Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

February 28, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

LEADERLESS JIHAD....Former CIA officer Marc Sageman has collected data on more than 500 Islamic terrorists in an effort to understand who they are, why they attack, and how to stop them. David Ignatius summarizes his new book, Leaderless Jihad, in the Washington Post today:

The heart of Sageman's message is that we have been scaring ourselves into exaggerating the terrorism threat — and then by our unwise actions in Iraq making the problem worse. He attacks head-on the central thesis of the Bush administration, echoed increasingly by Republican presidential candidate John McCain, that, as McCain's Web site puts it, the United States is facing "a dangerous, relentless enemy in the War against Islamic Extremists" spawned by al-Qaeda.

The numbers say otherwise, Sageman insists. The first wave of al-Qaeda leaders, who joined Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, is down to a few dozen people on the run in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. The second wave of terrorists, who trained in al-Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s, has also been devastated, with about 100 hiding out on the Pakistani frontier. These people are genuinely dangerous, says Sageman, and they must be captured or killed. But they do not pose an existential threat to America, much less a "clash of civilizations."

It's the third wave of terrorism that is growing, but what is it? By Sageman's account, it's a leaderless hodgepodge of thousands of what he calls "terrorist wannabes." Unlike the first two waves, whose members were well educated and intensely religious, the new jihadists are a weird species of the Internet culture. Outraged by video images of Americans killing Muslims in Iraq, they gather in password-protected chat rooms and dare each other to take action. Like young people across time and religious boundaries, they are bored and looking for thrills.

....Sageman's harshest judgment is that the United States is making the terrorism problem worse by its actions in Iraq. "Since 2003, the war in Iraq has without question fueled the process of radicalization worldwide, including the U.S. The data are crystal clear," he writes. We have taken a fire that would otherwise burn itself out and poured gasoline on it.

This sounds genuinely fascinating, and Sageman explains his data at greater length in this month's issue of Foreign Policy. This is something I'd almost certainly read and comment on if I could, but sadly, it's for subscribers only. Maybe I'll buy a copy at lunch and report back.

Kevin Drum 12:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Who's he talking about when he says "we"? I ain't been scaring myself.

Posted by: The Critic on February 28, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Ah the arch mis-comment on we...

As to substance, sounds right mate.

Posted by: The Lounsbury on February 28, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Shouldn't someone also point out that the 9/11 hijackers were mostly just incredibly lucky that day? That, combined with a bunch of top-level incompetence, made the success of that unfortunate attack possible.

Posted by: Ranger Jay on February 28, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

So he's basically saying terrorists are like freepers, only with balls.

Posted by: enozinho on February 28, 2008 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

I'm curious the effect domestically on people's attitudes toward governance, our leadership and the way we appraoch national security. There have to be more than a few citizens really pissed off about murders, mayhem and destruction being committed in the name of this nation by basically a legally sanctioned yet criminal mob in Washington D.C. I certainly can't see myself throwing a sniper rifle and explosives in the trunk of my car and heading eastward. Others might be less restrained........

Posted by: steve duncan on February 28, 2008 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

BOO!

Posted by: R.L. on February 28, 2008 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't had a chance to look but he presented at the New America Foundation last week and you can see some of his presentation and Powerpoint slides here:

http://www.newamerica.net/events/2008/jihad_and_21st_century_terrorism

Posted by: Sean Marrett on February 28, 2008 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Why is any of this suddenly news? Seems to me that anybody who put half a watt of thought into this at any point would have reached the same conclusion (I know I did ... loooonnggg ago).

Domestic violence ... car crashed ... bad diet/lifestyles ... etc. caused far more deaths in 2001 and every year before and since. The problem there is: that's clearly US that's the enemy. Doesn't yield so well to jingoistic sloganeering.

Posted by: Robustus on February 28, 2008 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Mughniyeh was thirteen in 1976 when the CIA and Israel covertly backed the invasion of Lebanon by Syria to thwart the emergence of a broad nationalist coalition representing the country's Islamic majority and supported by the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

He was an eighteen-year-old engineering student at the American University of Beirut in 1981 when the U.S. gave a "green light" to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in pursuit of the PLO.

