What's next from Al Qaeda
November 23, 2003 4:02 PM   Subscribe

The Protean Enemy by Jessica Stern, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2003
What accounts for al Qaeda's ongoing effectiveness in the face of an unprecedented onslaught? The answer lies in the organization's remarkably protean nature. Over its life span, al Qaeda has constantly evolved and shown a surprising willingness to adapt its mission. This capacity for change has consistently made the group more appealing to recruits, attracted surprising new allies, and -- most worrisome from a Western perspective -- made it harder to detect and destroy. Unless Washington and its allies show a similar adaptability, the war on terrorism won't be won anytime soon, and the death toll is likely to mount. Other texts by Jessica Stern: How America Created a Terrorist Haven, Pakistan's Jihad Culture, Talking With Terrorists. Classical Reference: Proteus.
posted by y2karl (31 comments total)
Jessica Stern previously mentioned here and here.
posted by y2karl at 4:03 PM on November 23, 2003

In addition to military, intelligence, and law enforcement responses, Washington should start thinking about how U.S. policies are perceived by potential recruits to terrorist organizations. The United States too often ignores the unintended consequences of its actions....

...leaving its citizens and common soldiers to reap the whirlwind that follows its militaristic, greedy acts.

Here's a simple but no doubt hitherto unconsidered hint to our brilliant leaders and their equally brilliant, far-sighted supporters:

Ponder the difficulty, mess, and endless frustration that results in trying to return toothpaste to its tube.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 4:37 PM on November 23, 2003

I had thought when I read Ms. Stern's book that she had tried to cite the many terror organizations, including those not strictly Muslim, but what she does not fully note or reocgnize is that the terrorists (fundamentalists) in the settlements or within Israel proper are in fact law breakers and when they are caught breaking the law they are punished. What they do is negligible. So too the Right-wing milita groups or even the anti-abortionists: they too are treated when caught as law breakers.

Now skip to the Muslim terror groups. They are often finacially rewarded by certain countries (Saudi Arqabia, Syria, Iraq for a time), and they are seldom if ever punished, and, further, they are regarded often as heroes and martyrs.

To blame terrorism on the Western policies is questionable. After all, Al Qaeda took down the Twin Towers and were trained in Afghanistan. And the Taliban refused to turn Osama over or to close down the camps. Was America to sit back and say, we will ignore this?
Granted that we have screwed up in Afghanistan and in Iraq, but the complaints about services seems to me a reason given that ignores the murders, cruelty and poor services (women) that existed earlier. As we in the west are often spolied, so too it seem others can be spoiled too. Example: a losing army demanding of the conquerers back pay!
posted by Postroad at 4:46 PM on November 23, 2003

This is an interesting article, but like everything I seem to be reading these days, it let me down when it actually comes to suggesting a way forward.

Some of the suggestions are unconvincing: it's hard to argue that lowering textile tariffs or providing cheaper drugs would have had any influence on Bin Laden. His goals actually stayed completely consistent from the 1993 WTC bombing all the way through to 9/11. Al Qaeda has not been fundamentally motivated by the actions of George Bush, no more than by those of Saddam Hussein.

Even more disappointingly, the other suggestions could easily be used to justify the Bush program: intervene in Pakistan to promote US-friendly schools, create a democracy in Iraq as an example, increase homeland security, enforce nonproliferation, and treat lots of different radical movements as part of the same enemy.

Bush may be doing things in the worst possible way (even Postroad admits they have screwed it up), but as a policy his "War on Terrorism" has the electoral advantages of being clearly prescriptive in its approach and credible in addressing the issue. Until someone comes up with an alternative way forward with the same strengths, I'm unhappily betting on a Bush landslide in 2004.
posted by fuzz at 5:07 PM on November 23, 2003

I suggest "Fight for Freedom."
posted by rushmc at 5:34 PM on November 23, 2003

Until someone comes up with an alternative way forward with the same strengths, I'm unhappily betting on a Bush landslide in 2004.

