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MikeF
11-12-2009, 03:28 AM
In a recent Foreign Policy article, Gustavo de las Casas contends Destroying al Qaeda is not an option, yet. (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/11/10/the_case_for_keeping_al_qaeda?page=0,0) This discussion is found in different threads throughout SWC, and Mr. Casas makes a compelling case to keep them around.


The old al Qaeda is no more. At least 40 percent of its leadership circa 2001 has either been killed or captured. New faces have fared no better; since July 2008, 11 of the organization's 20 most wanted have been put out of commission. And middle management is almost gone, many of them victims of Predator strikes. What remains is probably a hollow organization, represented by a core of insulated figureheads, such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, surrounded by eager cadres of jihadist newcomers. Before long, the West may just hold a barrel to al Qaeda's collective forehead. Should it press the trigger?

Gut instinct and righteousness scream "yes!" But a better answer might be "not yet." The world would be wise to keep al Qaeda alive, paradoxically enough, for security reasons. Like it or not, keeping a battered al Qaeda intact (if weak) is the world's best hope of funneling Islamist fanatics into one social network -- where they stand the best chance of being spotted, tracked, and contained. The alternative, destroying the terrorist group, would risk fragmenting al Qaeda into thousands of cells, and these will be much harder to follow and impossible to eradicate. It's the counterterrorist's dilemma, and the only real choice is the least unsavory: Al Qaeda must live.

I really enjoyed his article, but I'm still not swayed. My rebuttal goes back to the fundamentals of insurgency theory relying mainly on Mao's protracted war. Insurgencies and terrorist groups need several things:

1. Ideology- something to validate their worldview and actions
2. People- technical bomb experts, grunts, suicide bombers, etc
3. Guns
4. Money

If AQ fractures, then funding sources, recruiting bases, technical skills, and support networks and infrastructure decline thus diminishing the capabilities of follow-on organizations. Moreover, competition amoungst groups would cause additional infighting and diminished capabilities.

That's my take. Any thoughts?

Mike

slapout9
11-12-2009, 03:49 AM
MikeF,This is actually an old LE technique used against organized crime. They put John Gotti away for life but lhis son was kept out(except for a couple of short sentences) as a lightning rod to draw what ever is left of the support network to a known entity so they can be monitored and neutralized. Has an upside and a downside. Best thing is to destroy AQ and seize any finacial assets available IMO.

Schmedlap
11-12-2009, 04:04 AM
I really enjoyed his article, but I'm still not swayed. My rebuttal goes back to the fundamentals of insurgency theory relying mainly on Mao's protracted war. Insurgencies and terrorist groups need several things:

1. Ideology- something to validate their worldview and actions
2. People- technical bomb experts, grunts, suicide bombers, etc
3. Guns
4. Money

If AQ fractures, then funding sources, recruiting bases, technical skills, and support networks and infrastructure decline thus diminishing the capabilities of follow-on organizations. Moreover, competition amoungst groups would cause additional infighting and diminished capabilities.

That's my take. Any thoughts?
I disagree that "funding sources, recruiting bases, technical skills, and support networks and infrastructure decline." Rather, I think they will just do what the author asserts - they will shift to another social network that we have less knowledge about.

In regard to competition among groups and infighting, I think that is another reason to keep AQ. If they are around, the new kids on the block will seek to knock of AQ. It is easier to glean intelligence of a group that is fighting against a network that you know (we might be able to gain intel from AQ - we'd be the enemy of their enemy). In fact, we did exactly that on occasion in Iraq.

Also, at this point AQ is a well-known organization with a negative history that we can use to discredit all similar organizations. If they are destroyed, then we are starting at square one.

Bill Moore
11-12-2009, 04:53 AM
If AQ fractures,

While the author made some interesting observations(although none of them are new), I find two major problems with his argument:

1. Not every terrorist organization is linked to AQ: We are too quick to link every terrorist attack by a Sunni group to AQ, when in fact there are already several terrorist organizations apart from AQ that at most only agree with some of AQ's philosophy. This is the new normal regardless of whether AQ as an organization lives or dies.

2. AQ already completed its mission: AQ provided an umbrella ideology and strategy and initiated a mass movement with the 9/11 attacks, so AQ no longer needs to exist for the movement to continue. While AQ may still fund certain activities and attacks globally, the evidence indicates that various militant groups are raising their own funds (donations, criminal activity etc.), acquiring their own weapons, planning their own attacks based on the movement "inspired" by AQ. Technical know how is now widely dispersed and available to those who really want to know how to conduct a terrorist attack.

If AQ went away tomorrow, the Pakistan Taliban, Afghan Taliban, LeT, Hamas, and tens of other militant organizations would be still be around. If we can kill the remains of AQ (and I'm not as convinced as the author that they're hurting as much as he believes), then we should do so now.

