Monday, October 04, 2004

Then again . . .

Wretchard of the Belmont Club is one of my favorite analysts of what's going on in the middle east, particularly Iraq. Yesterday's post was another good one, as was the article by Reuel Marc Gerecht that he refers to.

From Gerecht's article:
The Pentagon, the State Department, and the CIA--the three powers running the Coalition Provisional Authority--did not realize how religious identity among Arab Sunnis had grown. The signs of a vibrant fundamentalism were there: the sermons, the preachers, the change of dress, personal manners, and language, and the graffiti written on the walls, and the hard-core books and pamphlets in the markets. The Americans and their highly secularized Iraqi translators often mistook Iraqi salafis for foreign fundamentalists. (The same may be true today for Prime Minister Allawi and other highly secularized, older Iraqi exiles, who have a noticeable blindness when it comes to seeing the vibrancy of Islamic militancy in post-Saddam Iraq. We would be wise to be skeptical about Allawi's contention that foreign jihadists are "pouring" into the country.) In the spring of 2003, Washington delivered demarches to Riyadh protesting Wahhabi missionary activity.

The growth of Sunni fundamentalism in Iraq perhaps started in the 1970s. It's very difficult to know for sure since the Orwellian tyranny of Saddam allowed for no reliable Western or Arab observation and comment. Elsewhere in the Sunni Arab world, including in Baathist Syria, the 1970s saw fundamentalism take off. What seems sure is that by the late 1980s and 1990s it was growing in Iraq. The country was catching up with the rest of the Sunni Arab world, where Islamic activism was gaining the intellectual and moral high ground. From the late 1980s forward, Saddam Hussein became an enthusiastic mosque-builder--perhaps the most energetic mosque-builder Islam had seen. Regardless of what lurked in Saddam's soul, the Butcher of Baghdad knew the changing sentiments of his Sunni base. With the fall of Saddam and his withered Baathist creed, the Sunni religious identity blossomed.
Back in May, I linked to an article from the New Yorker that indicated that the distance between Ba'athism and Islamic fundamentalism was not that great. Now, here's another criticism of the administration for failing to appreciate the growth of Islamism under Saddam. The gap between 'secular' Iraq and al Qaeda grows ever smaller.

Wretchard's post has other good points. Essentially, his argument is that we are faced with a choice between certain failure (Kerry) and almost certain failure (Bush).