More from Richard A. Clarke
Richard A. Clarke spoke at the Middle East Institute conference at the end of October. He began by talking about Al Qaeda (previous post), and then about how to move forward and deal with Al Qaeda, as well as problems in Iraq and with Iran. The Global War on Terrorism, “GWAT” as he terms it, is a misnomer. It is not global, and not so much a war, but rather a struggle against violent Islamic extremism. Al Qaeda uses terrorism as a tactic, in its quest to replace apostate governments in the Middle East with a Caliphate. Al Qaeda is not so much political (no programs and policies), but would lead similarly to the Taliban in Afghanistan in how women are treated, restrictions on cultural activities, and other such restrictions. Clarke advocates an intelligence/law enforcement approach, more so than a military approach. Key Al Qaeda leaders that have been captured thus far, they have been located and captured by intelligence or law enforcement. It is also required to challenge Al Qaeda on its ideology. The “Battle of Ideas” is critical in dealing with Al Qaeda. The War in Iraq has damaged the credibility of the U.S. in Muslim countries. On the notion that “if the U.S. leaves Iraq, there will be chaos and Al Qaeda will build a sanctuary there”, Clarke asks “how would we know? how would chaos be different than the current situation”? Al Qaeda has already gone in, and have training opportunities in Iraq with targets brought to them. If Al Qaeda tries to build camps in Iraq, would the U.S have to accept that? No. Clarke explains that “We would ask the government to eliminate it. If they don’t we do.” That does not require the U.S. to have troops in Iraq, as the U.S. would still have air capabilities, as well as special forces stationed in the Persian Gulf region. Regarding Iran, Clarke does not support an aggressive, military approach towards them, as that only exacerbates the situation rather than helping. Audio of his talk, as well as from other speakers, is available online at the conference website.
Background Osama bin Laden was born in 1957 to Hamida al-Attas and Muhammed Awad bin Laden, a wealthy businessman in Saudi Arabia. The Bin Laden family traces back to the Hadhramaut region of Yemen. During the 1980s, Osama bin Laden went to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets. By the end of the 1980s, the Soviets withdrew. With many young Arabs having come to Afghanistan, Osama organized a new militant group, Al Qaeda (“the base”) to carry on with a radical form of jihad which included a goal of overthrowing Arab governments. In 1991, Bin Laden moved to the Sudan, where he led operations in East Africa, including the 1993 assault on American troops at Mogadishu in Somalia. Under international pressure, the Sudanese forced Bin Laden out of Sudan in 1996, and he returned to Afghanistan. Fatwas In 1996, Bin Laden issued a fatwa, calling for American troops to get out of Saudi Arabia. He issued another fatwa in February 1998, together with Ayman al Zawahiri, declaring war against Americans. Bin Laden stated “We do not have to differentiate between military or civilian. As far as we are concerned, they [Americans] are all targets.” Bin Laden cited grievances including: Presence of American infidels (troops) in the Saudi holy land Suffering of Iraqi people due to sanctions imposed after the Gulf War U.S. support of Israel Motives The 9/11 Commission Report, citing Bin Laden’s “Letter to America”, explains: …they say that America had attacked Islam; America is responsible for all conflicts involving Muslims. Thus Americans are blamed when Israelis fight with Palestinians, when Russians fight with Chechens, when Indians fight with Kashmiri Muslims, and when the Philippine government fights ethnic Muslims in its southern islands. America is also held responsible for the governments of Muslim countries, derided by al Qaeda as “your agents.” Bin Ladin has stated flatly, “Our fight against these governments is not separate from our fight against you.” These charges found a ready audience among millions of Arabs and Muslims angry at the United States because of issues ranging from Iraq to Palestine to America’s support for their countries’ repressive rulers. Bin Ladin’s grievance with the United States may have started in reaction to specific U.S. policies but it quickly became far deeper. Bin Laden’s ‘letter to America’, printed in The Observer, November 24, 2002. The 9/11 Commission Report, again citing Bin Laden’s “Letter to America”, explains: “America should abandon the Middle East, convert to Islam, and end the immorality and godlessness of its society and culture: “It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind.” If the United States did not comply, it would be at war with the Islamic nation, a nation that al Qaeda’s leaders said “desires death more than you desire life.”