He was nineteen in the summer of 1982 when the Israeli Army, with covert U.S. aid, laid siege to Beirut, raking the city with artillery, devastating Shiite neighborhoods. (Osama bin Laden would say later it was the attacks on Beirut's high-rise apartment buildings that prompted him to retaliate against New York skyscrapers.)

By 1982, like several of his boyhood soccer team, teenage Mughniyeh joined the combined PLO and Lebanese nationalist resistance to the invasion, becoming a sniper along the Green Line. He watched that September as the West negotiated the PLO's exit from Lebanon with guarantees that U.S. and other peacekeeping troops would protect Palestinian refugee camps from reprisal by hostile Lebanese factions-only to see the US Marine force swiftly withdrawn, leaving Lebanese militias to massacre helpless hundreds at the Shatila and Sabra camps as Israeli forces looked on. Even US officials, Secretary of State George Shultz and National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, would call the episode "treacherous" and "criminal."

US aggression in the Middle East has radicalized people to retaliate in kind for quite a long time.

Posted by: Brojo on February 28, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Sageman seems to forget that some of those terrorists are armed with box cutters and know how to use them.

Posted by: AJ on February 28, 2008 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

"Why is any of this suddenly news? Seems to me that anybody who put half a watt of thought into this at any point would have reached the same conclusion (I know I did ... loooonnggg ago)."

Yup. What would be news would be seeing any of this percolate into the conventional wisdom in Washington. Unfortunately, I just don't see that happening.

Posted by: PaulB on February 28, 2008 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think anyone questions, outside the silly rhetoric of primary campaigns, the facts revealed by data - I think in fact it's a common assumption. But what does it matter? What does it change? Realities on ground are realities on ground - you can't just saunter out of Iraq as if that will make all the unpleasantness go away. Obama himself has somewhat hypocritically admitted this in justifying his lame record in the senate viz the war. You seem to be assuming Kevin that data like this will make McCain look bad - but that's not at all the case. The prime question is no longer how badly Bush fucked up - but rather what do we do now? And as McCain has recently pointed out Obama's rhetoric on this point is nonsensical.

Posted by: big sooze on February 28, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Robustus : Domestic violence ... car crashes ... bad diet/lifestyles ... etc. caused far more deaths...

Goes without saying. But try using any of those things to justify domestic spying and an overinflated defense budget.

Just try these: "When bad diet makes a phone call, you want the president to be able to listen in, don't ya?" "We have to fight car crashes over there so we don't have to fight them over here."

That's no way to govern. We need real enemies, even if we have to go over there and make them ourselves.

Posted by: thersites on February 28, 2008 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

we have been scaring ourselves into exaggerating the terrorism threat — and then by our unwise actions in Iraq making the problem worse.

Gee Whiz. Ya think?

Posted by: Brautigan on February 28, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Dunno if the American people will ever wake up to the fact that they've been absolutely 'had' by the neocons.

After all, the organization 'Al-qaeda' was an invention of the US government to begin with... designed to facilitate prosecution of islamist radicals under RICO [organized crime] statutes.

The radical islamists were a small and very loose aggregation of marginalized splinter groups until we threw gas on the fire and energized their movement... which is exactly what Bin Laden wanted... and exactly what the Neocons wanted.

A rational observer could see exactly what was going to happen from 9-12 on. Disaster for the american people.

A world at war is a victory for both Bin Laden and the Neocons.


Posted by: Buford on February 28, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder what this does to the McCain campaign, whose main (no, the only) theme is that he will be the best at helping us face the transcendent challenge of our time: the Islamofascist threat.

Posted by: gregor on February 28, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Well these folks are real happy this is happening and would be real disappointed if behavior was to become more sane.

Seriously.

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." - H. L. Mencken

Posted by: daCascadian on February 28, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

make all the unpleasantness go away

Much of the unpleasantness (killing of innocents) is caused by the US military and spy orgs. Leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, and especially stopping aerial bombardments, would prevent more unpleasantness than anything else the US could do. The other act the US could make that would alleviate much unpleasantness is suspend all military aid to Israel.

