On the Iraq "insurgency" he writes:
[A]l-Qaeda chose to make Iraq its decisive arena of confrontation with the United States. The US came to Iraq primarily to topple Saddam Hussein and remove one "state sponsor of terrorism" but it was Al-Qaeda that rushed in to stake its reputation there. A networked insurgency with followers in many Muslim countries could have chosen to attack America elsewhere. But instead it decided to focus its efforts on driving the US from Iraq. For that purpose its leadership established al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and funneled recruits into it from all over the world. This force was tasked with the explicit political goal of creating a Islamic Caliphate that would provide a prototype for a future Islamic state after the hated Americans had been driven out. Therefore much of the post-Saddam violence was probably the consequence of al-Qaeda's decision to flood all the resources of world terrorism into Iraq. Clearly Zarqawi's clear intention from the Samarra mosque bombing onward was to incite as much violence as he could. Given that al-Qaeda made Iraq the center of its global efforts, O’Hanlon and Pollack's admiration of MNF-I's decision to focus against it seems perplexing. Surely Petraeus had no alternative? Surely he was simply picking up the gauntlet? But that would not quite be true. Through much of 2005 and 2006 a variety of lines were suggested. Some argued that the US should lash out against Syria or Iran for allowing "militants" to transit their borders. Some believed Shi'a militias should be the primary target operations. Until recently many argued -- and still argue -- that al-Qaeda didn't exist in Iraq at all; so how could MNF-I focus against what was not there? So while taking on al-Qaeda now seems the obvious choice, in retrospect there were many other candidates vying for the title of Center of Gravity. Those bad guys still remain, but MNF-I saw al-Qaeda in Iraq as the key to the position and that choice, according to O’Hanlon and Pollack, appears to be the right one.And the consequences of taking on al-Qaeda directly in Iraq?
[B]y attacking al-Qaeda, the US took engaged not only the most fanatical force in Iraq but the one with the most powerful narrative. And by shrewdly matching kinetic warfare with political warfare, organizing the victims of al-Qaeda's depredations, it brought the myth down to earth. As long as al-Qaeda remained an "idea" it might be regarded as invincible, a mystical will o' the wisp. But once this mystical force was forced to materialize in Iraq, it became embodied in the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his henchmen, who, viewed up close, turned out to be nothing more than brutal gangsters of the lowest and most sadistic type instead of latter day Companions of the Prophet. Even Zawahiri, despite his pretensions to refinement, could not avoid discrediting himself as he proved unable to resist threatening to gouge people's eyes out if they did not follow his bidding. It is said that no man is a hero to his own valet. Familiarity with the genuine article brought disillusionment, contempt and finally hatred for al-Qaeda.
And without the romantic mantle of apocalyptic Islamism to puff them up, both Syria and Iran would shrink to the third-rate powers that they truly are. In choosing al-Qaeda as its focus, MNF-I indirectly weakened both Teheran and Damascus in ways that both were powerless to counter. None of this has been completely achieved yet. But as O’Hanlon and Pollack state, Iraq while not yet won is getting better. And if the process continues much will be accomplished if al-Qaeda can be defeated in Iraq; their image tarnished beyond repair and their narrative shown to be a pack of lies.
Read the whole thing here.Al-Qaeda's reputation peaked just after 9/11 when it could credibly advertise itself as the "strong horse" that would drive the U. S. and other Western powers out of the Muslim world, but engagement with a determined U. S. presence in Iraq has proved disastrous to that vision. Both the Islamist vision of a restored Caliphate and the "realist" determination to support corrupt despots in the interest of promoting "stability" have taken severe hits, and continued success in Iraq might revive the original intention of providing an alternative to both.
Stay tuned..., this is getting really interesting.