Al Qaeda is Losing (but has a chance on the Euphrates)

Al Qaeda as Warfighting Entity,” by George Friedman, Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report, 2 August 2005, http://junkpolitics.blogspirit.com/archive/2005/08/02/stratfor-geopolitical-intelligence-report-al-qaeda-as-warfig.html.

George Friedman, author of America’s Secret War on geopolitical analyst recently sent out an email looking at the Global War on Terrorism. His conclusion: bin Laden is losing.

First, Friedman writes that the Global War on Terrorism is a real war

Karl von Clausewitz wrote that war is the continuation of politics by other means. In order for the United States to be engaged in a war with al Qaeda, three things seem to be necessary.

  • Al Qaeda must be an entity that is capable of making and enforcing decisions. There can be no war without strategy and tactics, and no strategy and tactics without a command structure.
  • Al Qaeda must have political goals that are in some sense practical. Punishing the infidel is not a political goal: It is not intended to achieve a political outcome, nor is it intended to create or influence regimes.
  • Al Qaeda must have a warfighting strategy that it is pursuing. Its actions must fit into the paradigm of war and make sense from a military standpoint.

In our view, all three of these criteria are met. This does not mean that al Qaeda will or won’t be successful; it simply means that al Qaeda’s behavior can be properly understood in terms of war.

Second, al Qaeda has achievable goals

Al Qaeda also has political goals. Indeed, it differs from prior groups that used terror tactics by the fact that it embarked on the war with political goals. The long-term goal — creating a caliphate encompassing all the lands it deems to be part of the dominion of Islam — was not the immediate goal. Rather, al Qaeda’s immediate goal was to increase the effective Islamist opposition to existing Muslim regimes to force at least one successful uprising. The means toward that end were two-fold: First, to demonstrate in the Muslim world the vulnerability of the United States — the patron of many of these existing regimes — and second, to force a response from the United States that would increase either contempt or effective hostility among Muslims. If the United States refused combat, this would be a sign that it was a paper tiger. If it surged into the Islamic world, this would prove the United States was the enemy. Either way, al Qaeda thought it would win.

Third, al Qaeda’s mistake was assuming that hatred and distrust of America would translate into anti-American attacks

If they made an error, it was only in assuming that genuine anti-Americanism and hatred of local regimes supported by the United States would translate into effective anti-Americanism that could be leveraged to al Qaeda’s advantage. Public sentiment matters in democratic regimes; it doesn’t matter in warfare very much. Consider: Most of Europe hated the Germans and their occupation during World War II. Anti-German feeling was overwhelming. Nevertheless, this did not translate into effective anti-German sentiment. European states were never in a position to overthrow German power. That required an external intervention. In Vietnam, on the other hand, anti-Americanism proved effective: It turned into a warfighting process.

Fourth, the only place al Qaeda has been close to successful has been in the Sunni Arab provinces of Iraq

Where al Qaeda miscalculated was in assuming that sentiment would turn into effective sentiment. Thus far, except in four Sunni provinces in Iraq, that hasn’t happened. But that it didn’t happen was neither pre-ordained nor obvious. Al Qaeda knew what it was doing.

Conclusion: America is winning

At this point, al Qaeda is losing the war from the standpoint of its own strategic goals. No Muslim regime has fallen since Sept. 11, save two — Afghanistan and Iraq — that fell to the United States. The Iraqi resistance showed extreme promise for a very long time, given American miscalculations. Anti-Americanism had turned effective. However, the shifting calculus among the Sunni elders has threatened to undermine support for al Qaeda’s man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the Sunni nationalist insurgency — onto which al Qaeda has clamped parasitically — has been in danger of disruption. This, coupled with serious breaches in al Qaeda’s global system, forced the group into a desperate counteroffensive.

The Euphrates War truly is the central front in the Global War on Terrorism.

2 thoughts on “Al Qaeda is Losing (but has a chance on the Euphrates)”

  1. “Analysts cautioned that Zawahiri's statement is not evidence of direct Al Qaeda knowledge of the London attacks, and said it probably fits into Al Qaeda's evolution into an ideological motivator, rather than organizer, of attacks.

    Such messages are usually a call-to-arms, sort of top-down guidance to go forth and do your thing,” says Ayers. He says while Al Qaeda was “tightly organized” before the invasion of Afghanistan, the dispersal of members since has left a “confederation of groups that adhere to the same fundamental principles…. essentially they are functionally autonomous groups.”

    http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0805/p01s02-woiq.html

    It doesn't sound much like they're capable of making and enforcing decisions. They're more like the ELF than the KGB. But they do fit your other two criteria.

  2. Adam,

    Great observation! Hopefully, this is a sign that we are winning.

    As I told my brother yesterday, al-Zawahiri saying “al Qaeda has changed from an organization to an idea” in 2005 might be like an escaped Nazi saying “The National-Socialist German Workers Party has changed from an organization to an idea” in 1945… not a sign of strength!

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