The executive director of Amnesty International USA agrees with you.
posted by homunculus at 5:42 PM on November 23, 2003

Was America to sit back and say, we will ignore this?

In the insane rationalized wonderland of fools, yes. To normal people, the reaction was not really all that swift, but extremely deserved and just.

I completely disagree that the U.S. and its allies have "screwed up". On the contrary, the vast majority of Iraqis are thrilled to have their country back, and are not only hopeful, but thankful to be helped out from under the heel of tyranny. They have felt this way for years.

The U.S. soldiers and allied forces know exactly the enemy and the mission they are going to accomplish, and they couldn't be doing a better job, unless they enacted martial law, established curfews and delivered toys to terrorist cells.
posted by hama7 at 6:08 PM on November 23, 2003

thanks for the links y2karl - stern offers some compelling insight into the worldwide hatred bush is creating for americans and westerners in general with his anachronistic war on terror - the effects of which we will have to live with for generations while bush and cronies are safely ensconced in their cushy texas retreats.

hama - if the al queda (as has shown to be the case in recent months) is in turkey, saudi arabia, chechnya most assuredly pakistan, and without question resurging in afganistan - are you suggesting we lob a few daisy cutters at each of the aforementioned? how many iraqi's were imprisoned at guantanamo prior to our invasion of that country?
posted by specialk420 at 6:31 PM on November 23, 2003

um, hama...they don't have their country back--we're in charge and the governing council are our puppets--perhaps you should wait and see what and who they want to rule them (because it's us right now, and that's not what they want).

And normal people the world over wanted diplomacy and inspections in Iraq to run their course before military invasion. And, have you heard about Afghanistan (the home of the actual terrorists who struck us on 9/11)? "People have been threatened by the Taliban and al Qaeda. They have put leaflets in mosques and sent letters saying they will burn down the house and cut off the nose of anyone who tries to participate in the constitution"...
posted by amberglow at 6:35 PM on November 23, 2003

And, have you heard about Afghanistan (the home of the actual terrorists who struck us on 9/11)

Fifteen of the nineteen Sept 11th hijackers were Saudi citizens, not Afghanistani.
posted by dhoyt at 7:00 PM on November 23, 2003

How quickly we forget.
posted by ook at 7:24 PM on November 23, 2003

All the indications are that - although the official Bush prescription to counter terrorism, democracy, is in the abstract right on the money - the Bushies are close to clueless about how to actually foster those democracies in the real world (the world outside of D.C. think tanks, that is).

The basic problem here is the notion that democracies can be created through military force. Such has happened, sure, but this possibility runs counter to human instinct, the instinct of hating the "other".

The weird thing is that the US Republican party has now decided to embark on a course - at the international level - which is astonishingly analogous to the 1960's era liberal "War on Poverty" programs: both idealistic crusades to better the world. But the new "war on tyranny in Mideast oil-producing nations" idealism of the Bush Administration ignores the fact that invaders have always been hated. This is a bizarre oversight.

Fold_and_mutilate : "Ponder the difficulty, mess, and endless frustration that results in trying to return toothpaste to its tube." - the Bush Neocons don't plan to return the toothpaste to the tube. They plan to clean the teeth of the Mideast with lasers.

dhoyt - things aren't going so swimmingly in Saudi Arabia either. Also : would you advocate investigation of the financial links between the Bush family and various Saudi financial interests?

But amberglow's larger point stands - Although Afghanistan was the first chapter in the War on Terror™, it was never won and is now in the process of being lost.
posted by troutfishing at 7:32 PM on November 23, 2003

(Thank you for the title info in the links, y2karl. I'm putting a note in your file to make sure you get recognized at the next corporate picnic.)
posted by Hankins at 7:39 PM on November 23, 2003

Fifteen of the nineteen Sept 11th hijackers were Saudi citizens, not Afghanistani.

And the Saudis struck a deal with the Americans in the 70's to sell price oil in American funds in exchange for American protection.

To blame terrorism on the Western policies is questionable.

