What our enemies are saying now
We've heard a lot in recent days about how conservatives and liberals are responding to President Barack Obama's plans for Afghanistan. But what does the enemy think?
Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Afghan Taliban leader, clearly would have been happier had Obama taken Michael Moore's advice and begun to withdraw, rather than increase troop levels in Afghanistan. Just before the president took the stage at West Point, Mullah Omar issued a message calling upon his fighters not to be discouraged but to continue the jihad until every American and European troop is driven from Afghanistan.
Ahmed Rashid, the well-known Pakistani journalist, called the 10-page message, delivered to him and some other reporters by e-mail in English and two Afghan languages, "an unprecedented propaganda blitz." Rashid observed: "Mullah Omar has previously denied that the Taliban are allied to al-Qaida, although it is apparent that the Taliban's new media strategy has emanated from al-Qaida tutoring."
Also significant: Mullah Omar urged his fighters to avoid civilian casualties. Rashid notes that, according to the United Nations, "more than 1,000 Afghan civilians were killed in the first six months of 2009 -- 70 percent of them due to Taliban attacks." Evidently, this has not been helpful from a public relations perspective.
Soon after Obama's West Point address, a statement was issued by the "administrator" of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. That is what Taliban leaders call the entity they mean to create because Islamists reject nation-states and nationalism as Western and un-Islamic. Their goal, instead, is a global caliphate, sub-divided into territories, each ruled by a Muslim monarch taking guidance from a caliph, a supreme leader of the faithful.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Web site is decorated with photos of what are, apparently, killed Western soldiers, as well as coffins draped in American and British flags. At the bottom it suggests: "Add this page to your favorite Social Bookmarking Web sites."
The statement accuses Obama of having spent months "dithering." This suggests someone working on the Web site is watching CNN and/or reading Western newspapers. Obama's policy, it goes on to say "has been formulated under the pressure of (army) generals of Pentagon, the American Neo-conservatives and the wealthiest fews (sic) of America and for the protection of their interests."
Then, in an appeal to the left in Europe, America and elsewhere, the statement denounces Obama's plans as "a strategy of colonialism aimed at securing interests of the American capitalists and it seems America has vast and protracted but wicked and hostile plans not only for Afghanistan but for the whole region."
The setting of a deadline for beginning troop withdrawals is dismissed as "a ploy." That defensive response suggests that the timetable -- which has cost Obama support among conservatives -- may be serving to undercut the Taliban's message that the U.S. intends a permanent occupation of Afghanistan. That this charge is untrue may seem obvious to Americans. But many in the region, not least in Pakistan, are sure that Americans want to "occupy" Afghanistan forever. When you ask why, they say because of Afghanistan's resources (which are what?) or make vague reference to "the Great Game."
The Taliban assert that they have no "bases in Pakistan nor (do) we need such bases outside Afghanistan." We know this to be a lie not least because New York Times correspondent David Rohde, kidnapped in Afghanistan a year ago, was promptly taken to a Taliban mini-state in western Pakistan, from which he managed to escape seven months later.
Based on this latest message, we can conclude that the Taliban are not interested in opening a new era of engagement with Obama: "(T)he Afghans, the public of the world particularly, the people of America now know the realities and they are not going to be deceived by Obama's juggling of word."
Finally, the Islamic Emirate statement accuses the U.S. of "blind bombardment, brutal torture" and threatens "a more severe reaction in the years to come." This should be taken seriously. The Taliban will put up a furious fight in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. If they also can bring the war closer to where we live, they will do so.
-- May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.