READER RESPONSE REVIEWED
A while back, Jacob H
., a mathematician and an astute systemic thinker, made the following comment to me in an email:" We often focus on the advantages insurgencies have over conventional armies - if the insurgents don't lose, they win; time is on their side; they can strike wherever the like, we have to defend everywhere- but too much of this sort of criticism can blind one to dynamics that are working in our favor. The weakness of trans-national terrorist organizations is that the same things that keep them safe -dispersion, low operational tempo, highly autonomous cells - also deny them the staying power of a nation state. AQ
[ al Qaida ] could certainly still pull off a spectacular attack - they may be wounded by they are still dangerous - but the flip side of this threat is the pressure AQ feels to actually make one happen. Commentators may focus on how long AQ takes to plan operations and how patient it can be, but such a focus overlooks AQ's very real need for a propaganda and morale boost. There is a seige-like element to this conflict. Each day that goes by without AQ being able to pull off an attack or run a training camp isone day closer to the organizations disappearance. If this goes onlong enough it will just fade into the aether. Each day it becomes weaker and it becomes more imperative that it pulls off a spectacular attack. We cannot forget this aspect of the war."
Jacob H. raises several points for further reflection in my view:
First, 4GW scenarios do impose a strong psychological-political perceptual framework on both adversaries. Those readers with a deep interest in the history of the Vietnam War, particularly the USG policy making side, will recall the concern for American " credibility" that hampered decision-making and objectivity. Likewise, the internal pressure to reach Giap's third stage led to repeated disaster on the battlefield for the Communist forces in South Vietnam. Another instance of policy response to 4GW psychological stimulus was Nixon floating his " Madman theory"
to Kissinger and other aides about hinting to Dobrynin about a president who was " out of control " on the subject of Vietnam, who might reckless resort to using nuclear weapons on Hanoi ( Kissinger wisely talked Nixon out of this particular stratagem).
Is al Qaida suffering from this kind of pressure ? We have seen a string of videotapes from top al Qaida leaders lately but nothing on the magnitude of Bali or 3/11, much less 9/11. There is action in Iraq but that rebounds to al Qaida's credit only in the sense of their having made an alliance with Zarqawi's already existing organization. Bin Laden, in effect, granted an independent operator a franchise agreement for terrorism and nothing more. Paper alliances are the blustering of the weak.
On Jacob H.'s second point there are some recent anecdotal cases that bear out his contention. Many of the formerly fearsome, secular-Marxist, Palestinian terror groups that split from the PLO in the 1970's are now little more than graying, coffee-shop radicals going to pot in Damascus. Or they have been exterminated like the Abu Nidal Organization. Croatian, Armenian, American, German, Italian, Turkish ( other than Kurdish), Japanese and Irish terror groups have discorporated or are now shadows of their former selves. Starved of new recruits, hobbled by confused and out of date ideologies, bereft of funding, terror groups die out or fade away as key individuals are killed or imprisoned.
Al Qaida seems to have a lot of resilience as it organizationally morphs under American attacks, but Jacob H. provided a useful reminder that al Qaida is not ten feet tall.