JJackson
11-12-2009, 12:46 PM
I donít believe it matters one way or the other, the removal of individuals is fairly irrelevant. I do not believe you can solve a terrorism problem by killing terrorists. It does not matter if we are talking about the IRA, the Red Brigade, Hamas or AQ they all have a grievance and are the violent tail on a larger community who feel they have a point and, even if they do not fight, they provide encouragement, money, safe houses etc. Why are they fighting, do they have a legitimate point? If you want to reduce the problem they are causing do something about their problem. If less of their community think the cause they are fighting for is just then the numbers who are willing to contribute funds will go down, it will be less acceptable in the community to have your son become a fighter and more acceptable to provide intelligence on terrorist movements and plans. You can not completely remove the problem but you can make it more manageable. The flow of funds from catholic groups in the US to those trying to unite N.I. and Eire has largely dried up as it is no longer view as acceptable not because the objective was achieved.

Presley Cannady
11-12-2009, 12:54 PM
Sadly, I can't be as generous as Bill. De la Casas's entire line of argument is woefully disappointing, including his base observations. The author might as well view al Qaeda as a hydra with infinite, stinging heads, tear his loincloth and wale in despair--not a particularly credible, let alone helpful point of view. I mean seriously, by his reasoning any organization with a high rate of turnover and connection to a movement--say the Vice Lords, or the Orange County Mall, or the Congressional Page Service--is effectively and perniciously immortal. If this is what passes for observation and theory in strategic studies today, I weep for the field.

We know swamps can be drained of syndicates, gangs, failing businesses and even the occasional federal bureaucracy. We know whether or not it's practical to do so depends is a cost question. Seems to me serious thought on this subject will accept that the fact first and answer the question second.

I'll post my specific complaints later, particularly regarding de la Casa's "application" of network theory.

MikeF
11-12-2009, 03:35 PM
Interesting, insightful commentary from all. I'll attempt to address Schmedlap's statement.


I disagree that "funding sources, recruiting bases, technical skills, and support networks and infrastructure decline." Rather, I think they will just do what the author asserts - they will shift to another social network that we have less knowledge about.

During the 1980s, the AQ/Taliban provided an outlet for "the call of jihad" for disenfranchised or adventurous Muslims to fight the Russians. They had advertisement and recruitment, transportation, funding (ironically from us), training camps, indoctrination, and employment. Most importantly, they had an established ideological backing.

During the 1990's, AQ/Taliban extended that fight into Kashmir and eventually began targeting the far-enemy.

From 2003-2008, AQ put out the call for Jihad in Iraq.

Now, that call is back to A'stan, Pakistan, etc.

While dispersed in social networks, this infrastructure and support networks are manpower and resource intensive. If we destroy them, then it will take a long time to recover.

An example of this could be SWJ. This site is well recognized as the place to go to study small wars. If someone publishes in another site or printed publication, it will normally be cc'd here. If SWJ was shut down tomorrow and the entire database deleted, individuals could venture to other sites, but the collective mojo would be lost for awhile until another site picked up the slack. At that point, LE could shut down that site.

I guess I'm just saying that we should take away AQ's mojo :cool:.

slapout9
11-12-2009, 04:02 PM
I guess I'm just saying that we should take away AQ's mojo :cool:.

Exactamundo, when they figure out they (AQ) are not 10 feet tall and the price to pay will be death and bankruptcy, you will see a big change. Until then they will keep right on doing what they are doing.

JJackson
11-12-2009, 04:51 PM
A few days ago Phoenix80 linked to a New Yorker article (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/11/09/091109fa_fact_wright?currentPage=all) a little of which is below. I suspect this is fairly typical of small groups around the world in that AQ leadership has never heard of them or funded them or received any funding from them. They are just doing their own thing with a nod to the brand name.


Abu Mohammed claimed to represent four armed groups that have joined a jihadi coalition. (There is such an alliance, called the Popular Resistance Committees.) “When I speak, I speak for all of them,” he told me. “We consider Osama bin Laden our spiritual father.” His group follows the same ideology as Al Qaeda, but there is no direct connection. “The siege around Gaza has disconnected us from the outside world,” he said. “None of us can travel.” In Gaza, he estimated, there were about four hundred armed fighters in cells like his, down from as many as fifteen hundred before the Hamas takeover. When Fatah ran the Strip, it was easier for subversives to operate, he said, but now “Hamas is in full control, and their power is very tight.” Hamas, he explained, wanted to dictate when violence occurred in Gaza, and tried to keep the Al Qaeda sympathizers penned in.

This link is to a Marc Lynch post on his FP blog (http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/11/09/al_qaedas_master_plan) and relates to the Fort Hood shootings. He is arguing that AQ would like nothing better than an over reaction that alienated the broader Muslim community as it will just provide a more fertile environment in which to operate.

bellz
11-12-2009, 06:22 PM
I have many reservations with the author's proposal...and many with the assumptions he builds his argument upon.


