Why al-Qaida? | VailDaily.com

Why al-Qaida?

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series about the genesis of al Qaida, the Iraq War and the president’s strategy to win the war on terror.The Muslim world is home to thousands of competing factions, some dangerous to the West, and some not. But by far the most virulent is al Qaida. In his book “America’s Secret War,” Dr. George Friedman traces the origins of this terror organization, which he reasons can be found in the convergence of Islamic history, sociology and psychology. Islamic fundamentalists believe the problems within the Islamic world are a result of corrupt Islamic leaders collaborating with Christians, Jews and Hindus – especially since the end of the first World War.Historians understand that the unfinished business of World War I gave birth to World War II and that the Cold War was an outgrowth of World War II. But how many realize that the war on terror has its roots in the Cold War and the demise of the former Soviet Union?The confluence of European de-colonization and the collapse of the multinational Ottoman Empire after World War I left the Arabic and the non-Arabic Muslim world in disarray. The debris from that chaos has become today’s Islamic world-corrupt governments dominated by rulers who secured their positions by accommodating themselves to foreign powers.With that as our underpinning, let’s go back to the 1970s, a time of great anguish for the United States. We left Vietnam to the communists, the Arab oil embargo exposed our Achilles’ heel, inflation was in double digits, interest rates were at 15 percent, and Americans were powerless to do anything but tie yellow ribbons around trees after the Allatollah Kohmehni seized more than 400 hostages from our embassy in Tehran.About the same time, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, which the Carter administration interpreted as a Soviet attempt to create a staging area for an invasion of Iran. It was believed Iran could then be used for an advance to the Persian Gulf, thereby breaking our strategic encirclement of the Soviets and positioning Russians troops at the doorstep of the Saudi oil fields. In the late-’70s, United States did not have the regional military capabilities we have today. Short of nuclear war, there was little Carter could do to prevent this potential Soviet domination of the Middle East. It was this combination of events that precipitated his infamous “malaise” speech while America’s self-image was at its lowest point since Corregidor. However, by invading Afghanistan, the Soviets left themselves vulnerable to their own favorite tool, a war of national liberation. But the U.S. wasn’t proficient at insurgent operations. We failed in Vietnam, just as we did in Eastern Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. Exacerbating the situation was that as a result of the Church hearings, Congress not only hamstrung the CIA but had little appetite to appropriate funds for a war of insurgency in the shadow of Vietnam. So the Carter administration turned to Saudi Arabia to finance the Afghan insurgency, knowing the Saudis were terrified of a potential Soviet move on the Gulf.The Saudis understood that nationalism was an abstraction in Afghanistan but knew religion could unify the insurgency. Then, to maintain deniability, the Saudis sought private funding, which came from the ultra-conservative Wahabists, including the wealthy bin Laden family.American intelligence and logistics in the region were non-existent, so Carter then turned to Pakistan. Pakistan was terrified of being trapped between a Soviet-controlled Afghanistan and a pro-Soviet India, and willingly agreed to provide intelligence and logistical support. Thus a three-way alliance – the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan – was formed. When Ronald Reagan took office, he intensified the multi-faceted pressure on the Soviets. His new CIA director, William Casey, understood that religion was a powerful tool in the Cold War. So in addition to bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan by galvanizing the Muslims, he supported Jewish dissidents inside Russia and underwrote the predominantly Catholic Solidarity movement in Poland, all while forcing the Soviets into an arms race they couldn’t afford. The Afghan War was brutal. It hardened thousands of Islamic fighters who came from throughout the Middle East. It made no difference whether the mujahideen were Egyptian, Saudi or Pakistani. They were Islamic and united in their hatred of the Soviet atheists.The mujahideen victory in Afghanistan was a seminal event in Islamic history. After years of regional occupation by the British and French, manipulation by the Americans and the Soviets, and crushing defeats by Israel, the Afghan war signaled the first time in centuries that an Islamic force had defeated a non-Islamic force in battle.It wasn’t lost on the Muslim world that the Soviet Union collapsed shortly after their expulsion from Afghanistan. From the Muslim perspective, it was a multi-national Islamic army with funding, intelligence and logistics provided by the Islamic nations of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that defeated the Soviets.From this perspective, the United States was seen as beneficiaries of a war paid for with Islamic blood. The fact that the CIA supplied the Afghans with Stinger missiles and other weaponry, without which they could not have defeated the Soviets, was discounted. The net result is that many in the Islamic world believed that it was really Islam that toppled the Soviet empire.Furthering Islamic resentment and a motivating theme of al Qaida (with a degree of justification, I might add) is that the United States used the mujahideen to defeat the Soviets and then abandoned them after the Afghan war.Is it any wonder that Osama bin Laden has been able to tap deeply into the Islamic psyche when he created al Qaida? And now that his followers believe a united Islamic political-religious-military force drove one superpower from the Islamic world, they can also be persuaded that they can compel another to do the same.Butch Mazzuca, a local Realtor and ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.net

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