Beyond the U.S.-led coalition’s battlefield successes in Iraq lies an ominous specte: the coming wave of terrorism. Americans should brace themselves.
That warning aims not to alarm people but to alert them to real possibilities so that the next attack will not surprise them as Sept. 11, 2001, did. Shock, disgust and anger, yes, but not surprise.
It’s impossible to predict when and where the carnage will commence, just as the timing and targets of the 9-11 perpetrators eluded the best efforts of terrorism monitors.
But an increase in terrorism inevitably will follow the war in Iraq – an ironic outcome of an intervention that strives, among other goals, to break the decades-long connections between Baghdad and various terrorist organizations.
Even if the U.S.-led coalition succeeds in winning the war, securing the peace and – ideally with U.N. assistance – establishing a stable successor government in Baghdad, terrorists have found new inspiration to lash out at American interests.
Part of the threat springs from Saddam Hussein loyalists, who should be expected to use every weapon at their disposal. For them, death looms in virtually all directions, whether from U.S.-led forces or Iraqis yearning for retribution. That bleak outlook makes the loyalists extremely dangerous.
Another threat comes from al-Qaida operatives. They slipped into Iraq long before the war started, not in the interest of aiding Saddam but to advance their group’s influence.
Ultimately – and this extends the terrorism threat from Iraq to the entire world – al-Qaida seeks to remake civilization according to its narrow, restrictive vision and perverted interpretation of Islam.
Al-Qaida had a global strategy long before Sept. 11. But after the United States declared a war against terrorism, the group expanded its own efforts to develop a multinational coalition of terrorists.
For evidence of al-Qaida’s plans, one need look no further than a recently revealed audiotape purporting to feature Osama bin Laden. Whether the voice on the tape belongs to bin Laden or not, the danger is clear.
He and his cohorts wish to create the perception that the United States heads a global campaign against Muslims, essentially a modern crusade. Bin Laden thus invites Muslims to join in what he has termed a struggle between Islam and the infidels.
That kind of inflammatory rhetoric intends to agitate the vast majority of Muslims who want nothing to do with violence and who have chosen peaceful coexistence with Western practices and beliefs. Virtually all of those Muslims should hold their ground.
However, some – especially those who are unemployed, disillusioned and or angry over the United States’ policies and unilateralist impulses – will respond, including to bin Laden’s call for more suicide bombers.
The audiotape also attempts to sow suspicion about U.S. intentions by suggesting that the war in Iraq marks simply the beginning of an American campaign that eventually will engulf both U.S. adversaries such as Iran and traditional partners such as Saudi Arabia. It further tries to paint the United States in a negative light in association with issues ranging from the status of Palestinians to Israel to Afghanistan.
One detects a sense of urgency in the audiotape, perhaps stemming from a perception by al-Qaida that the United States and its allies have enjoyed too many successes in the war against terrorism.
But Americans should not delude themselves into thinking that losses will discourage al-Qaida from returning to the fight. Its operatives have vowed to struggle against all odds, suffer severely and even die. Along the way, they exhibit extraordinary patience, scheming in terms of years and decades with an unerring focus.
Such a mind-set guarantees the next attack and demands ongoing American vigilance.
John C. Bersia, who won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for the Orlando Sentinel in 2000, is also the special assistant to the president for global perspectives and a professor at the University of Central Florida.