Before long, the West may just hold a barrel to al Qaeda's collective forehead. Should it press the trigger?

- How exactly would this happen? Is there any reason to believe that there even is a "collective forehead" to hold a barrel to or is it thousands of foreheads?


Like it or not, keeping a battered al Qaeda intact (if weak) is the world's best hope of funneling Islamist fanatics into one social network -- where they stand the best chance of being spotted, tracked, and contained. The alternative, destroying the terrorist group, would risk fragmenting al Qaeda into thousands of cells, and these will be much harder to follow and impossible to eradicate.

- al Qaeda does not have a monopoly over Islamist fanaticism and they do not operate in one social network - al Qaeda is already generally an umbrella term for thousands of fragmented and chaotic cells that are largely without central leadership or being provided resources from a centralized organization...


The alternative to destroying al Qaeda is to keep it weak -- but alive. The West would need to refrain from attacking all its central parts, choosing to monitor and watch them instead. Al Qaeda would continue to attract Islamist militants into its clustered network, where the fight against terrorism is at least manageable.

- I wouldn't call all the attacks and threats perpetrated by al Qaeda around the world before and after 9/11 a problem that is "at least manageable"

- I would LOVE to hear how "monitoring and watching" al Qaeda could be politically justified by anyone in the law enforcement, military or intelligence community if a major attack occurred under our noses because our intelligence was not as good as the author believes.

Is our intelligence so good that we know which mid level operatives are inept and which are effective? Isn't the way to know that by letting each one of them conduct an operation that would kill people and judge their effectiveness after the fact?


al Qaeda recruits could be shadowed through their training and eventual deployment. New operatives could then be neutralized once they move "downstream" -- away from the network. This timing prevents scattering the higher echelons of al Qaeda, while still eliminating the direct security threat.

This is an incredibly bad idea - lets allow unknown and numerous terrorist recruits become more indoctrinated, receive training, be assigned missions and allocated resources by the most dangerous terrorist leaders on the planet as we watch them and then hope we CAN "neutralize" them once they move "downstream". I hope they don't fall off the radar.

I feel the author is just trying to be thought provoking for the sake of it - not offering any practical solutions whatsoever.

davidbfpo
11-12-2009, 08:28 PM
Slap (No.8) stated:
Exactamundo, when they figure out they (AQ) are not 10 feet tall and the price to pay will be death and bankruptcy, you will see a big change. Until then they will keep right on doing what they are doing.

I have asked in meetings where have all the jihadists gone? I mean the often cited tens of thousands who went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and to a lesser extent those who went to places like Bosnia and Kashmir. Yes, many are maybe dead, some integrated locally - often cited in the FATA, others returned home or to other places.

No-one seems to have a complete answer and I wonder if they have given up the Jihad.

So Slap perhaps AQ has already been affected? Death and bankrupt ideas methinks. (Apologies if I'm repeating myself here).

davidbfpo

davidbfpo
11-12-2009, 08:44 PM
Citing Mike F's initial post:
Mr. Casas makes a compelling case to keep them around.

All I can say a provocative article and far from realistic. Does he seriously think that the information that may become intelligence exists to undertake such close-in observation? We maybe good at restraining the flow of recruits, we are less good at money and other ingredients in the AQ mix. Yes attacks have been thwarted, others have succeeded.

In the UK I ask what would the UK have been like in July 2005, if the 7/7 bombs had gone off and the bombers escaped? Add in the 21/7 attacks too.

In the USA I am sure readers can imagine an equivalent scene. IIRC the CT adviser, Richard Clarke wrote an article a few years ago on future successful attacks and their impact (lost the link).

No, Mr Casas stay in your "groove".

davidbfpo

davidbfpo
11-12-2009, 09:35 PM
A review by an academic expert of a book The Third Alternative: Between Authoritarianism and Surrender (by an AQ author; NT Google):http://www.carnegieendowment.org/arb/?fa=show&article=24121


The book is the latest development in what can be called a second wave of modern Islamist de-radicalization.

The new body of literature, which is composed of more than 30 books, mainly deconstructs the eight major arguments of jihadism: al-hakimmiyya (God’s exclusive right to legislate), al-riddah (apostasy, mainly of ruling regimes), al-jihad/qital (fighting) for the Islamic state, jihad al-daf‘ (defensive jihad), ahkam al-diyar (rules of conduct in the “abode of Islam” and the “abode of infidelity”), methods for sociopolitical change, the inevitability of confrontation, and the “neo-crusader” arguments.

(Concludes}Most post-jihadist literature does not take a clear stance on democracy. But accepting the “other,” moderating rhetoric and behavior, and participating in electoral politics may be the only viable options for these groups if they want to remain politically significant. In other words, if jihadism heralded the inevitability of armed confrontation, post-jihadism might well entail the inevitable acceptance of democratization.

