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al Qaeda, Dead. (Iraq, to be left)

From Peter Zeihan’s article on Stratfor‘s Free Intelligence Report.

With all the talk about al Qaeda “leaders,” al Qaeda “factions” and militants with “links” to al Qaeda, it is useful to take a step back and clarify precisely what al Qaeda actually is. Al Qaeda is a small core group of people who share strategic and operational characteristics that set them apart from all other militants — Islamist or otherwise — the world over. All signs indicate this group is no longer functional and cannot be replicated. Whether or not Osama bin Laden is still alive, al Qaeda as it once was is dead.

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Furthermore, al Qaeda has left no one truly capable of taking up its mantle. The training camps in the 1990s processed hundreds of would-be jihadists, but the quality of that training for the rank and file has been exaggerated. Most of it was a combination of poor conventional combat training and ideological indoctrination. Hence, most “veterans” of those camps have neither access to the core al Qaeda leadership nor the operational security or tactical training that would allow them to reconstitute a new elite core. They are no more members of the real “al Qaeda” than today’s skinheads are members of the real Nazi party.

By the only criterion that matters — successful attacks — al Qaeda has slipped from readjusting global priorities (9/11) to contributing to the change in government of a middling U.S. ally (the March 2003 Spain attacks) to affecting nothing (the 2005 London bombings). No attacks since can be meaningfully linked to al Qaeda’s control, or even its specific foreknown blessing. Al Qaeda had hoped for a conflagration of outrage that would sweep away the Middle East’s political order; it only managed to raise a few sparks here and there, and now it is a prisoner of its own security.

al Qaeda in Iraq can and should be brought down in order to destablize the Middle East to our liking. But there are few good reasons to stay in Iraq, and many good reasons to leave.

And for the remaining al Qaeda wannabees in Iraq? The locals will take care of them.

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.