by Austin Bay
January 29, 2003
In 2003, America knows a lot more about Al Qaeda than it did on
Sept. 11, 2001. We've a clearer strategic picture of Al Qaeda's goals and
methods. Captured terror kingpins have spilled their guts. Videotapes found
in Afghani caves have helped stop Al Qaeda operations in Southeast Asia.
Electronic eavesdroppers monitor Al Qaeda chatter.
If you know your enemy, the strategic challenge is to use that
knowledge to force him to fight on your terms. It's even better if that
fight on your terms is a fight he cannot refuse.
Strategy is always about applying one's own strength to an
opponent's weakness. Al Qaeda's historical pattern is to wait patiently, for
years if necessary, and carefully prepare a terror operation until it's
certain of success. Prior to 9-11, with little pressure on its hidden
network (succored by the Taliban, Wahhabi petro-dollars and, yes, Iraq), Al
Qaeda could take its time to spring a vicious surprise attack -- surprise
and visionary viciousness being its strengths and the gist of its
"asymmetric" challenge to America's "symmetric" power. "Fear us, America,"
was the message, "because Al Qaeda chooses the time and place of battle, and
when we do you are defenseless."
9-11's strategic ambush sought to force America to fight on Al
Qaeda's terms, to suck the United States into a no-win Afghan war, to bait
the United States into launching a "crusade against Islam." Osama bin Laden
believed he possessed an edge in ideological appeal, "faith based" strength
against what he perceived as U.S. decadence. U.S. failure in Afghanistan
would ignite a global "clash of civilizations" pitting all Muslims against
Bin Laden's strategy flopped, for a slew of reasons. Chief among
them, American liberty remains an ideologically powerful idea. The United
States also pulled an "asymmetric" military move of sorts, using Green
Beret-guided Afghan allies and hi-tech airpower to topple the Taliban.
Since the loss of its Afghan base, Al Qaeda has experienced
extraordinary pressure. Time to plan is squeezed. The United States has used
diplomacy, police work, better intel and military presence to exert the
Al Qaeda has attempted to adapt, with talk of a sleeper cell
strategy while aggressively attempting to acquire weapons of mass
Which leads to the subject of decisive U.S. military action
against Iraq and its role in defeating Al Qaeda.
The massive American build-up around Iraq serves as a baited
trap that Al Qaeda cannot ignore. Failure to react to the pending American
attack would demonstrate Al Qaeda's impotence. For the sake of their own
reputation (as well as any notion of divine sanction), Al Qaeda's cadres
must show CNN and Al Jazeera they are still capable of dramatic endeavor.
This ain't theory. Al Qaeda's leaders and fighters know it, and
the rats are coming out of their alleys. In Afghanistan, several hundred Al
Qaeda fighters in the Pakistani border region have gone on the offensive.
They specifically link their attacks to America's pending assault on
Baghdad. Al Qaeda terror teams are reportedly moving into Western Europe.
Al Qaeda's offensive thrust in Afghanistan produces open targets
for the 82nd Airborne Division. Moving and communicating terror cells are
terror cells more vulnerable to police detection. Moreover, the terrorists
are no longer operating on their time line, but on America's time line. The
United States creates a situation where Al Qaeda either loses ideological
credibility or must risk operations during a time of focused U.S.
But the big blow to Al Qaeda will be the loss of Baghdad.
Baghdad is a counter-terror intelligence trove. Saddam's fall will loosen
knowledgeable tongues. Al Qaeda will have fewer alleys to inhabit.
But the big loss will be access to Saddam's WMD. A WMD
spectacular is the kind of operation that can reverse Al Qaeda's
international propaganda decline.
That ain't theory, either. Al Qaeda's leaders know it, which is
why they seek nukes and nerve gas. It's why American strategists who know Al
Qaeda know the axis of evil must be utterly broken.