What about the fact that the American Government supplied Bin Laden with weapons and money to fight the Russians in northern Afghanistan, then abandoned them once they were no longer needed?
posted by The God Complex at 7:55 PM on November 23, 2003

His goals [Osama Bin Laden] actually stayed completely consistent from the 1993 WTC bombing all the way through to 9/11.

Stern would seem to disagree:

Even Osama bin Laden himself has changed his objectives over time. The Saudi terrorist inherited an organization devoted to fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan. But he turned it into a flexible group of ruthless warriors ready to fight on behalf of multiple causes. His first call to holy war, issued in 1992, urged believers to kill American soldiers in Saudi Arabia and the Horn of Africa but barely mentioned Palestine. The second, issued in 1996, was a 40-page document listing atrocities and injustices committed against Muslims, mainly by Western powers. With the release of his third manifesto in February 1998, however, bin Laden began urging his followers to start deliberately targeting American civilians, rather than soldiers. (Some al Qaeda members were reportedly distressed by this shift to civilian targets and left the group.) Although this third declaration mentioned the Palestinian struggle, it was still only one among a litany of grievances. Only in bin Laden's fourth call to arms -- issued to the al Jazeera network on October 7, 2001, to coincide with the U.S. aerial bombardment of Afghanistan -- did he emphasize Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands and the suffering of Iraqi children under un sanctions, concerns broadly shared in the Islamic world. By extending his appeal, bin Laden sought to turn the war on terrorism into a war between all of Islam and the West. The events of September 11, he charged, split the world into two camps -- believers and infidels -- and the time had come for "every Muslim to defend his religion."

And I think approaches like this provide no instant relief but over time will be the cure:

In countries where extremist religious schools promote terrorism, Washington should help develop alternative schools rather than attempt to persuade the local government to shut down radical madrasahs. In Pakistan, many children end up at extremist schools because their parents cannot afford the alternatives; better funding for secular education could therefore make a positive difference.

And if a nuclear device is used against us, it's fairly safe to say that, in whole or in part, it will have been manufactured in the Soviet Union:

Especially important is the need to continue upgrading security at vulnerable nuclear sites, many of which, in Russia and other former Soviet states, are still vulnerable to theft.

I think Israel's example suggests there is no really effective military protection against people who are willing to turn themselves into living smart bombs. This brilliantly executed invasion followed by a hapless bungled occupation has been, above all, a force multiplier for worldwide Jihadism. Our real enemy is stateless and legion--daisy cutters will not defeat them. We blow things up real good but blowing things up real good will not drain the sea in which the terrorists swim. It really is a battle for hearts and minds--all over the world.
posted by y2karl at 7:59 PM on November 23, 2003

Thank you for the title info in the links

right on y2.
posted by specialk420 at 8:31 PM on November 23, 2003

There is no spoon.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:44 AM on November 24, 2003

It really is a battle for hearts and minds--all over the world.

And that is the distilled kernel of truth necessary to combat terrorism. Truth and justice and benevolence must dominate over cronyism and corruption and deceit or there will never be peace.

On the news this AM I hear bad news from Mosul, a formerly friendly enclave, that soldiers were killed, mutilated and possibly dragged through the streets. I would say Operation Iron Hammer failed miserably at winning hearts and minds. Wouldn't you agree?
posted by nofundy at 5:28 AM on November 24, 2003

nofundy - this sort of thing has been getting only slight publicity, but the reality is grim. When US troops are killed or just badly wounded, packs of teens emerge to loot the vehicles and poke at wounds or simply pummel troops (living or dead, I suppose) with concrete blocks.

It sounds like the battle for the hearts and minds of this generation of emerging Iraqi young adults is not going well, to say the least. This sounds an awful lot like the West Bank or Gaza, with the Americans self-cast as the IDF.
posted by troutfishing at 6:55 AM on November 24, 2003

Prof. Stern interview in Salon this week

good Stern quote recently in the Boston Globe: "Most states that attempt to transition from autocracy to democracy get stuck in a kind of in-between state. And electoral democracy does not necessarily imply liberal democracy, especially in the Islamic world."

