by Gordon M. Hahn
Both the St. Petersburg flight from Egypt and the city of Paris have fallen victim to terrorist attacks carried out, by all appearances, by the new leader of the global jihadi revolutionary movement, the Islamic State (IS). Its jihadists blew the Russian civilian airliner, flight A321, out of the sky on October 31st, killing all 223 on board. On Friday, November 13th IS plotters a series of terrorist suicide bombings and shooting raids, killing more than 150 French citizens. For nearly a decade now I have been calling for a grand international alliance to fight the global jihad. More recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a similar call. Others have as well. All of these calls have failed.
Americans have long forgot who was the first leader to call then President George Bush and express his condolences for, and solidarity with the American people after 9/11. Few know that on the banks of the Hudson River across from ‘Ground Zero’ stands a monument to the victims of 9/11 built and paid for by Moscow.
To be sure, Putin is no angel, but neither is our own President Barack Obama. Few if any politicans are. Russia has many problems and has caused problems for other countries. The same is true for the United States. But in the war against the global jihad we are not in need of angels but rather partners. If the United States could ally with the mass murdering communist Iosif Stalin against the Nazis in World War Two, then we can very easily ally with Putin in the war aganst jihadism, which is quickly becoming World War Three. Unfortunately, mistaken Western policies and a lack of magnanimity has brought us to a what some call a new Cold War, confounding the possibility of forging the kind of alliance needed to defeat the global jihadi revolutionary movement.
The New Cold War: Trumping the War Against Jihadism
Instead of that approach, however, the United States has led a policy of expanding a military alliance, NATO, to Russia’s borders. Twenty-five years after it’s the creation, the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), has been ignored by NATO. In order to achieve this goal we have backed opposition movements—many democratic, some not so much—against Moscow-friendly regimes, while ignoring the crimes against humanity committed by some of our own allies, such as Saudi Arabia in Bahrain.
The February 2014 revolt in Kiev, contrary to the American line, was not led by peaceful protesters. The Maidan demonstrations had long been infiltrated and increasingly shaped by violent ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist groups. They started the shooting in mid-February that killed three Ukrainian riot policemen and wounded nearly 20 more, which led to their own overthrow of the Viktor Yanukovich regime. This was done in violation of an international agreement between Yanukovich, mostly moderate Ukrainian opposition groups, France, Germany, Poland, and Russia. Putin intervened to convince Yanukovich to sign the agreement. After he was overthrown the West forgot about the agreement and praised the violent takeover as a peaceful democratic revolution.
Putin took his revenge for this betrayal by seizing Crimea. However, it is important to note that almost all Crimeans wanted to return to Russia. Moreover, Washington and the West were first in violating Ukraine’s sovereignty—as said violation is defined under the Helsinki Accord’s Final Act—by openly intervening in its internal politics when U.S. (Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, US Senator John McCain) and European officials went to Maidan Square and openly encouraged demonstrators to continue the revolt. Imagine our own reaction if the Russia’s deputy foreign minister, its ambassador to the U.S., and State Duma deputy Vladimir Zhirinovskii went to Baltimore and urged rioters to never give in until they changed the regime in Washington.
Moreover, our mass media tell outright lies about the situation in Russia. Our state radio, Radio Liberty, puts out a constant stream of negative and exaggerated reports about the extent of Putin’s ‘brutality’ and authoritarianism, likening him to Stalin and Hitler. Indeed, for years Radio Liberty and numerous Washington DC think tanks put out a vicious lie that there were no jihadists in Russia, only Chechen freedom fighters who had no connection to the global jihad. Indeed, US taxpayer-funded Radio Liberty published praise for the now late amir of the Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasus Emirate) mujahedin weeks after a suicide bomber he had trained and deployed blew up the international terminal at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport in January 2011 in the one of more than 40 suicide bombings carried out by Caucasus jihadists in Russia since 2008.
In Libya, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere U.S. and Russian policies have acted at counter-purposes, with the Obama administration often acting under the naïve illusion that Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood can be a bulwark against jihadism. We now see this best demonstrated in Syria, where early on the Obama administration decided to support a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated opposition to the Bashar Assad regime. It acquiesced in, facilitated and/or participated in running weapons to Al Qa`ida-tied Syrian rebels no later than in early to mid-2012, just as hundreds of mujahedin from Russia’s North Caucasus and thousands more from elsewhere were flooding into Syria to fulfill the global jihad’s apocalyptic, totalitarian prophecy to be played out in the region of the Levant. The Obama administration’s feckless counter-jihadism policies in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere informed Putin’s military intervention in Syria.
