Most Americans know that Al Qaeda and its franchises are willing to sink to any depth to destroy the United States. But few people realize just how deep those depths are.
The public's knowledge of the terror group's goals and motives is largely confined to the English translations of Osama Bin Laden's and Ayman al-Zawahiri's propaganda. Consequently, Al Qaeda and like-minded groups, or "jihadis," are viewed either as unthinking zealots or misguided freedom fighters.
"The Management of Savagery" - a book written in 2004 by Abu Bakr Naji, a high-level Al Qaeda strategist - suggests that both perspectives are off the mark.
Most jihadi writings in Arabic are similar to those already available in English. These are lengthy exposés on the Western plot to destroy Islam, dense with religious references meant to justify a violent response to this plot. Naji's book is different. Unlike typical jihadi tracts, this genre eschews religious propaganda in favor of scientific analysis, drawing on close readings of Western political theories.
In "The Management of Savagery," Naji argues that the jihadis failed in the past to establish an Islamic state because they were focused on toppling local regimes. These efforts were fruitless, he argues, because jihadis were seen as fighting their own people, which alienated the masses. Moreover, the local governments proved impervious to revolution as long as they were supported by the U.S. Based on his understanding of power politics, Naji says that the jihadis had to provoke the United States to invade a country in the Middle East.
This would 1.) turn the Muslims against local governments allied with the U.S.; 2.) destroy the U.S. aura of invincibility, which it maintains through the media, and 3.) create sympathy for the jihadis, who would be viewed as standing up to Crusader aggression. Moreover, the invasion would bleed the U.S. economy and sap its military power, leading to social unrest at home and its ultimate withdrawal from the Middle East.
Naji had hoped that Afghanistan would play out in this manner for the U.S., as it did for the Soviets. Now, Naji places his hopes on Iraq. Once the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, he contends, the jihadis must quickly move to invade neighboring countries.
Some countries are particularly ripe for jihadi incursion: Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Yemen, as well as North West Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. These areas were selected by Al Qaeda because of each region's geographic features, weak central governments, the receptivity of the people and the proliferation of weapons and jihadi propaganda. The plan, according to Naji, is to conduct small- to medium-scale attacks on crucial infrastructure (like oil or tourism), which will cause the government to draw in its security forces. Chaos or "savagery" will erupt in the unpoliced areas.
Then, the jihadis will move into these security vacuums and provide basic services to people, who will welcome an end to the instability. The final goal is to establish a single global state ruled by a pious Muslim dictator, the caliph, who will implement a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Drawing on the experience of jihadis in Egypt and Algeria, Naji cautions his readers that no plan will succeed unless the jihadis learn how to respond to public opinion and manipulate the media.
Many Westerners underestimate just how sophisticated and ruthless our enemy is. Reading Naji is a start to better understand our foes' mind-set, particularly because his text has Al Qaeda's seal of approval. The manual is available at www.ctc.usma.edu/naji.asp. Without this kind of information, the American people and our lawmakers and judges will never fully understand the awful magnitude of what we face.
This understanding is crucial for generating the bipartisan support and action so badly needed to effectively wage the long-term battle against those who would threaten our way of life. Only by knowing the depths to which the enemy will sink to defeat us will we be able to have a meaningful discussion of how far we should go to destroy them.
McCants translated "The Management of Savagery." He is a fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.