Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Strategic progress against al Qaeda 

In his TCS column, James Joyner argues that we have made great progress in the war on al Qaeda and its ideological allies, at least as measured against al Qaeda's own announced objectives. Joyner rattles off a list of al Qaeda's announced strategic objectives, "as summarized by Michael Scheuer" (who wrote both Imperial Hubris and Through Our Enemies' Eyes), and then assesses the progress that al Qaeda seems to have made against them. I have re-formatted Joyner's presentation to weave al Qaeda's strategic objectives and Joyner's assessments together, with my own comments to boot.

Al Qaeda's objectives are in bold, Joyner's assessments are in italics, and my comments are in plaintext:

The end of U.S. aid to Israel and the ultimate elimination of that state.

Israel is stronger than ever and U.S. support could hardly be stronger. The 9/11 attacks, if anything, solidified U.S.-Israeli relations, since it brought home the everyday far of terrorist attacks Israelis endure on a daily basis.

The removal of U.S. and Western forces from the Arabian peninsula.

Western forces have indeed left Saudi Arabia, only to be mobilized and reinforced in Arab lands.

In a very real sense, we withdrew from Saudi Arabia through Iraq. That fact has been instrumental in moving the House of Saud rather decisively to our side in the war. Until May 2003, Saudi Arabia was not, to say the very least, useful in the fight against al Qaeda. After the United States removed Saddam, Saudi Arabia quite clearly went to war against al Qaeda, both at home and elsewhere. One of the reasons was that OIF persuaded Saudi Arabia that the United States, having organized the war against al Qaeda and linked it to the invasion of Iraq, would not retreat behind its oceans the next time it had a popular mood swing. In that sense, our extended commitment in Iraq -- which has been more extended than optimistic hawks had hoped or predicted we would be -- has stiffened the Saudi spine, even if they are not happy with the rise of the Shia in that country, the disorder on their northern border, and our support for Arab political rights.

The removal of U.S. and Western military forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands.

Western forces are deeply entrenched in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands and have toppled the first two regimes and strongly influenced the direction of others, notably Pakistan.

"Strongly influenced" in the preceding sentence means "coerced." Pakistan was the Taliban's great friend in the world, and the Taliban was al Qaeda's great protector. Before September 11, Pakistan was effectively a huge supporter of al Qaeda. Today, there remain elements in its intelligence agency, government and society that support al Qaeda's interests or even subscribe to its ideology, but other important actors -- including its fascist president -- have been polarized against the Islamists. Pakistan has hunted down and killed more than 600 veterans of al Qaeda's training facilities.

The end of U.S. support for the oppression of Muslims by Russia, China, and India.

The U.S. still does not support oppression of Muslims in Russia, China, or India but is certainly less sympathetic to the Chechnyan cause than before 9/11.

Our relations with both China and India are closer today -- by a longshot -- than they were before September 11, 2001. The unilateralist Bush administration has had more genuinely constructive diplomacy with the two most populous countries on Earth than any previous American presidency.

The end of U.S. protection for repressive, apostate Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, et cetera.

The U.S. has drawn closer to the governments in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, and Jordan, although it is pushing for serious democratization.

Far be it from me to argue with Joyner, but it seems to me that it is not correct to describe our relationships with the "apostate regimes" as having "drawn closer." They are, in the main, very unhappy with the American democratization strategy, which is integral to the wider war. Why shouldn't they be? They are silly kings and dictators-for-life -- clown regimes. However, we have driven the creation of many more enemies of al Qaeda in the world, and these regimes are among them. Whereas before they would buy off the Islamists and hope that they went elsewhere, now they are full participants in the war against them. We are not "closer" to the apostate regimes, but we have driven a wedge between them and al Qaeda, which is what counts.

The conservation of the Muslim world's energy resource and their sale at higher prices.

Oil prices have gone up rather dramatically, although owing more to economic growth in China and India than events in the Middle East.

