Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq on the Leviathan and the SysAdmin

A Not-so-grand Strategy,” by Bill Roggio, The Fourth Rail, 19 July 2005,

Former Professor at the Naval War College Thomas P.M. Barnett breaks the military’s job into two roles: the Leviathan and System Administrator. The Leviathan “kills people and breaks things.” The System Administrator “builds states and builds nations.” If you have a strong Leviathan but weak SysAdmin, you win the war and lose the peace.

Now, Abu Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq is seeing the wisdom of that split as well


Al Qaeda in Iraq and Zarqawi now appears to recognize the futility of conducting military operations alone to achieve victory in Iraq. The SITE Institute reports the recently released publication of Zarqawi’s magazine, Thurwat al-Sinam, discusses grand strategy, which extends beyond pure combat operations.




This issue is the first edition of the publication to explicitly reference military strategy, delineating five sectors or “fields” of jihad: military, security and intelligence, medical, information, and economic. Throughout the issue, the authors reiterate that if the mujahideen focus only on military operations, regardless of their successes in battle, they will lose the jihad on other fronts. They provide examples such as Afghanistan and Bosnia wherein an alleged military victory by the mujahideen was overturned in the eyes of the international community because the mujahideen neglected other sectors of warfare. Of particular interest as a non-military based threat to the mujahideen is the creation of a “peaceful Islam” which has “nothing to do with the original religion” and is spread by “information media all over the earth” in the hopes that “the infidels will succeed in this which they could not do militarily”.




The dilemma for al Qaeda is that it is an overwhelmingly military organization [like the Pentagon — tdaxp], whose finances are specifically set up to support military operations, weapons acquisitions, training, recruitment and infrastructure. There is very little energy devote to the softer aspects of grand strategy – wining the hearts and minds in the areas of economics [jobs, business, education, etc.] and humanitarian care [like the Pentagon — tdaxp]. Al Qaeda cannot match the West’s superiority in these areas. And even if they tried, their ideological makeup makes the prospects success unlikely. The rejection of al Qaeda by local Iraqis sympathetic to their cause makes this clear.



al Qaeda in Iraq and the United States have the same goal: to win. If we are going to beat them, we have to build a SysAdmin faster than they do.


Update: Mark wonders why Mr. Zarqawi has a “FRIGGIN’ MAGAZINE.” Maybe it is a spin-off from his blog?

4 thoughts on “Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq on the Leviathan and the SysAdmin”

  1. But on the other hand, if Abu Zarqawi has enough free time to PUBLISH A FRIGGIN’ MAGAZINE(!) then perhaps the ol’ Leviathan force in Iraq could use a little shot in the arm too.

  2. Dan,

    I think your focus on comparing al Qaeda’s structure to the Pentagon’s is flawed.

    Reconstruction is being carried out by military units, and the Pentagon has civil affairs teams. Also, the US has poured in billions in aid, is providing assistance with establishing institutions, etc. al Qaeda can’t do this because of their makeup, and couldn’t do this if they wanted to.

  3. Hi Bill,

    al Qaida is too narrow a model. Islamism as a transnational network is more accurate picture of what we face.

    HAMAS and various Islamist parties in Pakistan, Indonesia etc. do engage in ( albeit self-serving) “SysAdmin” social services, education and charitable works in order to build their popular base that will support their military activities and political program. These organizations are often quite compartmentalized with new members shunted off into particular specialties.

  4. Just a quick note…

    Later Taliban Afghanistan was often described as a “terrorist-sponsored state.” This is an example of al Qaeda using “coalitions of the willing” to build up a SysAdmin.

    The Taliban were not merely thugs or ignorant students. They tried to establish legal rule-sets. They convented what we would call a conference of legal scholars from the international community to establish appropriate punishments for various crimes, and they chose solutions which maximized the stake-holders. (One debate was over whether stoning or burial-alive was the approppriate punishment for pedophilia. The solution was “both.”)

    A Barnettian SysAdmin includes the US Military as the core, but would be comprised mainly by a combination of locals, military allies, and Non-Governmental Organizations. In Afghanistan al Qaeda went a far way to achieving this goal themselves.

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