Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Can Decapitation Kill the Beast?

The good news is Atiyah abd al-Rahman, al-Qaeda's number two, was killed recently by a U.S. drone attack in northwest Pakistan.  The Obama administration has been making the argument that since Osama Bin laden was killed in May, the terrorist group may be in its last throws. A few more successes like Bin Laden and al-Rahman and it is game over.

This seems to be more wishful thinking and political rhetoric than sound strategic analysis.  Although I do not fully discount the possibility of intentional misinformation directed at the enemy, it is not likely given liberal's past opposition to potential disinformation tactics discussed during the Bush administration.

The administrations optimism might reflect a misunderstanding of militant Islamism and its adherents. al-Qaeda and similar terrorist groups are not really analogous to the mafia crime families Americans are so familiar with because of "The Godfather" and "The Sopranos." Strip away its mythos, rituals and posturing and the Mafia is a business.  Make the cost of doing business too high through wire taps, arrests and prosecutions and you can cripple it.

Al-Qaeda is not a business concerned with risk versus profit. It is a group attached to a movement - a religious-ideological imperative animated by a sincere belief in the justness of their cause. Militant Islamism exists in a world defined by Allah, the Koran, Mohammed's life and fourteen centuries of history that teaches the waging Jihad until there is nothing but Islam.  There were long stretches of time when this imperative was suppressed by strong infidels, but it always simmered below the surface. Unfortunately we are living in a period where militant Islamism has boiled to the surface with a vengeance.

Conditions are favorable for an ascendent militant Islam that cows Muslims and is misunderstood and even coddled by the largely liberal, multicultural West. Terrorist groups on a mission from God can be destroyed, but is highly doubtful targeted killings and other limited counterterrorism tactics alone will bring strategic victory.  I am a little suspicious that the Obama administration's tactics and rhetoric are designed to allow it to make the case, in time for the 2012 election, that it has effectively neutralized al-Qaeda and won the "Overseas Contingency Operation" formally known as the War on Terror.

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