Posted by: Brojo on February 28, 2008 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Good. You found an ex-CIA shill willing to spout lefty rhetoric.

Trumpet it on all channels and see if America agrees.

I'll bet not, since the surge is working.


P.S. My post isn't liberal, so I don't know if it will be allowed on this 'frightened thought police' website.

Posted by: worker on February 28, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Oh for fucks sake. People with actual intel experience and associations have been saying the same thing for a couple of years now. I suppose they are all "lefty shills" since they son't believe the bullshit churned out by the administration of the current occupant?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on February 28, 2008 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

PaulB wrote: "What would be news would be seeing any of this percolate into the conventional wisdom in Washington. Unfortunately, I just don't see that happening."

Of course it won't happen, because this isn't news to the purveyors of "conventional wisdom in Washington", who are the very people who invented, propagated and profit from terrifying the American people with the fake, phony myth of the "existential threat" from "radical Islamofascist jihadism". It's not like they are ignorant of reality; they are deliberate liars.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 28, 2008 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

big sooze on February 28, 2008 at 1:14 PM:

I don't think anyone questions...the facts revealed by data...But what does it matter?

It's the factless formulation of policy that got us into the quagmire that is Iraq in the first place, sooze. Ignoring what is 'fact' - or reality - tends to be something that ends up leaving teeth marks in your ass.

Realities on ground are realities on ground

Glad you see it my way.

..you can't just saunter out of Iraq as if that will make all the unpleasantness go away.

And you can't stay in Iraq if you have no good justification for doing so.

You seem to be assuming Kevin that data like this will make McCain look bad.

That's David Ignatius, not Kev, 'tho I don't imagine Kev would greatly disagree.

The prime question is no longer how badly Bush fucked up - but rather what do we do now?

And ignoring the current set of facts will not help us to make that determination correctly, big sooze...What will promote a very bad decision about what to do next is a reliance on fantastic thinking, adherence to ideology, and profitability for a few friends of the GOP.

Posted by: grape_crush on February 28, 2008 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

worker wrote: "My post isn't liberal, so I don't know if it will be allowed on this 'frightened thought police' website."

Comments from weak-minded, ignorant mental slaves of Rush Limbaugh are always welcome on this site.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 28, 2008 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

No one could have predicted occupying a Muslim country in the heart of hte Middle East could have inflamed anti-American sentiment.

Oh, wait...that's one of the reasons cited by Bush the Elder and Colin Powell for not conquering Baghdad in the first Gulf War.

*sigh* Why do Sageman, Powell and Bush Sr. hate America?

Posted by: Gregory on February 28, 2008 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Second what secular said. We like to watch you idiots tremble and quake and piss down your collective leg. We just try to get the Constitution out of the way before you chickenshits lose bladder control.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on February 28, 2008 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

So Worker it seems the only ones frightened are the spineless jellyfish that believe there's a muslim lurking around every street corner in America with a box cutter just looking for the chance to take down a couple hapless Americans with their heads blissfully buried in the sands of mindless consumption.

Posted by: Gandalf on February 28, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

worker on February 28, 2008 at 1:37 PM:

..since the surge is working.

If the surge is working so well, why is the main Republican candidate for President saying that we may be there a hundred years?

It takes a massive amount of cognitive dissonance to support the two conflicting ideas of the surge 'working' and the US needing to remain in Iraq indefinitely.

My post isn't liberal..

The term 'liberal' has been redefined so many times that it has lost any value as a description, I think, so post away...

..so I don't know if it will be allowed on this 'frightened thought police' website.

lol - This site is probably one of the least regulated ones out there. As long as you're not a complete asshole, you can post here, worker.

Posted by: grape_crush on February 28, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Said it before, I'll say again:

The first step in fighting terrorism is to not be terrified.

Most of dumb things we have done, from invading Iraq to waterboarding to banning liquids on planes, is because the Republican leadership and a lot of Americans were terrified.

