Caucasus jihadis feel Boston shocks
By Dmitry Shlapentokh
The Boston bombing is still in the process of investigation and could have a variety of repercussions in both the short and the long run. Many of these repercussions cannot be predicted, but some can be seen.
One is connected with the North Caucasus jihadis’ involvement in the Syrian conflict, and their relationship with the US. While several months ago the North Caucasus jihadis assumed that their participation in fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would lead to total rapprochement with Washington, they are increasingly losing belief in such a development.
At the same time, Washington also started to doubt what could be called the “Obama doctrine” and its implied use of jihadis in dealing with US enemies. This process started several weeks ago, and the Boston events most likely will have accelerated them.
A few months ago, the Kavkaz Center, the Russian jihadis major Internet publication, departed from its years-long’ practice of denying that Chechens and other North Caucasus’ have participated in various jihadis movements outside the borders of the Russian Federation.
The Kavkaz Center pointed out that, indeed, many mujahideen from the Northern Caucasus have fought in Syria. Moreover, it said they were formidable allies of the resistance, not only because of their fighting spirit and skills but also because of the considerable Chechen community in the region. Not only did these Chechens help the fighters replenish their ranks but they also gave them support and spiritual nourishment, it said.
The Kavkaz Center publication implied that the venture to Syria was something actually encouraged by the leaders of the North Caucasus resistance, and with it that the North Caucasus resistance had more fighters and wannabe fighters than it could absorb.
This departure of such forces to Syria would bring no harm to the resistance, the publication argued. Moreover, the war in Syria and resistance in the North Caucasus were part of the same struggle – the global jihad. Still, as time progressed, the nature of the Syrian war and the North Caucasus’ resistance to the war visibly changed.
The authors of several of the Kavkaz Center publications insisted that one should not assume Syria to be the most important place of jihad. As a matter of fact, they insisted rather that the North Caucasus is more in need of fighters than Syria.
Indeed, in a striking display of self-criticism, the publication’s posts noted that the infidels and their stooges had achieved considerable success and that the ranks of jihadis had been decimated in many areas.
These jihadis should be of more importance for jihad in the North Caucasus than in Syria. In addition, the North Caucasus jihadis could well find themselves in an environment where they would be alienated not just from male jihadis but also from the local womenfolk. The conclusion is simple: it is much better to stay in the North Caucasus than venture to Syria.
What is the reason for the Kavkas Center’s change of view? Here, the policy of the United States in its global span should be taken into account.
From Roman to Byzantine empires and after United States foreign policy is absolutely unrelated to the personalities of presidents and is determined by socio/economic and geopolitical conditions of the US.
The geopolitical suicide committed by Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev and assisted by Boris Yeltsin hastened the disintegration of the Soviet empire and the end of the USSR created the illusion of “the end of history”; that is that the US capitalists’ democracy worked better than any other socio-economic system in history. Both the US elite and the American hoi polloi shared this view.
The global geopolitical vacuum coupled with the feeling of unchallenging and boundless confidence led to a string of American “preventive” wars started not by “fascist” George W Bush but by “liberal” Bill Clinton. All of this demonstrates that foreign policy in Washington has nothing to do with the nature of the occupant of the White House.
All of them behave in a sort of Roman fashion when the deployment of legions was the response to all problems. Still, the imperial “war” was conducted in the same way as the stock market speculation and followed the same pattern: the American empire collapsing with the same speed as its rise.
President Barack Obama and his cabinet soon discovered, even before sequestration, that they simply cannot sustain the long war of attrition on the basis of mercenary armies and a mercantile system – and a deeply split society where the notion of national interest manifests itself mostly in shooting off firecrackers and drinking beer on the Fourth of July.
The Washington elite was compelled to trumpet the withdrawal from Iraq as a logical result of “mission accomplished.” Still, Washington was not anxious to completely depart from the Middle East. And American analysts thought to achieve through manipulation what they were not able to achieve by an open fight. The “Roman model” was to be replaced by the “Byzantine model,” if one would remember Edward Luttwak’s stratagems. And the jihadis had emerged in Washington mind as an important force in achieving US goals.
In search of allies
Washington seems to regard quite a few of the jihadis as its enemies. Still, it would be naive to assume that Washington policy in the Middle East is defined just by the struggle with the jihadis, especially al-Qaeda. One could state here that even fighting with al-Qaeda is in many ways an excuse for a much broader agenda, with September 11, 2001 plainly playing the role of casus belli, the ideological ploy already known to the Romans.
This attack was hardly a Osama bin Laden masterplan, and his role in the entire enterprise was actually minimal, if any. Indeed, he hardly helped the 9/11 terrorists to get green cards; and it was not Afghanistan where they received their pilot training. Neither was there any evidence of them receiving cash from al-Qaeda. And in any case, many terrorists lived in the US for many years, well before Bin Laden emerged as the al-Qaeda leader and survived without any foreign financial help.
At best, Bin Laden could provide terrorists with a moral blessing of a sort. However, the importance of even this should not be exaggerated if one would remember the vicious anti-Americanism shared by millions in the Middle East and beyond. The image of Islamists, with al-Qaeda as their symbol, as the absolute enemy of the US is, of course, a propaganda show for internal consumption. Quite a few American political analysts- those who are close to government – see them in a more complex light and believe that the enemy could be a useful ally.
One should also remember that this decision was not entirely new. Most of the geopolitical tools used in present-day Washington are reinventions or revisions of those employed – successfully or not – a few years ago. “Afghanization” of the Afghanistan conflict, ie, the assumption that local Afghan forces would fight well upon receiving American training and weapons was calculated from “Vietnamization”.