The review author has written on Ending Jihadism: the transformation of Armed Islamist Groups:http://www.carnegieendowment.org/arb/?fa=show&article=23805

Will copy this to the 'What are you reading' thread.

davidbfpo

slapout9
11-13-2009, 12:29 AM
So Slap perhaps AQ has already been affected? Death and bankrupt ideas methinks. (Apologies if I'm repeating myself here).

davidbfpo

Yes David they have been hurt but we need to Kill Bill he is the Mojo, he started all this mess and he should have always been Target#1. Time to finish the job.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nl8LaJrrr14&feature=related

davidbfpo
03-09-2011, 08:49 AM
An old thread I know, but after scanning an appropriate place to add this. Hat tip to CLS mailing, although I do read Leah Farrell's blogsite.


In the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, Leah Farrall, a former Senior Counterterrorism Intelligence analyst with the Australian Federal Police, writes that “al Qaeda is stronger today than when it carried out the 9/11 attacks.” Farrall argues that “[t]oday, [al Qaeda] has more members, greater geographic reach, and a level of ideological sophistication and influence it lacked ten years ago....[A]ccounts [of al Qaeda’s decline] treat the central al Qaeda organization separately from its subsidiaries and overlook its success in expanding its power and influence through them.”

Temporarily available on author's website:http://allthingscounterterrorism.com/foreign-affairs-article-how-al-qaeda-works/

Main link, alas behind a pay-wall:http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67467/leah-farrall/how-al-qaeda-works

Catching up on reading and the article is on the list to do.

Bob's World
03-09-2011, 01:22 PM
Smart action in support of the oppressed populaces where these insurgent organizations have bought into the AQ franchise could co-opt or neutralize these groups that have a primary focus that is nationalist.

We do ourselves a disservice when we paint them all with a broad AQ brush merely because they have bought into the AQ message that breaking the support of western powers is an essential task in achieving change at home.

I think one thing we need to all keep in mind is that "Ideas cannot be contained, and Liberty cannot be denied."

Our current target fixation on the FATA buys into a belief that AQ can somehow be contained or defeated there. Even President Obama's guidance for Afghanistan (that the ISAF mission statement really does not match up well with, btw) focuses on this infeasible end “to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda and to prevent their return to either Afghanistan or Pakistan.”

The most enduring way to render AQ moot is to rob them of their base of moderate support. The way to do that is to take on the challenge of helping the moderate majority address their reasonable concerns over the type of governance they receive at home, and the reasonable perceptions that those governments are more connected to Western powers than to their own populaces.

This does not mean a massive campaign of UW in the classic sense; but it does mean that CT heavy efforts against everyone wearing an AQ T-shirt are as likely to make the problem worse as better; and that massive nation building that seems bent on adding yet one more despot to our list of supported official malign actors is not going to get us where we need to be.

This is a foreign policy problem, not a military problem; and this demands a foreign policy solution rather than a military one as well. Certainly the military has a role, but is should be much tailored and refined from the current one, and subjugated to a supporting position.

Dayuhan
03-11-2011, 04:24 AM
Smart action in support of the oppressed populaces where these insurgent organizations have bought into the AQ franchise could co-opt or neutralize these groups that have a primary focus that is nationalist.

What specific groups are we discussing here?


I think one thing we need to all keep in mind is that "Ideas cannot be contained, and Liberty cannot be denied."

True enough, but how is this related to AQ? Aq certainly isn't fighting for liberty, nor are they broadly perceived to be fighting for liberty.


The most enduring way to render AQ moot is to rob them of their base of moderate support. The way to do that is to take on the challenge of helping the moderate majority address their reasonable concerns over the type of governance they receive at home, and the reasonable perceptions that those governments are more connected to Western powers than to their own populaces.

I've seen no credible evidence suggesting that moderate support for AQ derives from "reasonable concerns over the type of governance they receive at home". AQ gets support because there's a huge amount of generic resentment toward foreign military intrusion in genereal and western meddling specifically in the Muslim world, and any Muslim group that sticks it to the western meddlers is going to gain a great deal of affection and support. AQ's attempts to rally support against Muslim governments have generally gone nowhere, not because those governmets are loved but because AQ is not seen as a viable alternative. AQ has only ever really succeeded with the "expel the infidel from the land of the faithful" narrative. They've tried others, but without much success.

If we want to reduce AQ, we need to focus not on everything they say, but on countering the narratives that have actually worked for them.

Bob's World
03-11-2011, 12:19 PM
"What specific groups are we discussing here?"

Every group that has an "AQ" added as a prefix is made up on nationalist insurgents that have bought into the AQ message and franchise. These groups in turn have roots that reach into the perceptions of poor governance and western manipulation within the respective populaces they emerge from. Help those populaces address their reasonable concerns, target and manage those perceptions, and one begins to disempower the AQ agents conducting UW, and also the more radical members of the nationalist groups who are more committed to their personal goals than the overall good to the populace.

