Amidst grand statements about intervention in Syria, chemical weapons, Russian diplomatic manoeuvres and death tolls, little attention has been paid lately to one of the biggest and best known enemies of America: Al Qaeda.
Compared to Putin’s letters to American newspapers or diplomatic strategies to settle the Syrian question, the message of Al Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, has passed relatively unnoticed. And still, between the lines of his speech in 9/11 this year, al-Zawahiri gives some of the key points about intervention in Syria. Or better, of why not to intervene in Syria.
This story is an old one, but everyone in American politics seems to suffer a chronic amnesia over this point. Indeed, it is based on two old stories: the first one, is the American public debt, which caused a great deal of fear during the fateful year of 2008 and the early years of the crisis, but which, also, politicians have tried to relegate to oblivion since the 2000 presidential election. The second is the long record of mistakes that US diplomacy has committed when dealing with jihadist movements and threats, starting with the financing of Osama Bin Laden’s militias in their struggle against the Soviet Union in the 1980’ Afghanistan.
Al-Zawahiri’s speech is at the same time dealing with old and current problems. In his message, Al Qaeda’s leader apparently says nothing new: what he had to say, Osama Bin Laden had already said, and American politicians had already tried to forget. Basically the emphasis of his speech was centred on the goal of straining American economy to the point of bankruptcy. To achieve this objective, Al Zawahiri pretends to “bleed America economically by provoking it to continue in its massive expenditure on security, for the weak point of America is its economy, which has already begun to stagger due to the military and security expenditure”. Nothing that Osama didn’t say in the past, and still, one new word. Note it, for it is the key of this article: “continue”.
Al Zawahiri knows what he is saying, and he is an intelligent man. The American public debt is the largest ever seen in the world, far larger than the debt inherited after the Second World War, the biggest armed conflict in history. The only real threat to American economic hegemony. And still, few remember that the so-called ‘Public Debt Clock’ once stood in the middle of New York city, informing its citizens publicly, not only of the overall debt of the state, but also of each family’s share. Few remember that both candidates to the presidency in 2000, Al Gore and George W. Bush, promised either to get rid of the public debt, or to diminish it. And still, the closure of that clock, along with the huge indebtedness that followed, was the success of one man, and one organization: the man, Osama bin Laden, the organization, Al Qaeda.
After the 9/11 of 2001, the public debt clock was shut down, Al Qaeda’s real biggest victory to the moment. What followed were two of the biggest wars America has been involved in since Vietnam, the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Both of them costly failures, but what is worse, both of them made American public debt completely unmanageable. This, as Al-Zawahiri says, as Osama Bin Laden knew, is the weakest point of America’s economy. Especially since most of this public debt is in America’s worst enemy’s hands: China. To put it in a simpler way: Al Qaeda forced, by attracting America to two long military interventions, to sell their sovereignty to the best bidder, which turned out to be China.
The second story, is that of America doing the dirty job for fundamentalist groups. In 2003, America deposed a government that, however dictatorial, had worked for them sustaining a long war against Iran. The outcome was to throw Iraq to the hands of jihadists, to get rid of one of Iran’s worst enemies, and to indebt America. Not happy with that, the intervention in Afghanistan didn’t achieve any other major success: it was costly, it alienated the Afghans against a regime that is perceived as corrupted and imposed by foreigners, and it also alienated one of America’s most crucial ally in the fight against Al Qaeda, Pakistan.
Now, America’s debt is uncontrolled, its capacity to act against threats diminished by their own indebtedness, and their enemies rejuvenated by American weakness and hostility against the US growing in countries that were once strong allies.
But there is still scope for a bit more of American indebtedness, weakness, and alienation. Syria has been respected until now, but it may become Al Qaeda’s next battlefield in its – this is the truth – economic battle against the West.
Even though an agreement was reached on the handing of Al Assad’s chemical weapons through Russian intermediation – a major Russian diplomatic victory –, France, the United Kingdom and the US still seem to be willing to go further in the mud. In Paris, the Foreign Ministers of this three nations agreed to keep supplying the rebels with weapons, and although the intervention is discarded now – by vote in the case of England -, there may arise issues in the future to justify an invasion. It is better then, to see this as intervention postponed, rather than intervention cancelled.
But who are this rebels that the US is so obsessed with helping? How is the outcome to prove so beneficial for the US so as to justify further expenditure when the American economy is just recovering? There is not a unified front against the Syrian government. A IHS Jane’s report published before Kerry’s threatening words in Paris informed that only around 30,000 fighters out of 100,000 may be secular nationalists, with an estimated of 10,000 that openly belong to Al Qaeda-linked bands. Charles Lister, the author, stated that “the idea that it is mostly secular groups leading the opposition is just not borne out”.
Barbaric behaviour is not exclusive of Assad’s government. Catholic webpage Alerta Digital reported crimes committed by opposition combatants against Christians in Syria. One of them, the rape and murder of a Christian under-aged girl, the second, the rape and murder of Miriam, a 15 year-old Christian girl killed by militants associated with the jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra. The difference is that Assad commits his crimes with his own chemical arsenal, while these Christian girls were probably killed by American-paid bullets. This news, is worth noticing, can be found only in Spanish or Arab; no attempt has been made to report them in English of French.
Does this not resemble American support of Bin Laden’s militias in Afghanistan? Not only that. Al-Zawahiri and Bin Laden knew the game they’re playing. Didn’t the Soviet Union finally collapsed when Reagan and Thatcher decided to start a weapon run that the Soviets couldn’t finance because they were still clearing their debts after their Afghan war?
Obama faces a difficult position now. Intervention most clearly will mean leaving Syria in jihadist hands and to threaten the small economic recovery loading the burden of the state. Compliance to Russian diplomacy means weakness. In an analysis published the 12th this month, Global Agency Stratford already accepted Russian manoeuvres as a pretended trap to gain leadership at America’s expense. If it certainly was, then the Russians may win or lose. It is America who has let herself be in a lose or lose position: if they just accept the status quo after the handling of the chemical weapons, Russia has won. If they intervene, they will be following Al Qaeda’s predicted policy, and Al-Zawahiri wins.
America’s major mistake has been to let themselves be caught in this double front, and still, the best option would probably be to let the Russians gain the initiative (which they may lose in their own dealings), rather than to follow Al Qaeda’s agenda. For as crude as it seems, the US has been doing, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and maybe Syria, what Al Qaeda not only expected, but wanted: waste of money, instability, greater debt, greater numbers of jihadists. The US political class must not keep blind and deaf to their own mistakes and keep proposing military interventions. The American economy is strong enough to handle the Great Crisis after the debt of Iraq and Afghanistan, but a conflict of the same scale can prove to be unbearable.
 Fergusson, Niall, The Ascent of Money