tell me what they want, what they really, really want

Im not a scholar on the politics of the Middle East (regardless of what my Match.com profile might say), but it seems to me that University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, in his recent post as to what al-Qaeda may have been hoping to accomplish with the attacks of 9/11, might be on to something. Here, in part, is what professor Cole has to say:

Bin Laden sees the Muslim world as continually invaded, divided and weakened by outside forces. Among these is the Americans in Saudi Arabia and the Israelis in geographical Palestine. He repeatedly complained about the occupation of the three holy cities, i.e., Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.
For al-Qaeda to succeed, it must overthrow the individual nation-states in the Middle East, most of them colonial creations, and unite them into a single, pan-Islamic state. But Ayman al-Zawahiri’s organization, al-Jihad al-Islami, had tried very hard to overthrow the Egyptian state, and was always checked. Al-Zawahiri thought it was because of US backing for Egypt. They believed that the US also keeps Israel dominant in the Levant, and backs Saudi Arabia’s royal family.

Al-Zawahiri then hit upon the idea of attacking the “far enemy” first. That is, since the United States was propping up the governments of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc., all of which al-Qaeda wanted to overthrow so as to meld them into a single, Islamic super-state, then it would hit the United States first.

The attack on the World Trade Center was exactly analogous to Pearl Harbor. The Japanese generals had to neutralize the US fleet so that they could sweep into Southeast Asia and appropriate Indonesian petroleum. The US was going to cut off imperial Japan from petroleum, and without fuel the Japanese could not maintain their empire in China and Korea. So they pushed the US out of the way and took an alternative source of petroleum away from the Dutch (which then ruled what later became Indonesia).

Likewise, al-Qaeda was attempting to push the United States out of the Middle East so that Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia would become more vulnerable to overthrow, lacking a superpower patron. Secondarily, the attack was conceived as revenge on the United States and American Jews for supporting Israel and the severe oppression of the Palestinians. Bin Laden wanted to move the timing of the operation up to spring of 2001 so as to “punish” the Israelis for their actions against the Palestinians in the second Intifadah. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad was mainly driven in planning the attack by his rage at Israel over the Palestinian issue. Another goal is to destroy the US economy, so weakening it that it cannot prevent the emergence of the Islamic superpower

It remains to be seen whether the US will be forced out of Iraq the way it was forced out of Iran in 1979. If so, as al-Zawahiri says, that will be a huge victory. A recent opinion poll did find that over 80 percent of Iraqis want an Islamic state. If Iraq goes Islamist, that will be the biggest victory the movement has had since the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. An Islamist Iraq might well be able ultimately to form a joint state with Syria, starting the process of the formation of the Islamic superstate of which Bin Laden dreams.

If you get a chance, you may want to check out the entire piece. The general message, at least for me, was that we were smart to go in and oust the Taliban in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, but that we played right into al-Qaedas hands when we put soldiers on the ground in Iraq. In Coles opinion, I think, we could have beaten al-Qaeda, and crushed bin Ladens dream of an Islamic superstate if we hadn’t let that other shoe drop. Sounds plausible to me.

* this post was brought to you by Texans for Truth.

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