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I know my friends on the right don't think intelligence and law enforcement methods are important in fighting terrorism*, but I really think we need to be able to do better than this:

Zarqawi is often described as a one-legged Palestinian whose uncanny ability to avoid capture has led some people to doubt that he really exists. But according to Jordanian and European intelligence officials, he does exist and he has two legs.
US officials are still unsure about how many legs he has? At any rate, one interesting thing to come out here is that unlike bin Laden who seems to talk a big game about Israel but not actually do any fighting there, Zarqawi appears to have an actual interest in launching some operations west of the Jordan. Certainly it seems to me that some large-scale Israeli-killing would probably be the best way for him to do some serious work narrowing the prestige gap with bin Laden. On that subject, here's an intriguing, though poorly sources Al-Hayat story:
With regard to the claims that Al-Zarqawi is affiliated with Al-Qa'ida, the source said: "I wish that he was an Al-Qa'ida representative in Iraq. But the truth is that Al-Zarqawi has his own organization. He is not an Al-Qa'ida member and has no connection to Sheikh Osama [bin Laden]. They only employ the same method.

"There is no organizational connection between them – on the contrary, many Arab youth have said that they will swear allegiance to Al-Zarqawi provided that he swear allegiance to Sheikh Osama. They say that so far he has not sworn allegiance, and that he used to say: 'to this day I have not sworn allegiance to Sheikh Osama and I am not acting in the framework of his organization...'"

Maybe the Marginal Revolution guys can shed some light on whether it's better to be fighting a consolidated jihadi monopoly or several competing terrorist firms.

* In fact, I'm perfectly aware that they think no such thing, but if they're going to misrepresent liberal views on the subject then so will I.

September 27, 2004 | Permalink


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In fact, I'm perfectly aware that they think no such thing, but if they're going to misrepresent liberal views on the subject then so will I.

No, actually you were right the first time. They might think they think no such thing, but actions speak louder than words.

Posted by: JP | Sep 27, 2004 3:59:49 PM

Matt, the first rule of hack club is don't talk about how much of a hack you are.

Posted by: neil | Sep 27, 2004 3:59:58 PM

It sure looked like he had two legs in the Nick Berg video. But I suppose it could have been a wooden leg. The picture was awfully grainy.

Also, here's this, apropos of nothing.

Posted by: JP | Sep 27, 2004 4:03:30 PM

It is interesting to read the responses that Zarqawi generates even from other militant jihadist groups. They think he is really sick. It reminds me of a group of "legitimate" pornographers, outraged by a maker of snuff films - which, come to think of it, is just what he is.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Sep 27, 2004 4:03:41 PM

We may be, in Iraq, facilitating the organization and training of the "Worst Terrorists Ever."

On the other hand, there were some of us who always thought that if you killed Osama and destroyed Al Qaeda, its replacement would spring up pretty quickly. Maybe even most of us who are relatively informed believed this. Or hell, not even really replacements.

Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Aqsa Brigades, lots of terrorists with somewhat different objectives, ideologies, tactics. Very little in common.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 27, 2004 4:14:37 PM

Oh come on! Everyone agrees that Zarqawi's legs <3, and if he exists, Zarqawi's legs <0. That's a pretty narrow range for estimated values. For intelligence sources, it doesn't get much better than that.

Posted by: old guy | Sep 27, 2004 4:24:18 PM

It is interesting to read the responses that Zarqawi generates even from other militant jihadist groups. They think he is really sick.

I'm curious to see some of these responses, Dan. Do you have any links?

Also, Old Guy, Zarqawi has fewer than zero legs? How is that possible? Ha ha.

Posted by: JP | Sep 27, 2004 4:31:14 PM

possibly unrelated, but possibly not: CNN producer kidnapped in Gaza.

Posted by: cleek | Sep 27, 2004 4:31:44 PM

Mr Yglesias, speaking as one of the rightist types, I have to say you haven't the foggiest clue what you're speaking about.

Intelligence effectiveness has *always* been the purview of rightist intellectuals when it has *ever* been a political issue for ideologues on either side.

From Angelo Codevilla to William R. Corson, Paul Seabury and back again, *all* of the intellectuals assessing effectiveness of intelligence (as opposed to moral issues) have been on the right. In point of fact I know of not a single person on the academic intellectual left who approaches intelligence as intellectuals, with the sole questionable exclusion of a few at FAS.

It may well be that intellectuals assessing intelligence are rarefied types at the Hoover Institute and sacked back in academic chairs, but that doesn't alter the fact that the only side that has paid even a modicum of attention to this issue (especially BEFORE 9/11) was the right.

You can argue that things are wrong. You can argue that the Bush admin is screwing things up. But you can't argue that ours is the side that doesn't care about this issue. It is, quite plainly obvious, the only side that discusses intelligence and espionage with any kind of utilitarian or practical
sense. The left seems completely unwilling to discuss particulars.