"True enough, but how is this related to AQ? AQ certainly isn't fighting for liberty, nor are they broadly perceived to be fighting for liberty."

By whose perception? AQ has a regional agenda, which is why they are a non-state UW headquarters rather than an insurgent organization. Sure, they specifically want to depose the Saudi family and specifically want to humble the US, but all of that also contributes to a larger goal of leading and leveraging the distinct quests for liberty among a wide range of oppressed Muslim populaces across the Arab world. Now, if AQ ends up in some sort of leadership role over all of these liberated states in a union that somehow does conform to traditional "Caliphates" of eras past, then no, I do not think there will be much "liberty" in that for the affected populaces. But if that is the case, then AQ loses their non-state sanctuary, they become the counterinsurgent rather than the UW instigator, and become very vulnerable to both outside state action as well as internal insurgent action. But I do believe that a regional liberty from western influence and western supported oppression is very much a part of their platform.

"I've seen no credible evidence"

For years Saudi-based charities, who draw contributions from across the populace base, have supported this movement. Every liberty-seeking movement is typically such, where the vast majority of the base of support is largely passive and beneath the surface. One can only assess the size of that base by other indicators.

The current rash of popular uprising in the face of certain consequence is such an indicator.

Dayuhan
03-12-2011, 10:59 AM
"What specific groups are we discussing here?"

Every group that has an "AQ" added as a prefix is made up on nationalist insurgents that have bought into the AQ message and franchise.

Specifically, who? It would be easier to address the point if we named some of the actual groups we're concerned with.


These groups in turn have roots that reach into the perceptions of poor governance and western manipulation within the respective populaces they emerge from. Help those populaces address their reasonable concerns, target and manage those perceptions,

How do we do that without interfering in the internal affairs of other nations... recalling as we go that foreign interference in the internal affairs of Muslim nations fuels AQ more than anything else?


Sure, they specifically want to depose the Saudi family and specifically want to humble the US, but all of that also contributes to a larger goal of leading and leveraging the distinct quests for liberty among a wide range of oppressed Muslim populaces across the Arab world.

They have that goal, yes, but they've never come close to success: AQ has not been able to successfully leverage quests for liberty from domestic oppression. They have been able to successfully leverage resentment at foreign intervention in Muslim lands. If we want to reduce AQ's influence we have to address the factors and the narratives that they have been able to successfully leverage, not the ones that they have never had success with. AQ may have tried to appoint themselves champion of populaces fighting domestic oppression, but they have not succeeded. Neither would we. They have succeeded in rallying support for the defence of Muslim land against foreign invasion, and of course we've given them plenty of that.


Now, if AQ ends up in some sort of leadership role over all of these liberated states in a union that somehow does conform to traditional "Caliphates" of eras past, then no, I do not think there will be much "liberty" in that for the affected populaces.

I don't think so either, but it's too remote a prospect to be worrying much about.


But I do believe that a regional liberty from western influence and western supported oppression is very much a part of their platform.

Possibly part of their platform... but again, the only platform that's really worked for them involves resistance to foreign military intervention. I don't see that we need to worry about every part of their platform. We'd be better off concerning ourselves with the platform that has actually worked for them.


For years Saudi-based charities, who draw contributions from across the populace base, have supported this movement. Every liberty-seeking movement is typically such, where the vast majority of the base of support is largely passive and beneath the surface. One can only assess the size of that base by other indicators.

What movement are we talking about here, and what has it to do with seeking liberty? Saudi charities have certainly supported the spread of Wahhabi Islam abroad, and have certainly supported AQ's jihad against foreign intervention in Muslim lands. They've been a lot less engaged in supporting domestic action against Arab governments.

Once again, it seems to me that you're conflating AQ's fight against foreign military intervention with domestic resistance to authoritarian government in the Arab world to a greater extent than is supported by evidence.

Bob's World
03-12-2011, 10:28 PM
Once again, it seems to me that you're conflating AQ's fight against foreign military intervention with domestic resistance to authoritarian government in the Arab world to a greater extent than is supported by evidence.

AQ's may fight foreign militaries when they come into the region, but their fight is not "against foreign military intervention." It is your position on this point that is unsupported by evidence. Foreign militaries are a convenient target of opportunity to carry forward his larger agenda.

His priorities have always been to take down the Saudi royals, and to humble the US in particular; and in general to break Western influence over the governments, and thereby the people, of the Middle East.

Conditions of insurgency have been sky high in most of the countries that bin Laden carries his message to for decades; but with the populaces held in check by the security forces of these despotic governments. This is what created the fertile fields of populaces for the seeds of bin Laden's message to take root in. If the people had been satisfied in their situation, then bin Laden's efforts would have had little effect. This is the nature of UW. You can't start a fire if the fuel is wet. A satisfied populace is like wet fuel, it just doesn't ignite very easy.

