I'm still getting through yesterday's New York Times. I do recommend Nir Rosen's long Magazine article "Iraq's Jordanian Jihadis" for a lot of reasons, one of which is what it tells us about the notion that "we're fighting them over there so we won't have to fight them over here." Rosen points out that not every jihadi considers "fighting us over here" a top priority -- it's a question about which Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Al Qaeda have disagreed.
Zarqawi's brand of Islam is called Salafism; it emphasizes Islamic purity as Salafis understand it, and thus focuses on bringing change to Muslim regimes that are believed to be insufficiently pure, rather than to non-Muslim foes overseas:
For Zarqawi, the "near enemy" was the priority, while for bin Laden the "far enemy" was. This has been perhaps the most critical dispute within violent, extremist Sunni Islam.... By focusing on the far enemy -- the United States, Israel, European states and Russia; whether on their own territories or against their citizens, embassies or interests in Muslim lands -- Al Qaeda could assert some charismatic leadership over an otherwise quite diverse and fractious "movement." And by leaving the many near enemies alone (or forming alliances with them), Al Qaeda could acquire a little breathing space.
The zeal for purity has led Zarqawi and Salafis more generally to focus on their close surroundings ... an impatience for changing the world and perhaps, in some, an appetite for violence has led many Salafis into vigorous engagement with the nearest enemies they could find, even when those enemies were extremists with ideas little different from theirs.
Zarqawi even criticized Al Qaeda and the Taliban for being insufficiently pure. But then the war happened:
...With [Saddam] Hussein removed from power in April 2003, Zarqawi had a new failed state to operate in. And the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent American occupation presented the perfect opportunity to heal the rift within Muslim extremism: the far enemy had made itself the near enemy as well.
So we created the conditions under which Zarqawi and Al Qaeda decided to make common cause. We made ourselves part of the "impure" Muslim world Zarqawi wants to cleanse. And Zarqawi would rather focus on the perceived impurities of Muslim nations than kill Americans in America (assuming he could even manage the latter).
Of course, Bush has argued that if U.S. troops are withdrawn from Iraq, Zarqawi might seize control of the country. Rosen's article suggests that he might like to do that. But I'm reading a lot of stories recently, by reporters who don't seem like administration cheerleaders, suggesting that the rift between Zarqawi and native-Iraqi insurgents is real. Fighting off Zarqawi may be one thing Iraqis really are in the process of doing on their own.
So let's review: Al-Qaeda does want to "fight us over here." Zarqawi doesn't. Yet we have 136,000 troops in Iraq fighting (among others) Zarqawi, but fewer than 20,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting (among others) Al Qaeda.
Why are we in Iraq?