This is al Qaeda's least important strategic objective, but they have made more progress on it than any other. Joyner's take is a bit too positive for my taste. It may be that rising energy prices are "more" attributable to growth in China and India than events in the Middle East, but there is no question that Islamist "event" risk drives the price of oil at the margin. There is no evidence, though, that Muslim oil is being "conserved" -- only Iran has pushed to squeeze supply, and the Saudis frustrate them at every turn.

Not only have we stymied al Qaeda in the pursuit of its strategic objectives, but we have degraded its ability to fight. Joyner links to a recent column of Christopher Hitchens, "Al Qaeda is losing: there is desperation in Osama's voice". If you cannot find two minutes of your allegedly valuable time to read the whole thing, ponder at least this:
I have been attacked for callousness and worse for saying that Bin Laden did us a favor on 9/11, but I am increasingly sure I was right. Until that date, he partially owned Afghanistan and his supporters were moving steadily toward the Talibanization of Pakistan as well. There were al-Qaida sympathizers within the Pakistani intelligence services, armed forces, and nuclear establishment (which then included the A.Q. Khan network). There was also an active Saudi support system, consisting mainly of vast tranches of money, for jihadism worldwide. Now, Afghanistan is lost to Bin Laden and Pakistan has had, at least officially, to modify its behavior considerably. The A.Q. Khan network has been shut down. [Indeed, one might well argue that it would not have been discovered without the Bush admininstration's aggressive policy. - ed.] The Saudi ruling class identifies its state interest with a repudiation of al-Qaida, inside and outside its own borders. And the one remaining regime that openly preached holy war and helped train jihadist forces like the "Fedayeen Saddam"—the pseudo-secular terror state in Iraq—has been irretrievably smashed. Wherever Bin Laden is now, it cannot be where he wanted or hoped to be four and a half years ago.

This last bit seems undeniable, notwithstanding Western defeatists who scoff that our failure to produce Bin Laden's corpse in fact is proof of our failure (did the fact that Hitler lived in 1943 and 1944 and well in to 1945 prove that we weren't rolling back Germany?).

Now, we often hear that America's forward-leaning policy has been a boon to al Qaeda's recruitment. Perhaps, but apart from naked assertions by Arabs and Arabists who have a stake in the stability that the Bush administration has vowed to sacrifice, what evidence is there for this? That al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has been able to build a force of at most a few thousand? That preachers in Europe have become more shrill and the Muslim youth more disaffected?

My own view -- a guess, really -- is that al Qaeda has indeed used American policy to recruit many new supporters and even soldiers. But what have been the consequences of this? There have been at least two, both of which, perversely, accrue to the advantage of al Qaeda's enemies.

First, the new recruits are not nearly as useful to al Qaeda as the "old guard," and represent a profound security threat to the core of the organization. As we have driven al Qaeda underground it has lost its training facilities in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It no longer has the same capacity to train, indoctrinate and test the loyalty of its recruits in the open, secure in the Taliban's protection. I described this problem a few weeks ago:
Al Qaeda and its followers are of greatly varying training and competence. A veteran of Afghanistan who can travel in the West is extremely dangerous. An untrained Dutch Muslim on the streets of Amsterdam can kill a few people, but probably cannot kill a great many people and certainly will not be trusted by the people in al Qaeda with that organization’s most precious secrets or assets.

It is therefore important to kill or capture al Qaeda veterans. Yes, others will spring up as long as the ideology remains sufficiently credible to attract new blood. But -- and this is a huge "but" -- the new recruits will take time to train (especially now that Afghanistan is interdicted) and an even longer time to earn the leadership's trust. Every new recruit is a potential spy, and will not soon be trusted with WMD even if the network acquires them in deployable form.... When we destroy the old guard we buy critical time.

Remember that. Al Qaeda was formerly closed to us and -- more importantly -- to the intelligence services of the Muslim "apostate regimes" who have now joined the fight. A flood of new recruits, if it is indeed the "flood" claimed by the defeatists, cannot be useful to al Qaeda -- especially now that it can't be alone with them at isolated training facilities for months on end -- unless it compromises the security that heretofore made the network so difficult to penetrate.