NYTimes review of her (imo) excellent new book here
posted by matteo at 7:33 AM on November 24, 2003

I hear bad news from Mosul,

It seems horrific to me...but here's the story. This incident really disturbs me, not only because of the incredible violence enacted upon these two boys, but because of the mindset that it demonstrates. We're not winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people any more than the British did the first time they carved this region into countries. And, I'll go so far as to say that we will not, and cannot win the hearts and minds of a populace who believes that we are an invading force...which is what we are.

Were the situations reversed, and another country decided to take out our leaders because of the vast and overwhelming presence of WMD and the history of willingness to use them...I can almost guarantee that this sort of behavior would occur if angry young Americans caught two of the invaders alone.

We screwed the pooch on this war...and I don't know how we can make things any better.
posted by dejah420 at 7:41 AM on November 24, 2003

There is no Spoon.

Civil_Disobedient presents a Christian Science Montior op-ed from May 23, 2002, written a year before the invasion... the invasion which has turned out to be the world's most most expensive infomercial for Jihadist terrorism, telling us Al Qaeda is overblown as a threat.

Al Qaeda warns of Tokyo attack

At the joint FBI-CIA-run Terrorist Threat Integration Center, the analysts thought they detected a pattern. The attacks against the British targets in Turkey came five days after the truck bombings of two popular synagogues in Istanbul and two weeks after carefully orchestrated suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia. The "chatter"--loose talk of threats among Islamic extremists, picked up by U.S. eavesdroppers--was spiking upward again. The traditional holiday of Ramadan, propitious in terrorist minds for great and violent events, was coming to an end. "You have rapid-fire, back-to-back significant Al Qaeda attacks," one counterterrorism official told NEWSWEEK. "It's starting to look like this could be the buildup to a grand finale on U.S. soil."

Uprising seen against the West

Somehow, the argument that the Al Qaeda threat is overblown now seems a wee tad unconvincing, in light of, oh, say, the attacks in Istanbul, Riyadh and Nasiriya--to name but three.
posted by y2karl at 8:20 AM on November 24, 2003

"Al-Qaeda is now used as a label to describe any terrorist attack by Muslims. This is a sloppy and possibly counter-productive use of the term. Al-Qaeda should be used only to describe a small group of men led by Osama bin Laden who came together in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and were dispersed by the US-led action that followed the 11 September strikes." (Jason Burke in Sunday's Observer.)
posted by kerplunk at 8:33 AM on November 24, 2003

were dispersed by the US-led action that followed the 11 September strikes."

or, simply, relocated to Pakistan's tribal region
posted by matteo at 8:47 AM on November 24, 2003

Al-Qaeda should be used only to describe a small group of men led by Osama bin Laden who came together in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and were dispersed by the US-led action that followed the 11 September strikes.

Jessica Stern in article linked:

Yet despite these setbacks, al Qaeda and its affiliates remain among the most significant threats to U.S. national security today. In fact, according to George Tenet, the CIA's director, they will continue to be this dangerous for the next two to five years. An alleged al Qaeda spokesperson has warned that the group is planning another strike similar to those of September 11. On May 12, simultaneous bombings of three housing complexes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed at least 29 people and injured over 200, many of them Westerners. Intelligence officials in the United States, Europe, and Africa report that al Qaeda has stepped up its recruitment drive in response to the war in Iraq. And the target audience for its recruitment has also changed. They are now younger, with an even more "menacing attitude," as France's top investigative judge on terrorism-related cases, Jean-Louis Brugui_, describes them. More of them are converts to Islam. And more of them are women...

