely now shifted, obviously).

Whether they can pull it off depends on several things, all in the balance:

1) Will we allow the Iraqi Shi'ites to finally exterminate everyone even disposed to support Al Qaeda in their country, since AQI and their affiliates are the main force of the insurgency now? "Extermination" may sound a strong word; given what their own language toward the Shi'ia is, given their continued propensity toward what is as close to genocide (NOT "execution styled killings") that they can manage, the Sunni and particularly Al Qaeda extremists have earned it. Furthermore, will we finally abandon Maliki's corrupt government for the true Shi'ite power, the Sistani-Hakim axis, and believe that Muqtada's followers are once again pulling back at their bidding?

2) Is all of this activity being coordinated with/by Ryan Crocker, and is he coordinating with Rice's negotiations with Iran? This would seem a no-brainer, but as we have learned, there's no such thing, in this administration.

3) Will Musharraf survive and get the final upper hand on the ISI, or will he get himself killed/leave Pakistan first? And, if the latter, will AQ get their nuclear device from that source (which is a FAR greater and more imminent danger than a nuclear Iran) in the short or the long run? Will NATO not only meet but increase its commitment to Afghanistan, which is at a critical pass (and which only the Brits and the Dutch seem to take in any way seriously)?

These are the questions upon which the struggle depends on, now; not issues of "American weakness." That IS an issue; but one of rather subordinate importance. The American public is in a state of very profound confusion that the anti-war groups and Congress are choosing to read as blanket opposition to the war; yet reactions to Congress indicate that Americans are looking for solutions, not unqualified withdrawal.

- c.c.

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