Posted by: Oberon on February 28, 2008 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

As long as you're not a complete asshole, you can post here, worker.

Hmmmm, maybe "worker" can't post here after all.

Posted by: ckelly on February 28, 2008 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Golly, I thought Arabs just up and starting hating the west one day.

Posted by: Luther on February 28, 2008 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Blue Girl: We like to watch you idiots tremble and quake and piss down your collective leg

yeah, but when they piss on my leg it's sort of annoying.

Posted by: thersites on February 28, 2008 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

WASHINGTON (CNN) Monday, June 20, 2005 -- The insurgency in Iraq is "in the last throes," Vice President Dick Cheney says, and he predicts that the fighting will end before the Bush administration leaves office.

Posted by: AJ on February 28, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

"The heart of Sageman's message is that we have been scaring ourselves into exaggerating the terrorism threat"

I completely agree with Sageman's theme, but disagree here: IMO, our society's exaggeration of the threat does not so much spring from genuine fear as it does from organized disinformation campaigns by several groups with different, but overlapping, agendas. The press, politicians, and the Pentagon/CIA.

The media sell sensationalism and fear, but they also have more subtle and indirect allegiances. Owners (who pressure editors) are embedded in the larger political/corporate system. And there's the media participants own ideological beliefs. (Along with the obvious problem of a short cycle media which won't do research and relies on he said/she said reporting, in an environment where there was no competing party to dispute govt assertions).

Politicians have their own obvious reasons to exaggerate. Even today, no prominent national politician will stand up and say "yeah, al Qaeda in Iraq isn't really an international terrorist organization - we've allowed that lie/misconception to go on unchecked."

As said above, anyone who reads more than the headlines in the mainstream media, and who thinks about this for 20 minutes with an open mind could deduce what was going on. (The rest of the world did too, being subjected to less propaganda).

Posted by: luci on February 28, 2008 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, wouldn't it be amazing if Bush or any of the right-wing TV pundits read this guy's book and started repeating its thesis and main premises on TV?

So, critics of the left-wing on the war on terror, or lefties who are doubtful of their own side: check out this book or article, and see if you think the guy did a professional investigation of his subject matter. If his story checks out, then you've got to admit either (A) the White House has its own advisors, who for some reason come to completely different conclusions than this guy (whose work checks out ok) and advise the President acting according to those conclusions; (B) the President and/or his advisors know full well that the situation is basically what this person is laying out, but for some reason they choose to protray the situation, and to allow the situation to be portrayed as, something totally otherwise. So what does that tell you?

Who knew that the original terrorists were almost totally wiped out, and the ones we're facing today were almost totally created by the Iraq war? I sure haven't heard that before today. People apparently aren't interested in reporting it. Someone probably made sure this ex-CIA guy reported it so the right-wing wouldn't be totally embarassed when a left-winger did a study a few years down the line and reported that all the main terrorists were killed years ago, and that no one bothered to ever tell the American (or world) public.

Posted by: Swan on February 28, 2008 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

After all, the organization 'Al-qaeda' was an invention of the US government to begin with... designed to facilitate prosecution of islamist radicals under RICO [organized crime] statutes.
Posted by: Buford

I agree with most of the posters that Sageman's conclusions are a bit old had, but where in the world did you get this silly idea? Al Qaeda has been in existence since the first Afghan war vs. the Soviets in the 1980s. That being said, the U.S. actions in the Islamic world since 9/11 have encouraged the "group" to morph into something different than it once was.

Posted by: Jeff II on February 28, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Al Qaeda has been in existence since the first Afghan war vs. the Soviets in the 1980s.

Actually, no. Al Qaeda as it currently exists only came into existence in the mid 1990s. While some Arabs fought with the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, they were stunningly ineffective, and bin Laden didn't really develop his current organization until years after that war ended.

Read the excellent Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" by Lawrence Wright, or "Perfect Soldiers" by Terry McDermott for a fuller background.

Posted by: Stefan on February 28, 2008 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, meant to say early 1990s rather than mid 1990s (though, of course, the exact date can never be pinpointed because of overlapping and contradictory testimony and sources. Still, the basic truth is that al Qaeda as such was not involved in the fight against Soviet forces in Afghanistan).

