All this talk in the U.S. media about al-Qaeda being defeated is to be welcomed, since it reflects a realization, belated as it may be, that Bin Laden’s movement is not particularly strategically significant. This has always been the case, of course, even when the U.S. was going to war on the basis of the Qaeda bogey — Saddam Hussein, remember, became an intolerable menace only after 9/11, because of his “al-Qaeda connection” spuriously suggested by the Bush Administration.
Al-Qaeda is irrelevant, and yet U.S. hegemony in the Middle East is facing an unprecedented challenge from Islamist-nationalist groups. To understand the link between al-Qaeda’s weakness and the greatly expanded strength of groups such as Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood and, of course, Iran, over the past seven years, it’s worth turning to the 20th century precedent: Leon Trotsky and his followers vs. the larger, nationally-focused parties of the left in the mid 20th century.
Trotsky rejected pragmatism and compromise by nationally-based leftist movements and insisted, instead, that they subordinate their specific national interests and objectives to the fantasy of “world revolution.” And as a result, long before his murder by Stalin, he found himself holed up in Mexico City, manically firing off communiques denouncing all compromise, and being largely ignored by the more substantial parties of the left world-wide. He had become an irrelevant chatterbox, caught up in a frenzy of his own rhetoric while world events simply passed him by. The same can be said of Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri — it is not al-Qaeda, but the likes of Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, and the Muslim Brotherhood that represent the future of the nationalist-Islamist challenge to Western power in the Middle East. And that’s a profoundly important distinction: There’s no point in negotiating with al-Qaeda, whose very prominence is more a function of the U.S. reaction to its provocations than of its own organizational efforts, which represents very little on the ground, and eschews politics. But Western powers are beginning to see that there’s plenty to be gained from talking to Iran, Hamas, Hizballah etc.
I wrote on the Qaeda-as-Trotsky them in my new op ed in the National this week. Extract:
Following the manic preaching of Ayman Zawahiri from his far-off cave, it’s hard not to think of Leon Trotsky. It’s not just the beard and the granny glasses, or the feverish fantasies about the imminent collapse of his enemies and the “betrayals” by those in his own camp.
Trotsky, with his insistence on ideologically pure “world revolution” in contrast to the more nationally based communism adopted by Joseph Stalin, found himself holed up in Mexico City by the 1930s, frenetically firing off communiqués inconsequential to the actual unfolding of events. He had become irrelevant.
Like Trotsky, Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden have become irrelevant to the unfolding of events in the Middle East, even at a moment when US hegemony faces an unprecedented nationalist-Islamist challenge throughout the region. (That may be the reason Zawahiri reserves so much bile for the likes of Hamas, Hizbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood over their participation in democratic elections, and their willingness to consider truces with their enemies. Vintage Trotsky.)
Click here for the whole thing.