by Austin Bay
January 29, 2003
In 2003, America knows a lot more about Al Qaeda than it did onSept. 11, 2001. We've a clearer strategic picture of Al Qaeda's goals andmethods. Captured terror kingpins have spilled their guts. Videotapes foundin 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 thatknowledge to force him to fight on your terms. It's even better if thatfight on your terms is a fight he cannot refuse.
Strategy is always about applying one's own strength to anopponent's weakness. Al Qaeda's historical pattern is to wait patiently, foryears if necessary, and carefully prepare a terror operation until it'scertain of success. Prior to 9-11, with little pressure on its hiddennetwork (succored by the Taliban, Wahhabi petro-dollars and, yes, Iraq), AlQaeda could take its time to spring a vicious surprise attack -- surpriseand 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, andwhen we do you are defenseless."
9-11's strategic ambush sought to force America to fight on AlQaeda's terms, to suck the United States into a no-win Afghan war, to baitthe United States into launching a "crusade against Islam." Osama bin Ladenbelieved he possessed an edge in ideological appeal, "faith based" strengthagainst what he perceived as U.S. decadence. U.S. failure in Afghanistanwould ignite a global "clash of civilizations" pitting all Muslims againstAmerica.
Bin Laden's strategy flopped, for a slew of reasons. Chief amongthem, American liberty remains an ideologically powerful idea. The UnitedStates also pulled an "asymmetric" military move of sorts, using GreenBeret-guided Afghan allies and hi-tech airpower to topple the Taliban.
Since the loss of its Afghan base, Al Qaeda has experiencedextraordinary pressure. Time to plan is squeezed. The United States has useddiplomacy, police work, better intel and military presence to exert thepressure.
Al Qaeda has attempted to adapt, with talk of a sleeper cellstrategy while aggressively attempting to acquire weapons of massdestruction (WMD).
Which leads to the subject of decisive U.S. military actionagainst Iraq and its role in defeating Al Qaeda.
The massive American build-up around Iraq serves as a baitedtrap that Al Qaeda cannot ignore. Failure to react to the pending Americanattack would demonstrate Al Qaeda's impotence. For the sake of their ownreputation (as well as any notion of divine sanction), Al Qaeda's cadresmust show CNN and Al Jazeera they are still capable of dramatic endeavor.
This ain't theory. Al Qaeda's leaders and fighters know it, andthe rats are coming out of their alleys. In Afghanistan, several hundred AlQaeda fighters in the Pakistani border region have gone on the offensive.They specifically link their attacks to America's pending assault onBaghdad. Al Qaeda terror teams are reportedly moving into Western Europe.
Al Qaeda's offensive thrust in Afghanistan produces open targetsfor the 82nd Airborne Division. Moving and communicating terror cells areterror cells more vulnerable to police detection. Moreover, the terroristsare no longer operating on their time line, but on America's time line. TheUnited States creates a situation where Al Qaeda either loses ideologicalcredibility or must risk operations during a time of focused U.S.intelligence activity.
But the big blow to Al Qaeda will be the loss of Baghdad.Baghdad is a counter-terror intelligence trove. Saddam's fall will loosenknowledgeable tongues. Al Qaeda will have fewer alleys to inhabit.
But the big loss will be access to Saddam's WMD. A WMDspectacular is the kind of operation that can reverse Al Qaeda'sinternational propaganda decline.
That ain't theory, either. Al Qaeda's leaders know it, which iswhy they seek nukes and nerve gas. It's why American strategists who know AlQaeda know the axis of evil must be utterly broken.