Focusing on economic and social alienation may help explain why such a surprising array of groups has proved willing to join forces with al Qaeda. Some white supremacists and extremist Christians applaud al Qaeda's rejectionist goals and may eventually contribute to al Qaeda missions. Already a Swiss neo-Nazi named Albert Huber has called for his followers to join forces with Islamists. Indeed, Huber sat on the board of directors of the Bank al Taqwa, which the U.S. government accuses of being a major donor to al Qaeda. Meanwhile, Matt Hale, leader of the white-supremacist World Church of the Creator, has published a book indicting Jews and Israelis as the real culprits behind the attacks of September 11. These groups, along with Horst Mahler (a founder of the radical leftist German group the Red Army Faction), view the September 11 attacks as the first shot in a war against globalization, a phenomenon that they fear will exterminate national cultures. Leaderless resisters drawn from the ranks of white supremacists or other groups are not currently capable of carrying out massive attacks on their own, but they may be if they join forces with al Qaeda.

Emphasis on affiliates, emphasis on a surprising array of groups has proved willing to join forces with al Qaeda. Wishful thinking and hairsplitting definitions of what is precisely Al Qaeda aside, this supposedly "dispersed" "small group" still seems to have a hand in ever increasing attacks worldwide.
posted by y2karl at 9:18 AM on November 24, 2003

attacks in Istanbul, Riyadh and Nasiriya

y2karl, unless I'm mistaken, the Turkish attacks were from Kurdish "freedom" groups, not Al Qaeda as a solid entity. As the article I posted mentions, what you're going to start seeing a lot of is small groups with their own agendas claiming to have ties with Al Qaeda if for no other reason then to add legitamacy and increase the fear of the areas in question.

The PLO is not Al Qaeda. Nor is the KLA, Abu Sayaaf, Basque separatist movement, Colombia gas-line bombers or Chechnyan rebels. These are separate groups with separate agendas and each should be treated differently. Their methods may be similar, but their aims are not. Lumping them all together as one giant "terror organization" is disingenious; it prevents us from properly addressing solutions and only furthers the fear-mongering that's being dished out by Dear Leader.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:21 AM on November 24, 2003

Lumping them all together as one giant "terror organization" is disingenious

Again, from the article:

Apart from the flexibility of its mission, another explanation for al Qaeda's remarkable staying power is its willingness to forge broad -- and sometimes unlikely -- alliances.

In leaderless organizations, however, "individuals and groups operate independently of each other, and never report to a central headquarters or single leader for direction or instruction, as would those who belong to a typical pyramid organization." Leaders do not issue orders or pay operatives; instead, they inspire small cells or individuals to take action on their own initiative.

The Internet has also greatly facilitated the spread of "virtual" subcultures and has substantially increased the capacity of loosely networked terrorist organizations. For example, Beam's essay on the virtues of "leaderless resistance" has long been available on the Web and, according to researcher Michael Reynolds, has been highlighted by radical Muslim sites...

You know--affiliates, decentralized, leaderless cells, loosely networked, Protean--these words and phrases ought to clue you in to that fact. Al Qaeda 2001, the top down hierarchy, is now Al Qaeda the world wide terror consultancy and facilitator--Al Qaeda the meme. So, you're telling us the year before last's model no longer exists. Well, duh. So are the articles linked.
posted by y2karl at 7:15 AM on November 25, 2003

Al Qaeda the meme? You've gotta be kidding me. Look, there's already a perfectly acceptable word: terrorism. The word has lost some of its luster, what with the increase in terrorist activities in the past few years. But I guess it's easier for some people to deal with one big bad wolf as opposed to the true complex reality that might give simpletons brain farts. Let's put a face to the enemy of the party, have our minute of hate where we think we're actually accomplishing something, and go watch some TV.

The problem, which was clearly not adequately explained, is that it's impossible to deal with an "organization" that's not organized, has no common goals among "leaderless cells", is in fact just about as far from an "organization" as can be. Calling or treating it as an organization is going to get you precisely nowhere and make people feel we're not able to deal with "Al Qaeda the musical." And tell me, what makes a group a "terror-cell" of Al Qaeda? It looks like all you have to do nowadays is say you're affiliated with Al Qaeda, and BAM! Al Qaeda ranks are swelling! I can almost feel the fear.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:44 AM on November 25, 2003

Terrorism Inc.
Al Qaeda Franchises Brand of Violence to Groups Across World

Leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist network have franchised their organization's brand of synchronized, devastating violence to homegrown terrorist groups across the world, posing a formidable new challenge to counterterrorism forces, according to intelligence analysts and experts in the United States, Europe and the Arab world.