Galula talked about events much like the ones currently going on in across the Middle East in his first Chapter in the section on "Revolution, Plot, Insurgency."

"A revolution usually is an explosive upheaval - sudden, brief, spontaneous, unplanned (France, 1789; China, 1911; Russia, 1917;Hungary, 1956). It is an accident, which can be explained afterward but not predicted other than to note the existence of a revolutionary situation.

Ok, I would not call such events "accidents," but Galula wrote from the perspective of a man who had lived his entire life as a colonist or as a military officer dealing with insurgencies in his country's colonies. This colored his perceptions; but what he calls "existence of a revolutionary situation" in his example countries are what I call "conditions of insurgency." The fuel is stacked high and waiting for a spark. The "accident" is that event that suddenly ignites the fire of populace discontent without warning.

The fuel was and is tender dry and stacked high across the Middle East, and bin Laden has been conducting UW much like a state, but with the beneficial sanctuary that comes from being a non-state actor. With no state to be held at risk it allows a little guy to play on the big stage with the big guys.

But to your point, if one waits until they have "evidence" in this social science of human dynamics and perceptions, one is likely to get burned, as the first evidence is often a bright flash not unlike a match landing in a gasoline soaked pile of brush.

Dayuhan
03-13-2011, 01:32 AM
AQ's may fight foreign militaries when they come into the region, but their fight is not "against foreign military intervention." It is your position on this point that is unsupported by evidence. Foreign militaries are a convenient target of opportunity to carry forward his larger agenda.

I'm not talking about bin Laden's aspirations or his agenda. That needn't concern us. What does concern us is what has actually worked for him, the tactics and narratives that have actually produced results.

As for evidence, AQ's dramatic decline after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan is well documented, as is AQ's failure to generate any significant traction in his calls for action against the Saudi government. AQ has only succeeded in drawing support when they fight foreign military intervention: regardless of their aspirations, that's what actually sustains them.


Conditions of insurgency have been sky high in most of the countries that bin Laden carries his message to for decades; but with the populaces held in check by the security forces of these despotic governments. This is what created the fertile fields of populaces for the seeds of bin Laden's message to take root in. If the people had been satisfied in their situation, then bin Laden's efforts would have had little effect. This is the nature of UW. You can't start a fire if the fuel is wet. A satisfied populace is like wet fuel, it just doesn't ignite very easy.

This makes superficial sense, but it does not explain the evident reality that bin Laden's message has not in fact taken root in these countries. To the contrary, bin Laden has never gained significant leverage in efforts to overthrow Arab governments. He gets support and admiration when he fights the noble jihad against the invading infidel somewhere far away, but when he brings the message home it falls flat. Bin Laden's efforts to raise rebellion in places like Saudi Arabia have had little effect, not because the populace is satisfied but because they don't see him offering a viable alternative. The conservative clergy may support his efforts abroad but they don't want him messing in their pond domestically, they see him as a loose cannon and as competition. Even in the oil glut years of the mid to late 90s, when circumstances seemed ideal for AQ, they were unable to draw enough support to even think about effective action against the government. It just didn't work for them, and it wasn't just because of repression: we saw in Iran and we've seen elsewhere that if the populace buys the message repression can be overwhelmed. The populaces involved just didn't buy AQ's message.


Ok, I would not call such events "accidents," but Galula wrote from the perspective of a man who had lived his entire life as a colonist or as a military officer dealing with insurgencies in his country's colonies. This colored his perceptions; but what he calls "existence of a revolutionary situation" in his example countries are what I call "conditions of insurgency." The fuel is stacked high and waiting for a spark. The "accident" is that event that suddenly ignites the fire of populace discontent without warning.

Agreed, but events in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have little or nothing to do with AQ. AQ didn't inspire them and there's little to no evidence that AQ is drawing any leverage from them.


The fuel was and is tender dry and stacked high across the Middle East, and bin Laden has been conducting UW much like a state, but with the beneficial sanctuary that comes from being a non-state actor. With no state to be held at risk it allows a little guy to play on the big stage with the big guys.

AQ has tried to conduct UW against governments in the Middle East, but they've had very little success. Again, the only thing that's really worked for them is opposition to foreign military intervention their UW efforts against indigenous government have for the most part fallen pretty flat.


But to your point, if one waits until they have "evidence" in this social science of human dynamics and perceptions, one is likely to get burned, as the first evidence is often a bright flash not unlike a match landing in a gasoline soaked pile of brush.

If one acts on the basis of unsupported assumption, one is almost certain to be burned.

In any event we cannot disempower AQ by ending despotism in the Middle East and Africa. We don't even know that ending despotism would disempower AQ, and we don't have the power to end despotism in any event. We do have the ability to remove AQ's most effective narrative from play by reducing our tendency toward sustained occupation of places where we've thought it necessary to intervene. We might also do well to assess proposed interventions a bit more carefully, since they are as likely to help our enemies as to harm them.

