It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the jihadists have seized on the word ‘victory’—their own victory, that is—to describe the outcome of the Iraq War, especially since official Washington is so keen on avoiding it.
In this vein, the head of the self-styled ‘Islamic State of Iraq’, the pseudonymous Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who considers himself America’s Public Enemy No. 1 in that theatre of war, issued a proclamation on Tuesday that a new era of jihad has started now that “the black [man] of Washington” had delivered his “implicit admission of defeat.”
Al-Baghdadi is referring to Obama’s recent speech about withdrawing from Iraq. He doesn’t refer to Obama by name, but rather by epithets such as “black negro”, “house slave”, “new criminal” and the standard “ruler of the Crusader state and ally of the Jews.” Clearly, al-Baghdadi is not impressed or even mildly intimidated by Obama, who began his first act as a wartime president by calling it quits in Iraq. By contrast, al-Baghdadi used to refer to President Bush by name in past speeches, despite the vitriol.
Setting aside al-Baghdadi’s delusions about who actually won this war and what’s to come (he thinks the jihadists will be able to topple the Iraqi government after the Americans leave), what struck me most was the imagery used to describe America’s withdrawal.
Rhetoric matters, and in this case, al-Baghdadi began his speech with a verse of the Quran (“The Moon” sura, verse 45) that roughly translated into “The multitudes will be defeated and they shall turn their bottoms [and flee].” This same verse serves as the refrain in a chant that is used as background music while introducing the highlights of the speech.
The use of this image is no accident. There is a subtle effeminate connotation to the manner by which Obama is withdrawing, in jihadist eyes. Al-Baghdadi did not understand Obama’s description of a withdrawal from Iraq as a necessity or an honorable exit, but rather the jihadist leader chooses to see it: as a submission.
If the jihadists really believe that yet another superpower has submitted to their willpower, or their ‘alpha male-ness’, doesn’t this constitute a tangible victory of sorts? They have made America look passive and weak. Even if they can’t ever resurrect themselves in Iraq, the jihadists will chalk up America’s withdrawal to their prowess as fighters, and this will attract more young Muslim men to their causes elsewhere.
It also complicates the fight in Afghanistan, since the fighters there can take heart that Obama’s America will turn its back and flee if only they can exude the same confidence, and staying power, that al-Baghdadi does.
Obama, the skilled orator, may be rudely awakened to the prospect that there are long-term and unexpected consequences when ceding the rhetoric of victory to one’s enemy; however delusional said enemy may be.