Like many others, I have been following closely the words of our enemies. President Bush recited many of them in his speech on September 6: bin Laden, Zarqawi, Zawahiri. They have all seen Iraq as the central battle in this Third World War (counting the Cold War, it is the Fourth). They have said the whole Islamofascist dream of a Universal Caliphate, holding all of humankind in submission, hinges on this battle. ~Michael Novak

Sometimes people like Novak say such wacky things that I don’t know how to respond.  As I have noted before, every time someone uses the word Islamofascist, I believe his credibility on whatever he is talking about has been reduced by 10%, because anyone who uses such a word ipso facto misunderstands who we are fighting and shows himself to be oblivious to the flaws with this word.  Presumably he is referring only to Al Qaeda “Islamofascists” when he talks about the “Islamofascist dream,” but it’s hard to be sure, since one of the supposed advantages of this term, like the phrase “Islamic fascist,” is that it intentionally blurs lines and lumps together all kinds of different groups and regimes.  

So the “Islamofascist dream of a Universal Caliphate” hinges on the fighting in Iraq, eh?  And presumably the “glorious victory” of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea is close at hand.  I’m sure some hard-core propagandist in Pyongyang has said similarly overblown things, which we don’t take the least bit seriously, but for some reason we are supposed to take jihadi enemy propaganda as a statement about reality–perhaps because so many of us take government propaganda as a statement about reality?–and then plan accordingly.  It is not uncommon for bluster and grandiose declarations to be masks for weakness and impotence, and usually the grander the declaration the less likely it is that it will be realised.  Thus we know that when Krushchev said “we will bury you,” he actually had no means to “bury us” and no real-world prospects of acquiring the means.  When jihadis talk about how this or that battle is vital to the restoration of the Caliphate, it is about as substantive as a different propagandist’s declaration that we have to keep fighting to make sure “government by the people” does not perish from the face of the earth or that we are fighting to “make the world safe for democracy.”  In jihadi theory, the desultory warfare in Chechnya and the endless Kashmiri insurgency are also crucial to the restoration of the Caliphate–talking about the restoration of the Caliphate is part of their recruiting drive and their way of explaining their involvement in a fight to others.  If Iraq has become a more important battlefield for Al Qaeda than some of these others, it is because we are there and they see it as a golden opportunity to humble and discredit us.  By insisting on staying, we let them dictate our military deployments and our strategy, and while we run down our armed forces we make sure that withdrawal in the future will be less and less on our own terms and more and more on the terms that they set for us–in which case, there will indeed be much more humiliation than if we were to leave now at our own discretion.

Iraq has become the new version of 1980s Afghanistan, the rallying point for mujahideen everywhere–and Bosnia and Chechnya were no different in the 1990s–but unlike Afghanistan the main neighbouring country intervening in the country’s affairs is not one aligned with a movement friendly to Al Qaeda but in fact represents one of its opponents.  Stubborn persistence in Iraq and hostility towards Iran almost guarantees a repeat of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, because Washington refuses to seek rapprochement with the one regional power that could keep our withdrawal from precipitating a decade of civil war.   

With every kind of propaganda, even when victory in the specific fight is achieved, the stakes were never what the propagandists claimed and the outcome often has no relationship to what the propagandist told us to expect.  By playing according to the script the enemy gives us, goading us to fight them on the “crucial” battlefield and convincing us that all is lost if we do not, we have already ceded a huge psychological advantage to them.  They get to tell us, in a sense, how to beat them–will it be any surprise if they are lying to us and forcing us to fight in all the wrong places?  While we fight on the “central front” that they have now designated for us as the “crucial” battleground, they are securing themselves ever deeper footholds in the Northwest Territory of Pakistan and making themselves increasingly untouchable.  Whether they are aware of it or not, those who take Al Qaeda pronouncements about Iraq as justification for remaining in Iraq are helping the enemy to wear us down at a time and place of their choosing while reconstituting their organisation in relative safety inside an allegedly allied country whose government cannot effectively act against them.  If they were to read an article such as Mr. Novak’s, and when they hear the President utter similar statements, they could not help but be pleased.