Bob's World
03-13-2011, 10:03 AM
"AQ's dramatic decline after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan is well documented, as is AQ's failure to generate any significant traction in his calls for action against the Saudi government. AQ has only succeeded in drawing support when they fight foreign military intervention: regardless of their aspirations, that's what actually sustains them."

The Soviets withdrew in Feb '89, which coincides with the birth, not the decline of AQ. You've posted this position before, it confused me then, it confuses me now. AQ grew out of the Soviet invasion, but did not exist because of it, but rather it came to exist I believe because men like bin Laden came to realize from the experience of facing down the Soviets that they were not hopeless in facing Western nations exerting their influence onto Muslim populaces.

What really gave AQ legs was the following year when bin Laden offered his services to the King of Saudi Arabia to defend against Saddam continuing his advance from Kuwait, and his rejection and the subsequent decision by the King to bring even greater Western influence into the region instead to perform that role.

As to "traction against the Saudi government" your position here is factually way off base as well. It is a matter of public record that average and elite Saudi citizens are the primary source of funding to AQ. it is a matter of public record that Saudi citizens made up the bulk of the 9/11 attackers as well as the bulk of the foreign fighters that form the core of every aspect of AQ's operations, from fighters to admin. It is also a matter of public record that the Saudi government has been aggressively suppressing every hint of subversion and insurgency at home, aggressively nipping in the bud any effort to organize at movement there; from last weeks "day of rage" to the 110 AQ members rolled up last March coming in from sanctuary in Yemen to wage attacks (there is little good terrain to hide in in Saudi Arabia, and the government eyes and ears are too good to hide among the people); 700 detained in 2008 as terrorists, with only 200 later released; and 6 cells totaling 200 in 2007. Plus countless, nameless others rolled up without warrant, held without charge, and treated without rights. Anyone who cannot see that AQ inspired insurgency is alive and well in the Saudi populace is blind to the realities of insurgency and the realities of what the indicators of high level conditions of insurgency look like in countries where the populaces are so rigorously monitored and controlled as they are in these Middle Eastern Kingdoms..

As to operations against foreign militaries? That has been no more than a target of opportunity that we offered up; not the central point of his campaign, but rather an opportunity to advance his campaign.

As to "bin Laden's message taking root" this statement misunderstands the role UW and the role of ideology by a UW actor. What the people what is liberty, respect and justice. Not as measured in the American Heartland, but as measured in their respective Muslim cultures. Ideology does not create insurgency or turn people into insurgents. Ideology does not "radicalize" people, it is government action that radicalizes people. Once so radicalized by government, they are then open to listen to the motivational message of such ideologies that encourage them to act. bin Laden is not causing any of this, he is just taking advantage of it. He is like an Adolf Hitler. A man of his times; and if not him it would be someone else filling this role. If he is killed, if Hitler had been killed, someone else would have stepped up eventually to leverage those same conditions.

The German people were "radicalized" by the Treaty of Versailles and its effects on their national Psyche. The Depression, and the rise of Nazism, and the personality of Hitler all merely piled onto that original base of radicalization. Similarly bin Laden, AQ and Islamism pile onto the base radicalization of the nature of governance in the Middle East and the nature of Western influence in the Middle East.

In other words, AQ and bin Laden are largely tactical symptoms of the much larger strategic problem. If "defeated" will be replaced in time so long as the larger strategic base of the problem persists. That is why these movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and across the region are so strategically important; as unlike anything the US has done in the GWOT to date, these events cut to the strategic core of the problem we confront.

Dayuhan
03-14-2011, 02:50 AM
The Soviets withdrew in Feb '89, which coincides with the birth, not the decline of AQ. You've posted this position before, it confused me then, it confuses me now.

The organization may not have been called "Al Qaeda" until 1988/89, but it existed well before then. Everything that allowed AQ to function - the foreign fighter recruitment and transit networks, the funding networks, the contacts with groups around the world, OB's personal reputation as a jihadi, and more - grew out of the anti-Soviet jihad. "AQ" didn't appear out of a vacuum in '89, it was a new designation applied to an entity that had been in place and functioning for some time.


men like bin Laden came to realize from the experience of facing down the Soviets that they were not hopeless in facing Western nations exerting their influence onto Muslim populaces.

"Facing western nations exerting their influence onto Muslim populaces" is only half the picture, or less than half. AQ's struggle is not just to break western influence, but to impose their own influence in its place, and that's been the single largest factor preventing them from gaining support in their efforts to dislodge Muslim governments. Even populaces that don't care for their governments show little desire to be governed by AQ.


What really gave AQ legs was the following year when bin Laden offered his services to the King of Saudi Arabia to defend against Saddam continuing his advance from Kuwait, and his rejection and the subsequent decision by the King to bring even greater Western influence into the region instead to perform that role.