It is also very much about the hubris and lack of magnanimity of Washington and the West and their attendant total disregard for Russian national security and economic interests since the end of the Cold War. After Libya, Ukraine and a myriad of other color revolutions targeting Russian allies since the end of the Cold War, Putin was in no mood for yet another in Syria. His military intervention there is as also about fighting the AQ-allied Imarat Kavkaz and the IS affiliate, the ‘Vilaiyat Kavkaz Islamskogo Gosudarstvo’ (the Caucasus Governate of the Islamic State), created this past summer from Iamarat Kavkaz defectors largely from Dagestan and Chechnya. Putin read the West the riot act to the West in his recent UN speech, asking correctly: Do you understand what you have created?
Now the U.S. and Russia, rather than cooperating in the fight against jihadis in the Levant, lead separate coalitions with different if not opposing interests and are reduced to negotiating how to stay out of each other’s way in fighting jihadists separately rather than fighting them together and with the many others each could bring to a coalition if they demonstrated joint leadership.
Meanwhile, at home the West has grown increasingly lethargic since 9/11 about the war against the global jihadi revolutionary movement. Some relaxation might be understandable as time put distance between the present and the nightmare in the past. However, since Barack Obama came to power, the U.S. has dropped the ball in the war against jihadism. It has fallen to the level of Europe’s nonchalance and political correctness. Government officials are not allowed to use terms like jihadism; Obama has not used it once in his seven years in office. The word ‘terrorism’ is rarely uttered and it is only when there is no way out linguistically. Terrorism is not an enemy, it is a tactic. In World War Two we did not defeat blitzkriegism, we destroyed Nazism.
Moreover, by fearing the domestic political and economic costs of fighting jihadism, doing so in a minimalist fashion we allow it to fester and spread its infection. It is like continuing to poke a hornets’ nest instead of destroying it. The jihadi threat has been allowed thus to persist, evolve, adapt, and find avenues to its target.
The attacks in the Sinai and in Paris are the beginning of a wave of jihadi terrorism in the West. The instances of arrests, trials, and infiltrations into the West and Russia have increased over the last two years. The wave of refugees from Syria, Iraq, North Africa and elsewhere to Europe and the United States has increased the number of jihadists inside the gates. On the very eve of the Paris attack, police in arrested 17 alleged Iraqi Kurdish IS members in Britain, Italy, and Norway tied to a radical Norwegian cleric and who were planning attacks in the EU. The two events could perhaps be connected. Al Qaida and similar organizations, which are competing with IS for the leadership position in the global jihad, are likely to step up their efforts to match those of their chief competitor. There are now discussions within in Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) and affiliated groups about whether to throw all their forces into attacking Assad’s forces in western Syria or expand operations abroad, according to Muslim Margoshvili, the ethnic Chechen Kist and Georgian amir of the JN-allied and Ahrar al-Sham jihadi group Jund al-Sham. Margoshvili fought in Dagestan and was affiliated with the Imarat Kavkaz before heading to Syria several years ago.
A Global United Front
Today a worldwide united front is needed to destroy jihadism. It should be open to all countries who have been fighting jihadism at home and abroad—from the United States, the EU countries, the former Soviet countries, all Asian, African, and Muslim countries. Any states that are assisting jihadists should be targets of this grand coalition. This would include, if they fit the bill, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and similar countries where state entities or top elites support gobal jihadi movements.
NATO, then CSTO, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and other organizations with intelligence centers and military cooperation capabilities must be brought into the effort.
The war against jihadism must involve both air and land power. The Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian, or Kurdish Peshmerga armies are incapable of cooperating sufficiently to defeat the jihadists without pressure from and coordination by the great powers. In addition, Israel must be afforded greater protection and security guarantees from this global alliance.
If these steps ar not taken, then the infighting between Russia and the West, Muslim and non-Muslim states, and Sunnis and Shiites will continue to offer IS and AQ ample opportunity to strengthen their forces, seize more land, wealth, weapons, and materials for weapons of mass destruction. In this event, the 21st century will become a nightmare even compared with the 20th.
‘Koshmar’ means nightmare in both Russian and French. It is time to bring the nightmare to the jihadists.
Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation. He is also Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View and Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and publishes the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report (IIPER) at CSIS at http://csis.org/program/russia-and-eurasia-program. Dr. Hahn has been a visiting scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. (2011-2013), the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. (1995 and 2005), and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, San Francisco State, and St. Petersburg State (Russia) Universities.