The recent attacks in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Iraq show that the smaller organizations, most of whose leaders were trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, have fanned out, imbued with radical ideology and the means to create or revitalize local terrorist groups. They also are expanding the horizons of groups that had focused on regional issues.

With most of its senior leadership killed or captured and its financial structure under increasing scrutiny, Osama bin Laden's network, now run largely by midlevel operatives, relies increasingly on these groups to carry out the jihad, or holy war, against the United States and its allies. Al Qaeda has turned to inspiring and instigating such attacks.

One senior U.S. official said al Qaeda's children were "growing up and moving out into the world, loyal to their parents but no longer reliant on them."

..."If they can make an instrument of local groups, it will make up for the losses al Qaeda has suffered," said Margret Johannsen, a political scientist who studies terrorism at Hamburg University. "They won't need international financing, they won't need a base as in Afghanistan. [Al Qaeda becomes] an idea, a banner, and that is very dangerous."

posted by y2karl at 10:51 AM on November 25, 2003

Transnational Terrorism and the al Qaeda Model: Confronting New Realities Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly, Spring 2002

Al Qaeda’s attack on the United States on 11 September 2001 was a major turning point in the evolution of international terrorism. In this case, the United States was attacked not by a fellow state, but a non-state terrorist organization. Al Qaeda represents the worst that globalization has to offer. Its transnational tentacles reach into every corner of the globe. Its ability to penetrate countries with passport fraud and other illegal immigration techniques is unparalleled, and its virus-like ability to infect indigenous groups—even those with originally benign goals—is now well-documented.

The lesson to be learned from al Qaeda is that terrorist groups can now exist in a transnational milieu, divorced from state-driven constraints. Even if we witness the demise of al Qaeda, we are not likely to witness the demise of its model. Terrorist groups can thrive in the dark pockets of anarchy that pervade the globe. But they can also coexist alongside their targets by planting cells in Western Europe and North America. The question thus becomes: Have we learned the lesson, and, moreover, are we prepared for the next attack?

posted by y2karl at 10:59 AM on November 25, 2003

Experts See Major Shift in Al Qaeda's Strategy

PARIS — A spate of suicide bombings in several countries illustrates that Al Qaeda has survived by mutating into a more decentralized network relying on local allies to launch more frequent attacks on varied targets, experts say.

In bombings from Turkey to Morocco, experts say, evidence suggests that Al Qaeda provided support through training, financing or ideological inspiration to local extremists. Through an evolving and loose alliance of semiautonomous terrorist cells, the network has been able to export its violence and "brand name" with only limited involvement in the attacks themselves.

"Al Qaeda as an ideology is now stronger than Al Qaeda as an organization," said Mustafa Alani of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London. "What we are witnessing now is a major shift in Al Qaeda's strategy. I believe it is successful. Now they are not on the defensive. They are on the offensive."

Al Qaeda--The Movement by Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc

What we have seen in the past three weeks then represents the likely future of "al Qaeda" operations; some attacks will continue to be planned by the terrorist organization itself; other attacks will be carried out by affiliate groups acting in the name of al Qaeda, and additional operations will be executed by local jihadists who have little or no connection to al Qaeda except in terms of ideology. The latter is perhaps the most worrying development because it suggests that al Qaeda has successfully turned itself from an organization into a mass movement, a movement that has been energized by the war in Iraq.

Reportedly President Bush keeps photos of the twenty or so top terrorists in his desk and when one of them is apprehended or killed he writes an X through their picture. Al Qaeda, however, is not like the Gambino crime family where if you arrest all the Gambino capos it will disappear. Al Qaeda is now a movement, and you can't arrest entire movements.

posted by y2karl at 5:01 AM on November 26, 2003

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