Posted by: Stefan on February 28, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

This is not new ground that Sageman is covering. Middle Eastern historian and commentator Fawaz Gerges covered this same ground in his book, The Far Enemy, published in 2005. Gerges had interviewed dozens of jihadis and learned (1) the vast majority of Muslims, even the most radical Wahhabists, rejected the attacks of September 11th and felt bin Laden was hurting, not helping their cause, (2) sympathized with the United States after the attacks and felt bin Laden was not a true Muslim and (3) felt that Wahhabism should be focused on the “near enemy”, namely the dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that were not true Muslims, instead of focusing on the “far enemy” of the United States. In addition, Gerges counted the true al-Qaeda operatives in the hundreds, not the thousands, and except for the element of surprise which they had on September 11th and lost on September 12th, al-Qaeda is a tiny and manageable threat to the United States.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 28, 2008 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

>"Gerges counted the true al-Qaeda operatives in the hundreds, not the thousands"

Somewhere I'd stumbled on a CIA estimate of active radical islamist operatives worldwide in 2001... as I recall, it was around 700.

They guys they liked to show on teevee news running around the 'terror camps' with AK-47's were mostly a bunch of farmers being trained for local milita operations.

So, what have spent so far on 'eliminating' the threat from 700 radicals... a trillion or so?

Now that's an effecient use of resources. Great job Bushie.

Posted by: Buford on February 28, 2008 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

U.S. Terror Watch List Surpasses 900,000 Names, ACLU Estimates

Posted by: Bojo on February 28, 2008 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Amen, Buford. On a somewhat related note, Raw Story carried an interesting story today about some new information that has been learned under the Freedom of Information Act about the 9-11 hijackers and their connection to the Saudi government. Click here for the story. Basically, there is strong evidence that two of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, were met by someone in Los Angeles in 2000, which differs from the 9-11 Commission’s timeline. Which begs the question of who arranged them to come here? Then, there is new evidence that Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia’s wife helped funnel money to the 9-11 hijackers in a complex scheme. The whole thing smells and if you’ll remember, a large section (32 pages?) of the 9-11 Commission’s report was redacted – mainly due to the fact it implicated the Saudis. I hope President Obama calls for a new Commission and gets out the truth about what really happened and how the Saudis were involved!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 28, 2008 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

There's no question that the next President should take a good look at what has been "classified" by this corrupt band of thugs and use Executive Orders to expose those things that have been hidden merely for the purposes of enabling the criminals that are the Republican "leadership."

Posted by: the on February 28, 2008 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

Then there was McCain's: "We're winning in Iraq. We're winning big time in Iraq. But not so much that we're actually going to defeat the two to three thousand foreign Jihadists and domestic thugs that call themselves Al Qaeda in Iraq and stop America's bleeding

We win,
troops stay,
spend big money,
our kids'll pay.

Posted by: Craig Johnson/ cognitorex on March 1, 2008 at 7:08 AM | PERMALINK

"Gerges counted the true al-Qaeda operatives in the hundreds, not the thousands...."

This item is irrelevant, if it is indeed true. More importantly, the era of formal 'al-Qaeda operatives,' is over. What Gerges is counting is strictly the number of men (and some women) under arms who have likely sworn allegiance to bin Laden. You don't need to have sworn allegiance to AQ or UBL in order to be a bona fide terrorist, though. If you buy into the suggestion that there are only 700 violent jihadists in the world, you've never listened to Friday sermons in Yemen.

More important than men under arms is the number of people worldwide who have affinity for those under arms and support their objectives, either actively or passively. No doubt millions currently fall into this category, and and it is from these people that jihadists draw their material, financial, and (most critically) moral support. These millions legitimize the jihad and make it an acceptable course of action, whether through their words, their actions, or their silence. Violent Islamic extremism will continue to be a problem for the world until the global Ummah starts to push back hard against the jihadists.

Posted by: William J. on May 28, 2008 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly