How the bombs in Moscow hit America

One of the signal problems for Americans is to see how so many seemingly disparate events fit into the Islamists’ war against the United States. Last week’s subway bombings in Moscow, for example, seem, at first blush, to be tragic but altogether unrelated to the United States. But are they?

The answer I think is no, they are not unrelated. The Islamists’ overall goal in waging war against the United States is to drive it as far as possible out of the Muslim world. To do that, Osama bin Laden and his allies have focused on three aims: (1) to help bleed America to bankruptcy; (2) to spread out U.S. military intelligence forces so that they lack flexibility and reserves; and 3) to stimulate as much political dissent and suspicion of the federal government in the United States as possible — with the goal of weakening our society’s cohesion — and to strip away allies from the United States.

In this context, the Moscow bombings have their most obvious impact on the first aim, to help bleed us to bankruptcy. Almost before the full story in Russia was known, the city governments in New York and Washington, DC, acted to increase security for their municipal transportation systems, thereby draining further funds from budgets that are already deeply in the red. Though not well covered in the media, I cannot help but think that other cities with metro systems surely followed suit.

There are those who will argue that this is nothing to worry about, that the expense of increased subway security is small in the overall scheme of things. And they would be correct, if the expense is looked at in isolation. But when one recalls that the bombings occurred over 4,000 miles away, injured no Americans, were aimed at a foreign power, and that the U.S. economy is already bleeding profusely from the more direct impacts of the Islamists’ war, it is clear that the Moscow attacks did at least marginally advance the Islamists’ goal of helping to bleed our economy.

The second impact of the attack lies in Washington’s immediate expression of support and sympathy for Russia in the wake of the attacks. In the minds of most of us, I would suspect, this was the right thing to do given the human and material damage done by the bombings. And yet in this odd war — where so many U.S. choices are lose-lose — there is even a cost to expressing sympathy.

As I have long argued, the major motivation for our Islamist enemies is the interventionism of the U.S. government in the Muslim world. One aspect of this interventionism that the Islamists have focused on since the mid-1990s is Washington support for states that oppress Muslims, most often naming Russia, India, and China as such states. In the case of our support for Moscow in the bombings? wake, Washington has again shown that it stands at the side of those our foes regard as the enemies of Islam. And in the case of the North Caucasus — where the bombers seem to have come from — it is hard to argue their point.

Since the early 1990s there has been an ongoing confrontation between Russia and its six republics in the North Caucasus. There have been two major ‘Chechen Wars’ that most in the West are familiar with, but in the last decade there has been a slowly but steadily growing insurgency across all six of the republics. This insurgency, moreover, has shed much of its initial secular/nationalist fervor in favor of an increasingly Islamist orientation. And while there are some Arab fighters and probably much Arab money aiding the North Caucasus insurgents, the motivation of those fighters is predominantly local — to throw off the Russian yoke and its attendant corruption and brutality in favor of independence and the rule of Islam.

In this situation, Washington’s support for Russia after last week’s bombings will be seen by and advertised in the Muslim world as yet another example of U.S. willingness to support any country that will oppress Muslims. Again, this is not to say that we should not have publicly supported Russia — although that discussion is worth having — but it is to say that Americans should at least be aware that the policy of supporting Russia does have a cost attached to it. Too often, I believe, we follow policies that have long been in place — such as expressing support for governments hit by the Islamists — without being cognizant of the cost that comes with what we tend to see as a simple good deed.

At day’s end, then, the bombings in Moscow can be accurately described as far away, not aimed at the United States, and motivated in the first instance by local grievances. But they are not without cost to the United States, and to acknowledge this is good first step toward beginning to see the Islamists’ war against America as a whole, and not — as we have — as a series of unrelated and compartmented problems labeled “Iraq,” “Afghanistan,” “Yemen,” etc., etc.

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.