An Inside Look at al-Qaeda’s Motivations

Working for the CIA, James A. Mitchell spent thousands of hours speaking with al-Qaeda leaders in American custody, especially Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (in shorthand, KSM), mastermind of the September 11 attacks. In his new memoir, Mitchell describes the experience and explains what he and his colleagues learned. Marc Thiessen writes in his review:

[P]erhaps the most riveting part of the book is what KSM told Mitchell about what inspired al-Qaeda to attack the United States—and the U.S. response he expected. Today, some on both the left and the right argue that al-Qaeda wanted to draw us into a quagmire in Afghanistan—and now Islamic State wants to do the same in Iraq and Syria. KSM said this is dead wrong. Far from trying to draw us in, KSM said that al-Qaeda expected the United States to respond to 9/11 as we had to the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut—when, KSM told Mitchell, the United States “turned tail and ran.” He also said he thought we would treat 9/11 as a law-enforcement matter, just as we had the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and of the USS Cole in Yemen—arresting some operatives and firing a few missiles into empty tents, but otherwise leaving him free to plan the next attack. . . .

But KSM said something else that was prophetic. In the end, he told Mitchell, “We will win because Americans don’t realize [that] we do not need to defeat you militarily; we only need to fight long enough for you to defeat yourself by quitting.”

KSM was right. For the past eight years, our leaders have told us that we are weary of war and need to focus on “nation-building at home.” We have been defeating ourselves by quitting—just as KSM predicted. But quitting will not bring us peace, KSM told Mitchell, explaining that “it does not matter that we [Americans] do not want to fight them.”

Read more at Washington Post

More about: Al Qaeda, CIA, Iraq war, Politics & Current Affairs, War on Terror

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy