Vulnerable target

November 25, 2005|By SASHA SUDEROW

WASHINGTON -- This past month, the world witnessed the full extent of America's folly in Iraq when three suicide bombers from Iraq killed nearly 60 people in Amman, Jordan.

Within the Bush administration's Middle East democratization initiative, Jordan is held up as a model for regional change. Of his peers, King Abdullah II is considered among the most steadfast of U.S. allies. He embodies the leadership that the United States desires in the Arab world; a young, Western-educated socio-political liberal who has boldly advocated for Arab economic and political reform while condemning tolerance for Islamic fundamentalism.

But as the Amman bombings grimly demonstrated, such reforms cannot insulate his kingdom from the political instability that the Iraq war has unleashed. In fact, since the United States allowed bordering Iraq to become an incubator for al-Qaida's terror, the king's pro-Western policies have become a liability for his subjects.

Jordan has engaged in the kind of comprehensive reform that pundits and officials throughout the West see as crucial to stem the tide of militant Islam. To stifle discontent bred from socio-economic stagnation, King Abdullah has enacted a risky yet somewhat successful program of economic reform and restructuring. Jordan was the first Arab country to sign a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States.

The king is possibly the most conciliatory Arab leader toward Israel while inserting a moderate voice in the Islamic world's war of ideas. Uniquely, Jordan does not allow hatred to be taught in schools or give preachers full reign to spew anti-Western vitriol.

In fact, Jordan has concocted a viable program to retain religious moderation: Embrace moderates and ostracize extremists. In November 2004, the government-appointed spiritual head berated fanaticism and terrorism in the "Amman Declaration." Because of Jordan's campaign to uproot violent Islamic fundamentalism, the country has had - in comparison with other Islamic nations - an unparalleled history of domestic tranquillity. Until recently, that is.

Yet on the political side, change has been minimal.

Indeed, since the explosion of the Palestinian intifada in 2000, Jordan has undergone a period of deliberalization. On speaking tours in the United States, King Abdullah touts reforms that exist only in concept. Beneath the rhetoric, one sees what some call a "faM-gade democracy": gerrymandered districts and postponed elections when the monarchy ruled by unprecedented fiat. In reality, the mukhabarat - the pervasive domestic security apparatus - is the real arbiter of power.

Its distinctly close relationship with the Mossad, Israel's feared intelligence agency, and the CIA plus heavy-handed tactics, make such regime instruments extremely unpopular. Several reports indicate high-ranking al-Qaida captives have been "outsourced" to Jordan and are being held and almost certainly tortured there. Additionally, the refueling of U.S. warships in the southern port city of Aqaba has drawn recent ire and a feeling of pervasive U.S. military presence. The king's policies, then, have placed his country squarely in al-Qaida's crosshairs.

Especially since the death in February 1999 of King Hussein, the tiny country has been beset by an unprecedented litany of violence. As an accessible and obvious target for jihadists trained in Iraq, al-Qaida has waged a protracted, semi-successful assault on the kingdom.

In October 2002, future al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi orchestrated the murder of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley in Amman. Only weeks later - as the Iraq invasion loomed large - Jordanian security forces launched the largest domestic military operation since the 1970-71 civil war.

It was aimed at a few rogue Islamist clerics and their loosely aligned rag-tag gangs operating out of the southern city of Ma'an, the site of numerous anti-government riots. The ensuing clash developed into a weeklong street battle between the Jordanian army and their fellow citizens because King Abdullah, unlike his father, would not endanger relations with America to placate his subjects.

From his new Iraq base, Mr. Zarqawi initiated war against Jordan with the suicide car bombing of the Jordanian embassy in August 2003 and then plotted to attack the formidable Jordanian intelligence headquarters in April 2004. Luckily, the attempt was foiled and the deaths of nearly 30,000 people (by Jordanian estimate) were averted. On Aug. 28 this year, a failed missile attack in Aqaba aimed to sink the USS Ashland and the projectile hit Israel's Eilat Airport instead.

Ominously, Mr. Zarqawi claimed responsibility only after his two operatives safely returned to their Iraq base. The borders with Iraq and Syria are desolate, unmanageable and can be infiltrated easily. Jordan, therefore, is a primary "Western target" and increasingly vulnerable to the growing Iraqi-centric insurgency.

Using the Jordanian paradigm, it seems obvious that Mr. Bush's conveniently simplistic vision for reform in the Arab world will not inoculate the Middle East from terrorism; just the opposite has happened. Thus, we are discovering the limit to America's intervention in the Middle East: There is no magic bullet with which to end militant Islamic terrorism.

We are in it for the long haul and, despite enlightened government, core problems will abound. Sadly, then, the Amman bombings are not an aberration.

Sasha Suderow is a congressional fellow with the Legacy Heritage Foundation. His e-mail is sasha.suderow@mail.house.gov.

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