Washington is not anxious to make comparisons, because these hardly bode well for the “Afghanization” of the conflict. On the other hand, the use of jihadis in Afghanistan to fight the USSR had been a clear success and the example most likely to inspire the implementation of similar techniques in the present-day Middle East.
Libya and the Obama Doctrine The events in Libya provided the chance to implement what could be called “Obama doctrine”. In this arrangement, the US was just part of a broad Western coalition that provided the air cover for ground forces composed mostly of Islamists. The design seems to have worked well. Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed, and the jihadis were either marginalized in propaganda images or were transformed into heroic freedom fighters.
It was decided to employ the same tactic in Syria where Washington, if not itself but through its proxy, started to provide weapons to jihadis; and Washington announced that Assad’s hours are numbered and if he did not run away it is only because he is afraid that he would be killed by his entourage.
At that point, the North Caucasus resistance assumed that it could well offer Washington considerable help in dealing with Assad, who was an ally of Moscow, the resistance’s arch-foe. It was implied that in exchange, Washington would provide them with recognition and financial and military support. Still, the plan collapsed soon enough.
While the North Caucasus jihadis sent their signals about possible cooperation with Washington, North Africans had no love for Washington nor were they easily fooled and transformed into manageable puppets. Soon after Gaddafi’s death, a revolt killed several members of the American consulate in Benghazi, including the American ambassador. Nothing of this sort had happened in 30 years.
Free from Gaddafi’s iron rule and seeing little Western footprint in the region, jihadis spread far to the south of Northern Africa where they were never visible before, at least not in such numbers. In Washington, Republicans immediately proclaimed that it was Obama’s administration policy that led to the devastation, of course, conveniently forgetting who had encouraged Obama to act.
Regardless of Washington’s infight and Hillary Clinton’s departure as secretary of state, the vision of the jihadis has changed in the US elite’s mind. It has become clear that arming them is quite dangerous and Washington’s desire to provide them with weapons has been either halted or reduced to a minimum. This, of course, has been taken into account by the members of the North Caucasus resistance who from now on see little pressing reason to send valuable fighters far from home. As a matter of fact, with all of their appreciation of global jihad, they have more pressing needs at home.
The jihadis with all of their similarities with the Marxist-Leninist movement of the 20th century still differ from it in one important aspect. Today, there is no Moscow with the financial and other resources as well as ability to protect the jihadis-cum-revolutionaries.
While Moscow could demand obedience as payment for substantial help and support, no similar force now exists. In this situation, the global jihad lost any unifying glue, regardless of the sameness of ideology of the various players and their endless assertions about solidarity. And this influenced the image of the anti-Assad fight in the eyes of North Caucasus jihadis.
This increasing estrangement of North Caucasus jihadis, in fact, all of the jihadis in Syria, from Washington has become increasingly reciprocated on the American side. There is no increase in the supply of weapons or important materials or much-wanted aerial support, despite the bitter complaints on the Syrian resistance.
Moreover, a few days before the bombs exploded in Boston, the US started to target jihadis fighters in Syria, especially those affiliated with al-Qaeda. The Boston bombing surely will intensify this process of alienation.
It is most likely that the two Chechen terrorists have no connection with external forces and mostly had been radicalized in the US. This was especially most likely the case with the older brother who was a man of traditional society, with its tightly knit friendships and blood relationships. Indeed, he appears to have had no American friends despite spending many years in the country. It was most likely these internal reasons that prompted the attack; other aspects played a secondary role.
Still, in the minds of the majority of people in Washington, the brothers were related with global jihadis in general, the North Caucasus in particular and especially with the war in Syria. These associations became even clearer in Washington folks’ minds, given that the younger brother expressed his admiration for Syrian jihadis.
This certainly would make Washington less anxious to support Syrian jihadis and the resistance to Assad in general. The US might even tacitly take the side of Assad for hitting Syrian jihadis with drones. And although there appear to be signs of Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Washington is not anxious to engage in the conflict, despite previous assurances that the use of chemical weapons is a “red line”.
One, of course, could draw various conclusions from the narrative. Some are more or less obvious, such as the quickening of the continuous decline of the US global footprint and an emerging vacuum that would be filled with a variety of forces. It also demonstrated the problems with the entire social-economic-political system of the US.
While the “smarty pants” tried to solve the stalled economic machine through financial manipulation, the same foreign policy advisers want to win the war by the manipulation of dubious allies. Neither of them will work. The true rise of the US economy implies the building of factories in the former industrial centers of America and victory in the wars – soldiers on the ground and the entire military, in fact, all of society, prepared for the long haul. Neither will happen.
Consequently, the disintegration of Pax Americana will proceed. Regardless of the victory of either the jihadists or Assad – and his victory becomes more likely now than before – the US will face hostile forces.
Another conclusion, however, requires a closer analysis. It demonstrates that global jihadists, while having common general ideological sources and constant interaction, do not have centralized command or even a goal, at least in the practical implication of their ideological premises about global jihad. And their doctrinal rigidity often hides extreme flexibility in achieving their goals. The North Caucasus jihadis could ally with the Syrian jihadists or marginalize them in their overall strategy.
In Russia, the North Caucasus jihadists could embrace hardcore racist Russian nationalists with their slogans “Russia for Russians,” and the “white ribbon” liberal opposition. They could ally with anyone if such an alliance promotes their major goal: the creation of an independent Islamic state in the Northern Caucasus.
They are neither true friends of the US, nor are they America’s sworn enemies; and as they strongly protest any connection with the Boston bombers, this is plainly because, in this particular context, any association would hardly foster their goals.
Dmitry Shlapentokh, PhD, is associate professor of history, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Indiana University South Bend.
Thanks to 2013 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd for this article.