Posted by: James Versluys | Sep 27, 2004 4:40:37 PM

"'It is interesting to read the responses that Zarqawi generates even from other militant jihadist groups. They think he is really sick.'

"I'm curious to see some of these responses, Dan. Do you have any links?"

"Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the militant Palestinian group Hamas, both labeled terrorist organizations by the United States, said the beheading was appalling and un-Islamic.

"In a statement faxed to The Associated Press, Hezbollah called the 26-year-old Berg’s killing an 'extremely brutal and cruel' act.

"'Hezbollah condemns this grisly act which has caused great harm to Islam and to Muslims by this group which falsely claims to belong to the religion of mercy, compassion and genuine human values,' the statement said.

"'By its suspicious actions and links, this group belongs to the Pentagon school — the school of killings, occupation, crime, torture and immoral practices as exposed by the big scandal in the occupation prisons.'

"Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ representative in Lebanon, denounced both Berg’s killers and President Bush.

"'I condemn this brutal act and sympathize with the family of the slain American man, who I consider a victim of the wrong U.S. policies in the region,' Hamdan told The Associated Press. 'U.S. President George Bush and [Berg’s] killers are equally responsible.'

"Both Hezbollah and Hamas said the beheading hurt Arab causes, and predicted the United States would use it to turn attention away from the prisoner abuse scandal."


Posted by: rea | Sep 27, 2004 4:57:57 PM

Must you write this way?

"some large-scale Israeli-killing would probably be the best way"

Oy Weh!

Posted by: pwax | Sep 27, 2004 5:43:27 PM

James Versluys: for "friends on the right", substitute "friends who support Bush", and Matt's point is perfectly valid. The Bush people have relentlessly attacked Kerry for saying intelligence and law enforcement are essential components of the fight against terrorism. And however conservative intelligence experts may be, they are nearly unanimous (privately if not publicly) in their contempt for Bush.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Sep 27, 2004 6:02:39 PM

I just read a little book about Zawahiri called "The Road to Al Qaeda." It's written by an Egyptian Islamists lawyer who represents a lot of Gama'a Islamiyaa and Islamic Jihad guys, and is largely sympathetic to the jihadi cause. It's surprising to note that there was actually a lot of debate even within these circles over the moral legitimacy of certain terrorist acts, and Zawahiri was considered especially violent, and even more so when he joined forces with Osama.

Posted by: praktike | Sep 27, 2004 6:21:37 PM

The al-Hayat piece matches something Juan Cole has pointed out numerous times. al-Zarqawi's organization, "Monotheism and Holy War", is a separate, al-Qaeda-like organization (or, as I think Cole has characterized it sometimes, an al-Qaeda rival), not an arm of al-Qaeda.

Assuming I'm not reversing Zarqawi and Zawahiri.

Posted by: cmdicely | Sep 27, 2004 6:47:04 PM

Zawqawi, the man havoc in Iraq, is actually of Jordanian Bedouin parentage.

Zawahiri is the Egyptian physician who morphed his terrorist org with bin Laden to form al Queda.

Posted by: Abigail | Sep 27, 2004 8:05:38 PM

"Certainly it seems to me that some large-scale Israeli-killing would probably be the best way for him to do some serious work narrowing the prestige gap with bin Laden."

Matt, why do you embolden our enemies so by giving them such ideas? Surely, the Islamofascists were stumped as to what to do next, until reading your blog (which Islamofascists, of course, do.)

Posted by: scarshapedstar | Sep 27, 2004 8:18:13 PM

Sorry, my point was not to confuse my terrorists that start with Z, but rather to make the point that even these super violent guys have debates over what level of carnage is appropriate. Zarqawi seems to o'erstep the bounds of modesty, even among this crowd.

Posted by: praktike | Sep 27, 2004 8:47:00 PM

Zarqawi actually set up rival training camps in Afghanistan. His reputation is that of an opportunistic thug who doesn't like the idea of taking orders from anyone. His open letter to Osama was basically a piece of swagger, saying 'since you're not making any public statements, I'll be taking charge of the jihad in Iraq.'

And, to be honest, it's not really well-established that Ansar al-Islam was an affiliate of 'al-Qaeda'. But it all depends on what you mean by 'relationship'. The VC/franchising model of the 90s has given way to a very loose model of ideological affiliation: as Jason Burke notes, it's now more 'jihadi international' than any kind of coherent structure.

Posted by: ahem | Sep 27, 2004 9:32:50 PM

I think James' response highlights the arrogance of opinion amongst his "rightist intellectual" (read neocon) cohort that gets us into boondoggles like Iraq in the first place.

Or is he merely a caricature?

God forbid our intelligence efforts are being led by such people... oh, wait.

Posted by: Waffle | Sep 27, 2004 10:09:54 PM

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