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Losing Wars, Winning War.

I wouldn't be picking out the Caliphmobile just yet.

The author of the Jihadist's Bible recants. Zawahiri is angry and worried.

The Pew poll shows sharp decline in Muslim support for suicide bombing. In Pakistan the number has gone from 33% in 2002 to 9% today.

There may be a split within Al Qaeda, even within their Pakistani tribal regions stronghold.

Sunnis in Anbar province, Iraq, are joining with Americans and iraqi government forces to kill Al Qaeda in what is being called the Anbar Awakening.

Straws in the wind. Nothing conclusive. And bear in mind: they'll manage to hit us again. Hard.

So I'm not saying it's over. It's a long way from over. But I think the tide has turned. I think Al Qaeda has jumped the shark. And I am starting to think that even while we lose one and a half small wars, we may win the big war.

Usually the United States wins its wars with overwhelming power. It's what worked in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War II and Gulf War I where we won convincing victories. It's what we didn't manage to bring to bear in 1812, Korea or Vietnam. We are good with a sledgehammer. Not so good with a scalpel. (Mexican-American war being perhaps our best scalpel-handling moment.) We stink when we do subtle. That's why we're in trouble in Iraq: we went with subtle.

But there's another great American war, different from the other wars we fought because we never quite got around to the shooting at all. (Had we done so this blog would be written by a radioactive mutant cockroach named Zang.) That war, the Cold War, we didn't win by bringing a crushing weight of men and materiel to bear. We won it by being Americans. We won it because we were right and the enemy was wrong about economics, and about the nature of man.

At the start of the Cold War the action looked like this: the Soviet Union bet it could win with a command economy, political repression, a docile empire, and a relentless propaganda effort to promote a unifying ideology. The Americans bet they could win with a free market, small 'd' democratic politics, a gaggle of fractious allies and a sort of vague free-lance propaganda effort centered on loud music, hamburgers and breasts.

To the surprise of every thinking person, the Americans won. We out-produced the Soviets in weapons technology and had plenty of capacity left over to out-produce them in food, cars, clothing, computers, toys, fancy cooking implements and every other category except vodka and gloomy political jokes. To everyone's amazement our political system -- a system based on the rule of law, the protection of minorities, and the bloviation of windbags -- was actually more effective than the Soviet system of unanimous votes cast by mummified apparatchiks. Our allies which, God help us, included the French, were superior in every way to the Evil Empire's cowed Slavs and lesser Germans. And as absurd as it sounds, ragged-looking potheads singing about peace made more effective propaganda than the enemy's May Day marches and nine hour speeches on the topic: "Shoes: Why We Have Eight Million Pairs of Size Nine, and Only Six Pairs Of Size Ten.'

We didn't win the Cold War because Ronald Reagan told that evil emperor Mr. Gorbachev to tear down the wall. We won because by that point the moral, economic, cultural and intellectual superiority of the West was undeniable. Even in the communist world. Even in Berkeley. We won because it was clear that we were right -- about economics and the nature of man -- and they were wrong.

Flash forward about 20 years. This time the enemy isn't an evil empire. It's more in the nature of an evil death cult obsessed with imposing a legal system the Chaldeans would have found backward, and reviving a Caliphate that, far from representing some shining historical high water mark was, in fact, a stumblebum regime kept alive for a time by nominal foes more worried by its weakness than its strength.

This enemy is a fish that swims in the sea of Islam. It echoes themes found in Islam. It plays on fantasies that have some currency within Islam. And because of that it has a weight that we might not accord to another bunch of murderous dealth-cultists motivated by a pathetically adolescent desire for virgins. Al Qaeda isn't powerful as a force, it's only powerful as an ideology with the capacity to hijack a religion with a billion odd (some quite odd) adherents.

But increasingly Muslims -- Al Qaeda's only possible constituency -- are seeing Al Qaeda not as a liberating ideology but as vicious political murderers. With the emphasis on "murderers" rather than "political."

Since September the 11th, 2001, Al Qaeda's gains against the West are . . . non-existent. They wanted to terrify us and we were not, and are not, terrified. New York has long since gone back to being New York. Madrid's Atocha station has a great churro stand. (You can kill a ventricle for 5 euros.) The London tube still speeds Londoners from the Twaddle Street station to the station at North Eelpie-on-Gorge. Australian tourists are flooding Bali, drinking gigantic beers and being irritatingly friendly. We in the West have not been intimidated. We are not cowed. We are not terrorized. We're still drinking, still frolicking, still fornicating, still praying to Jesus and Jehovah, still not giving a good goddamn what some stick-up-the-ass primitive has to say about our decadent lifestyles.

On the larger world stage, since September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda has traded Afghanistan and the Americans far away, for Waziristan and the Americans next door. That's not what we wanted. But it also sure as hell isn't what Al Qaeda wanted, either.

Al Qaeda has of course spread beyond its initial home base, setting up franchises, (or at least tolerating copyright infringements on its name,) in south and southeast Asia, and, most famously, in Iraq. But I suspect this isn't really a plus for them. Yes it has expanded the pool of available terrorists and extended its reach into new geographical areas. But it has also diluted and distorted the Al Qaeda message. Al Qaeda's no longer just about killing Jews and Crusaders. Al Qaeda's franchisees kill a lot more Muslims than they do anyone else.

Here's a simple question: who is more afraid of Al Qaeda today? a) A New York City Jew, b) a Washington DC Christian, or c) a Baghdad Muslim?

The Al Qaeda brand has been diluted. "Al Qaeda: Scourge of Jews and Crusaders," has become "Al Qaeda: Scourge of Muslims." And their only constituency is . . . Muslims. See the problem there?

For a while the Communists got away the notion that they were friends to the worker. But over time it became clear that no one was worse off than a Communist worker. And from then on, once the ideology was revealed as rotten, the ideology stopped spreading.

I think Al Qaeda is at that point. And remember that the Communists had real power. They were more than just an ideology, they were tanks and nukes and vast tracts of land. Al Qaeda? They got nothing but semtex and a dream.

It's not that the Muslim world is ready to rush weeping into our arms and confess their love for us. I don't think we've made converts of them by any stretch. But I suspect they're starting to get that whatever their problems are with the Jews and Crusaders, Al Qaeda blowing up Iraqi soccer fans isn't really all that helpful.

Osama Bin Laden (R.I.P.?) and Al Zawahiri are smart boys. They'll try to refocus and relaunch the Al Qaeda brand. But it won't work. Too many failures, too many mistakes, too many franchises, too much water under the bridge. They'll kill some more people, blow up some more airliners, but their moment is over.

In our long struggle with the Communists we fought two hot wars. We pulled off a draw in Korea and lost in Vietnam. But we won the war against Communism. I suspect we'll be lucky to pull off a draw in Afghanistan and will most likely lose in Iraq. But the real war is against Al Qaeda and the global jihad. I think we're already winning that one.

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“Losing Wars, Winning War.”

  1. Blogger Richard Lawrence Cohen Says:

    Your perceptions here seem so on the button to me that I don't understand why there are no comments -- so here's one.

    But I can't agree with your Jeb Bush idea.

    I like the fact that your observations are so idiosyncratic that they sometimes seem uncannily right and sometimes wildly wrong.

  2. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    Hi, Richard:

    I was a little surprised myself. But then I've been a very bad blogger lately, not keeping up my end.

    I love sometimes "uncannily right and sometimes wildly wrong." I think I'd like that on my tombstone. Here lies Michael Reynolds: "Uncannily Right, Wildly Wrong."

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