Certainly that was a major factor for bin Laden, who took it rather poorly. It was not a controversial or widely opposed decision in the Kingdom at the time: very few had any illusions about AQ's ability to defend the nation from Saddam. Resentment over the US presence did grow later: the Americans overstayed their welcome, and with Saddam no longer poised on the border and the nation suffering the effects of the oil glut there was a general sense that the force was an imposition, likely with dubious motives.


As to "traction against the Saudi government" your position here is factually way off base as well. It is a matter of public record that average and elite Saudi citizens are the primary source of funding to AQ. it is a matter of public record that Saudi citizens made up the bulk of the 9/11 attackers as well as the bulk of the foreign fighters that form the core of every aspect of AQ's operations, from fighters to admin.

Yes, Saudis have been very supportive of AQ's struggle against infidel intrusion in Muslim lands. Have they been supportive of his struggle against tne Saudi government? Look at what can be measured. From the Soviet withdrawal to the declaration of jihad against the US, inspiring a revolt against the Saudi government was AQ's #1 mission. How did that work for them? Per Leah Farrell in Foreign Affairs:


By mid-1996, al Qaeda was a shell of an organization, reduced to some 30 members. Facing irrelevance and fearing that a movement of Islamist militants was rising outside of his control, bin Laden decided a “blessed jihad” was necessary. He declared war on the United States

Obviously the anti-Saudi jihad didn't work very well.

Blaming this on repression is an evasion. Ayatollah Khomeini was able to inspire a revolution from exile, despite an equally active repressive apparatus, by mailing cassette tapes to supporters. His populace bought the message. AQ was able to sell the message to a relatively small core, but beyond that it just didn't fly. There are a lot of reasons for that, but two stand out. First, he was selling an Islamic jihad, but he was never able to win the support of the clergy, who may have had issues with the royals but saw AQ and bin Laden as dangerous upstarts with no real Islamic credentials. Second, he was trying to sell overthrow of the royals to a deeply conservative population, and strange though it may seem to an American, there's still a very deep reserve of respect for the royal institutions in the conservative side of the Saudi populace, and an equally deep fear that removing those institutions could create chaos. Again, it seems strange to Americans, but there are people out there who fear instability more than they fear tyranny.


Anyone who cannot see that AQ inspired insurgency is alive and well in the Saudi populace is blind to the realities of insurgency and the realities of what the indicators of high level conditions of insurgency look like in countries where the populaces are so rigorously monitored and controlled as they are in these Middle Eastern Kingdoms..

Is that based on current observation? The 1990s are long gone... or are we assuming that the all populaces everywhere want the same things that Americans want?


As to operations against foreign militaries? That has been no more than a target of opportunity that we offered up; not the central point of his campaign, but rather an opportunity to advance his campaign.

Agreed, but it's the only target that's given them any results. That matters. I also wouldn't say "we offered up" that target. We were deliberately baited into offering it up by a group that knew it could not survive without an invading infidel to justify their existence.


As to "bin Laden's message taking root" this statement misunderstands the role UW and the role of ideology by a UW actor. What the people what is liberty, respect and justice.

Possibly so, though I think you severely underestimate the populace's fear of sudden or radical change. The populace clearly knows, though that they are not ever going to get liberty, respect, and justice from AQ or bin Laden, so that's not something we need to worry about. If they thought he'd get them what they want, he wouldn't have been run down to a shell of a group and 30 members at the end of his efforts to overthrow the Saudi government.

Osama gets admiration, respect, and support when he's the Muslim who sticks it to the pinks. That's the narrative and the role that works for him. He's tried others, but they have failed, rather dramatically.


In other words, AQ and bin Laden are largely tactical symptoms of the much larger strategic problem. If "defeated" will be replaced in time so long as the larger strategic base of the problem persists. That is why these movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and across the region are so strategically important; as unlike anything the US has done in the GWOT to date, these events cut to the strategic core of the problem we confront.

Do you believe that a post-Mubarak Egypt will cease to provide support and recruits for AQ? Do you believe that a post-Saudi Saudi Arabia would cease to provide recruits and support? I personally tend to doubt it.

If we could somehow conjure up "good governance" throughout the Muslim world, that might cause problems for AQ... though what we call "good governance" would be utterly abhorrent to much of AQ's support base and might very well leave them with more support. The question in any event is abstract, because we can't change the way governments work in the Muslim world. We don't have that capacity. What we do have is the power to deny AQ their most successful narrative and simultaneously reduce our own expenses and commitments by not engaging in extended occupation of Muslim countries. It does us no good at all, and it helps AQ a great deal.

Certainly AQ gets fueled to some degree by bad governance in the Muslim world. That's not within our control, and we don't have the capacity to deny them that fuel. To an equal and likely greater extent, AQ draws support from from our long-term occupations of Muslim lands: and that we do have the power to control. Why should we not focus on causative factors that are within our power to influence?