Violence in Iraq has dropped to pre-Insurgency levels. General Petraeus’s tactics have clearly worked at killing off terrorists on the ground in Iraq, but more is going on. Reinforcement by new jihadis seeking martyrdom has also plummeted, so insurgent casualties are no longer being replaced.
Two recent articles explain how US military success is being supplemented by an ideological counter-offensive within the Islamic World.
Stratfor’s George Friedman explains that Saudi money is being used very actively to purchase peace and the right kind of theology.
At current oil prices, the Saudis are absolutely loaded with cash. In the Arabian Peninsula as elsewhere, money buys friends. In Arabia, the rulers have traditionally bound tribes and sects to them through money. At present, the Saudis can overwhelm theological doubts with very large grants and gifts. The Saudi government did not enjoy 2004 and does not want a repeat. It is therefore carefully strengthening its ties inside Saudi Arabia and throughout the Sunni world using money as a bonding agent. …
With crude prices in the range of $130 a barrel, the Saudis are now making more money on oil than they could have imagined five years ago when the price was below $40 a barrel. The Saudis donâ€™t know how long these prices will last. Endless debates are raging over whether high oil prices are the result of speculation, the policy of the U.S. Federal Reserve, conspiracy by the oil companies and so on. The single fact the Saudis can be certain of is that the price of oil is high, they donâ€™t know how long it will remain high, and they donâ€™t want anything interfering with their amassing vast financial reserves that might have to sustain them in lean times should they come.
In short, the Saudis are trying to reduce the threat of war in the region. War is at this moment the single greatest threat to their interests. In particular, they are afraid of any war that would close the Strait of Hormuz, through which a large portion of the oil they sell flows. The only real threat to the strait is a war between the United States and Iran in which the Iranians countered an American attack or blockade by mining the strait. It is assumed that the United States could readily deal with any Iranian countermove, but the Saudis have watched the Americans in Iraq and they are not impressed. From the Saudi point of view, not having a war is the far better option.
The Saudis are engaged in a massive maneuver to try to pacify the region, if not forever, then for at least as long as oil prices are high. The Saudis are quietly encouraging the Syrian-Israeli peace talks along with the Turks, and one of the reasons for Syrian participation is undoubtedly assurances of Saudi investments in Syria and Lebanon from which Damascus can benefit. The Saudis also are encouraging Israeli-Palestinian talks, and there is, we suspect, Saudi pressure on Hamas to be more cooperative in those talks. The Saudis have no interest in an Israeli-Syrian or Israeli-Hezbollah conflict right now that might destabilize the region.
Finally, the Saudis have had enough of the war in Iraq. They do not want increased Iranian power in Iraq. They do not want to see the Sunnis marginalized. They do not want to see al Qaeda dominating the Iraqi Sunnis. They have influence with the Iraqi Sunnis, and money buys even more. Ever since 2003, with the exception of the Kurdish region, the development of Iraqi oil has been stalled. Iraqis of all factions are aware of how much money theyâ€™ve lost because of their civil war. This is a lever that the Saudis can use in encouraging some sort of peace in Iraq.
It is not that Saudi Arabia has become pacifist by any means. Nor are they expecting (or, frankly, interested in) lasting peace. They are interested in assuring sufficient stability over the coming months and years so they can concentrate on making money from oil.
Meanwhile, as Lawrence Wright describes in the New Yorker, the Islamic theologian who wrote the books inspiring al Qaeda’s jihadist movement last year published a new book, “Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World,â€ featuring a major change of heart.
The premise that opens â€œRationalizing Jihadâ€ is â€œThere is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.â€ Fadl then establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circumstances. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation.
In order to declare jihad, Fadl writes, certain requirements must be observed. One must have a place of refuge. There should be adequate financial resources to wage the campaign. Fadl castigates Muslims who resort to theft or kidnapping to finance jihad: â€œThere is no such thing in Islam as ends justifying the means.â€ Family members must be provided for. â€œThere are those who strike and then escape, leaving their families, dependents, and other Muslims to suffer the consequences,â€ Fadl points out. â€œThis is in no way religion or jihad. It is not manliness.â€ Finally, the enemy should be properly identified in order to prevent harm to innocents. â€œThose who have not followed these principles have committed the gravest of sins,â€ Fadl writes. …
To Muslims living in non-Islamic countries, Fadl sternly writes, â€œI say it is not honorable to reside with peopleâ€”even if they were nonbelievers and not part of a treaty, if they gave you permission to enter their homes and live with them, and if they gave you security for yourself and your money, and if they gave you the opportunity to work or study, or they granted you political asylum with a decent life and other acts of kindnessâ€”and then betray them, through killing and destruction. This was not in the manners and practices of the Prophet.â€
It is to this recent book by Dr. Fadl that Ayman Zawahiri has been responding indignantly in his taped messages.