Second, the new recruits operate at the periphery of the network and are doing stupid things. Al Qaeda, which once had a tremendously subtle public relations campaign, is losing its touch, probably because of the isolation of its brain trust and the influence of the amateurs. As its military effectiveness declines, so does the appeal of its ideology. Hitchens, again:
But what if the other part of Bin Laden's latest tape is true and another attack is in the making? Well, since 2001 there have been hideous assaults in Spain, Turkey, England, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Kenya, Iraq, Jordan, and Indonesia. I know of no evidence to suggest that this has increased Bin Laden's following in any country, and of considerable evidence to the contrary.

Here's some evidence of al Qaeda's declining influence. In a Pew Research poll published in October, support for al Qaeda and its tactics (including suicide attacks on American soldiers in Iraq) were on the decline throughout the Arab world, except for Jordan. Two weeks after that poll came out, the strategic geniuses in charge of al Qaeda in Iraq blew up a wedding in Jordan. That week, thousands of Jordanians poured into the street to denounce al Qaeda and to rally around their "apostate regime." If Pew took that poll today, al Qaeda's "numbers" would be down substantially in Jordan as well.

Not only has al Qaeda utterly failed to progress against the objectives it set for itself, but it has had to manage a huge rotation in its personnel. As seasoned veterans of Afghanistan have been killed or packed off to some secret CIA jail, al Qaeda has had to integrate whack jobs and incompetents who have not had the training and indoctrination of the old guard. The new recruits, whether or not a flood, create huge new security risks that accelerate the killing and capture of the veterans, new management challenges for those veterans who remain in charge, and a growing command and control problem that threatens to discredit al Qaeda and its ideology.

It is not May 1945 yet, but it may be the summer of 1943.


By Blogger sirius_sir, at Tue Jan 31, 02:54:00 PM:

Nicely done. It seems another lifetime now when everyone worried about fighting an impending war against billions of angry Muslims. On September 11 2001 Mr. Laden and his minions must have thought they had things going their way. But I agree with the retrospective analysis that has it that al Qaeda did us a very big favor--though at regrettable cost--awakening us to a danger we were until then all too content to ignore.

Since then, our enemy's self-damaging efforts have not ceased; the biggest miscalculation perhaps being the attacks on so-called apostate Muslims which does nothing more than further diminish al Qaeda's putative religionist base.

For all the squawking about the President's mishandling of events, the wonder is how well things have actually gone for us and how badly things have gone for al Qaeda since those first dark days when even venturing into Afghanistan seemed, to many, setting a rash course for disaster.

That we have not only avenged our dead but done so much more to improve things for the living in that part of the world in so short a time is reassuring and inspiring.

And if that sounds like brazen triumphalism, then so be it.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Jan 31, 03:59:00 PM:

The only thing that strikes me as a bit eerie is that Bin Laden didn't in that list cite any perceived ill treatment of Muslims in the US.  

By Blogger Papa Ray, at Tue Jan 31, 09:20:00 PM:

That about covers it. But I still hold that the Afghanistan border regions house not only training camps but most likely b. Laden.

Afghanistan is not as tame as some would say it is and not as wild as others say. But there are many that believe it will be a source of terrorists for years. Pakistan is still one bullet away from being our enemy. We need to hold them close.

Papa Ray
West Texas

By Anonymous chalbey, at Sun Feb 05, 01:24:00 PM:

Quote:Pakistan was the Taliban's great friend in the world, and the Taliban was al Qaeda's great protector. Before September 11, Pakistan was effectively a huge supporter of al Qaeda.

oh, true. remember Russia's invasion of Afghanistan? It was USA who gave aid to Pakistan to "create" the Talibans to stop THAT invasion. Pakistan being a poor country couldn't do taht alone. After, Russia's defeat, USA forgot all about it tho.  

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