Pookie Monster

Various things that you may not yet know about, but should.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

A little learning is a dangerous thing.

I've just been listening to a local talk radio show featuring people competing to see who could be stupidest in public. Half of them were hippies who had heard something at some pot-fueled rap session to the effect that the Russians had historically mistreated the Chechens, and so denied that the Chechen act of terror in Ossetia had anything to do with terrorism and that the child-killers are freedom fighters, or at least excusable. The other half were blissfully unaware of the previous existence of a Chechen conflict and thought it was just odd that the terrorists chose to target an Iraq-liberation opponent like Russia.

Permit me to clear this up a bit.

There's a pattern developing here. Daniel Pipes and Bernard Lewis teach us that Islamism is a faction within Islam seeking to unify the Islamic world under their leadership, caliphate-style. They use jihad the way the Pope in Rome used the Crusades to liberate Jerusalem to rally Europe behind his leadership after he and the Archbishop of Constantinople excommunicated each other.

The Chechen conflict began in the 1840s when the Russian Empire tried to roll in and found that heavily armed Islamic hillbillies (a)live in some of the ruggedest mountains in the world, and (b)don't like the czar's revenuers. In its modern incarnation, it dates from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Chechens, who never thought of themselves as Russian, wanted independence, same as neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia had. Russia needed to keep access to the lucrative Caspian Sea oil fields, so Yeltsin ordered the rebellion put down. General Alexandr Lebed put it down, the hard way. Putin has stuck to this course.

This makes the Chechen cause sound sympathetic, and it is, as far as that goes. Over the last decade, however, foreign fighters (read al-Qaeda and like-minded groups, probably including Iran) have moved into the area to "help" the beleaguered Chechens and then and there began the suicide bombings and the civilian hostage crises. (The August 2002 issue of Maxim magazine-the one with Beyonce Knowles on the cover-includes the story of one of those bin Laden-trained fighters: Aukai Collins, of Honolulu. In 1998, he also went to Bosnia.) It seemes to me reasonable to assume that the terrorists have also been recruiting in Chechnya.

This is like Afghanistan, when Egyptians, Syrians, Yemenis, and Saudis, including bin Laden, all flocked to Masud's anti-Soviet resistance, and wound up calling themselves the Taliban and taking over the place after the Russians pulled out. They even assassinated Masud himself in August 2001. They never gave a fuck about the Afghans. Or the Chechens. They only care about their own power.

Accordingly, we aren't facing Chechen nationalists anymore. The muderers of today's headlines are simply al-Qaeda trying to gain prestige in the Islamic world by posturing as champions of Muslims. Just like Afghanistan. And Bosnia. And if they get their way, an independent Chechnya will become a Taliban-style theocracy.

That also means that Russia can't crush the 'rebellion' by military means, any more than we can 'win' the war on terror as a whole in conventional terms. We win when we can make the terrorists unwelcome in Chechnya like we have in Iraq. We will probably do that by abandoning the Chechen aspirations and supporting the Russians' Tacitean tactics, because I don't think its possible to liberate and ally with Chechnya (like we did Iraq), at least not without fighting a full-scale war against Russia, up to and including the sack of Moscow.

Pity the poor Chechens. They have the Russian jackboot on one side and the Islamist dynamite vest on the other, and no way out.

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