Merchant of Death
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Blood from Stones

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Lessons Learned in 2006
The primary lesson I take away from 2006 is that we often do not believe what we see in front of us, to our own detriment and danger.

The most obvious example is the Islamist triumph in Somalia, begun in the middle of the year, yet receiving virtually no serious policy attention until very recently. It is hard to fathom why a self-proclaimed Islamist-Salafist movement, clear it is aims, could be viewed as a secondary concern. While the bedrock support for the movements is clan-based and the Islamic Courts enjoy some popular support for restoring law and order, there appears to have been little creative thinking as to how to counter-balance the more radical elements.

Now we face a series of bad options. Ethiopia may drive the Islamist groups out of Mogadishu, but Somalia is already viewed by much of the Islamist community as another attempt to establish the beginnings of the Caliphate. Foreign fighters, along with the Somalis, will likely prolong the fight through guerrilla warfare long into the future. It sets up a clear (in the _jihadi_ mind, at least) conflict between Christian/Jewish Crusaders and Islam, a huge drawing card for the Islamist movement. This means the whole Horn of Africa is now in danger of a spreading war that can, in the end, only help those who profit from chaos and unaccountability.

By failing to see what was happening in Somalia, and failing to act once it was clear even from far outside, what was happening, we allowed the Islamist project to expand it ways it predicted it would, giving not only physical sanctuary to the enemy but a huge psychological victory as well. Hard to imagine how that happened, after the lessons Afghanistan supposedly taught us.

The second example is related to the first. There are still few people who read what the _jihadis_ tell us about what they want to do and how they will do it.

It is like having a blueprint for enemy actions, but refusing to read it, even as the enemy systematically follows it. There are serious efforts to read and translate the massive amount of literature and thinking the Islamists put out, but to most top decision makers, the _jihadis_ remain an enigma or their motivations are distorted and simplied.

A third lesson is that the global situation is deteriorating for those who oppose the expansion of the Islamist project. If we don't understand it, we end up with the current piecemeal, haphazard approach that has no core mission and little coherence.

A fourth lesson is that the central problem outside the direct armed conflict with the _jihadist_ movements has yet to be addressed, more than five years after 9-11.

This is the billions of dollars spent in government sponsored efforts to spread _wahhabism_ around the world. This is the funding of radicalism, the push factor that goes with the pull factors of alienation, poverty etc., but a factor that is seldom on the policy agenda with Saudi Arabia and others.

It is the financing, ultimately, of the great anti-American, anti-Western surge by people looking for answers. It is, then, ultimately, the financing of the radicalism that will lead some percentage of these millions and millions of people who receive this message, to join the active, violent _jihadist_ structure.

David Aufhauser, former general counsel at the Treasury Department who led the initial efforts to cut of terrorist funding, said several years ago that this tactic of funding _wahhabism_ while denying responsibility for terrorist attacks was akin to spreading gasoline and lighting a match in a forest and denying responsibility for the ensuing forest fire. He was right.

A final lesson is that there are many courageous, intelligent people risking their lives and reputations by doing serious work to illuminate these issues, both inside and outside of government. Those inside the government are often shunned and marginalized, those outside targetted more openly by the Islamists who hate to see any push back against their years of effort to build a respectable facade. To all of them, I owe a debt of gratitude.

On a personal note, thanks to all who take the time to read this blog, write intelligent comments and let me know when I get it wrong. It is a pleasure and an honor to engage is this type of discussion.

For 2007, onward. The struggle is only beginning, and we owe it to ourselves and our children to fight the good fight. See you there.
Somalia: The Next Step?
The War in Somalia Expands as Islamists Promised
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