What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A case study of domestic jihad

Instigated by Will's call for attention to it over at IRG, I decided to read Thomas Hegghammer's article in International Affairs, available at RIIA's website. It deals with the issue of the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP or QAP) group's (or groups') militant campaign in the Jazeera between 2003 and 2007, looking to explain why we saw the kind of militant violence we saw in this particular period in Saudi Arabia and not before. It's an excellent article, one which uses theories to understand a case and not a case to understand (or back up) theories. I also recommend it.
Two remarks from me for comments I can throw in:
1) The explanation (well-founded, with a lot of attention to detail, by Hegghammer) looking - besides other factors (like the specificites of AQ's evolving strategy) - at the role of returnee militants from Afghanistan after 2001, and the temporarily softer approach to internal policing at the time by the Saudi security services, is very much in conformity with Enders and Sandler's theory of the deflection of terrorism. Simply put, it's about terrorism moving in the direction of the country with the softer anti- and counter-terrorist regime.
2) The latter makes one ask the question, especially in light of this excellent case study of Saudi Arabia, what would have happened to the Kingdom, had there not been an American invasion of Iraq in 2003, drawing away potential recruits to fight classic jihad in Iraq? That might have meant more problems - or might it have not? I remember Wolfowitz (DoD dep.sec. at the time) saying in May 2003 that Saudi regime stability was the main issue behind the Iraq war. One shouldn't carry this too far, but that wasn't just some empty talk from Wolfowitz, was it? Counterfactuals are difficult to handle of course. From Hegghammer's analysis it seems like Saudi state resources, as well as Saudi political culture (opposed to the domestic violence of global jihad), could have been too much of an obstacle for militants anyway. But with oil prices this high, one perhaps doesn't like to think of even slightly better chances for militants of AQAP's kind.


JSN said...

It seemed to me that most of the article could have been reduced to "OBL ordered jihadies 'back' to the KSA after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and then gave orders to attack the KSA as America invaded Iraq."

Péter MARTON said...

That's one possible way of putting it in a nutshell, but AQ is not so centralised that this could have happened in such a simple way. The deeper reason, I do think, is that Afghanistan seemed at first as a non-permissive AO after 2001. Then Iraq was offered by history as an especially permissive AO, while the KSA went from being a relatively permissive one to a non-permissive one. Now Iraq is not so welcoming any more, so jihadists are again moving on...