“Al Qaeda has shown some degree of operational skill, and gets a lot of points for persistence, and for being willing to learn from its mistakes. What it lacks completely is political judgment. But then, what do you expect?”
Personally, I don’t know what to expect. That Al Qaeda will be defeated eventually, and that technological, secular, free market, republican modes of existence will survive, seems so much more likely than the opposite. Allowing for the unimaginable, which is always a wild card, what we have on our side is superior to what they have.
We have firepower, money, amazingly broad competence, a high degree of solidarity and purpose (in the USA, at least), a deep sense of justice and civilization in our mission to destroy Jihad, and (more or less) good political leadership.
What they have is a global, religious/ideological solidarity honed to the highest degree of commitment, a willingness to die, an understanding of the technology available to them and the patience to carefully implement missions based on the biggest technological bang for the buck.
In this game, they rationally see themselves as David confronting our Goliath. The question is whether their Islamic slingshots can defeat our Western (dare I say, Judeo-Christian?) predators and daisy cutters.
You say they have no political judgment, and you may be asolutely correct. I hope you are. I think you are. But the question does not seem foreclosed. It seems apparent from 9-11 that death to kafir is not the sole nor even the primary purpose of the current Jihad, as heart-warming as the death of infidels may be. Destruction of the western (meaning American) economy is the chief interim goal.
The ultimate goal is a completely Islamic world. The penultimate goal is to bring the non-Islamic world down to the subsistence level of the Islamic world. That makes the fight more even, a world where the sword of Islam is mightier than the pen of freedom and commerce.
Whether Al Qaeda is politically astute or not, depends on several confused or unknowable considerations.
First, where does the world of Islam stand? AQ depends on money, comfort, expertise and spiritual sustenance from the billion and more Moslems on Earth. The Moslem world is the water in which AQ swims.
It does not seem clear where the official or unofficial Moslem world will go. AQ is betting that they can provoke the West into actions so severe, that the Moslem world will have no religious choice but to engage in a planetary Jihad so overwhelming the West will be destroyed.
In this respect, the millions of hostile, unassimilated Moslems in America and Europe would seem to play a part.
Second, what weapons does AQ have? This unknown factor is paramount. If they have smallpox, anthrax, sarin, nuclear or other WMD, they are very powerful indeed. 9-11 makes no sense whatsoever, unless AQ had WMD. If 9-11 occurred without a present capability to inflict free-form mass destruction, then AQ is stupid indeed, politically and in every other way. Again, “mass destruction” being defined not merely as numbers killed, but primarily as a means of destroying the economy by instilling widespread fear, and by hyper-elevating the level of risk and uncertainty to discourage economic activity.
In this respect, a special note must be taken of suicide bombers. A dozen such bombers in a dozen NYC subway stations during rush hour, would be more massive in economic effect than the purely spiteful and banal enormity of bombing a bar mitzvah. Nonetheless, it probably would not quite reach the magnitude of a dirty bomb, for instance.
Third, how clueless is the West? In order for AQ to succeed in fomenting a planetary Jihad which surpasses every other human concern, they depend on the absurd qualms of much of the West’s political elite, an elite which already disdains America and Western values. AQ looks at the Moslem world with its simple resolve, and compares it with a world which is uncertain of the question whether force should be used to defend yourself.
In this respect, the advantages of the West seem utterly devalued.
Looking at means and goals, it is tempting to compare Jihad to the Internationale. From the perspective of Western Man, global communism looked a lot like Jihad in practical consequence … the determined ideological destruction of the values held dear by those who see liberty as the greatest political good. Disruption and terror, violence and brute force, lying and oppression … mere tools for the greater good.
But Jihad is not communism in meaningful respects. Communism had states to protect, Jihad does not. Jihad has ummah, which communism never had. True, Moslem masses are oppressed by Islam, but Islam was not imposed on the present generations of Moslems, it was transmitted.
Communism, because it ruled from the top down, had an interest in stability, if only to avoid mass retaliation. Today, Jihad dangles the Islamic states, not the other way around. For the temporary and short-sighted motive of self-preservation, the Islamic rulers contribute to the chaos Jihad seeks.
If politics is defined as arranging circumstances to achieve your goals, it is not so clear AQ is politically inept. AQ benefits with every act of violence, it seems. A day without violence, is a day which did not add to the psychological mosaic of destabilization of the world detested by Jihad.
What it all comes down to, is an audacious risk by AQ. They are gambling Islam on their ability to bully and intimidate the West into economic chaos and eventual poverty. They think the West is psychologically incapable of understanding and effectively responding to Jihad.
To the extent Western politics, in the surrealism of leftist thinking, and in the sheer ignorance often generated by self-satisfied, material well-being, refuses to acknowledge the death threat explicitly being made by Jihad, AQ might not be so lacking in political judgment whenever it does something which seems lacking in political judgment.
Maybe AQ has figured us out, better than we have figured out them. Maybe not. Your point, which is that AQ is helping the formerly ignorant or indifferent to figure things out, may be true. Let us hope it is not too late to have figured things out.
This seems excessively pessimistic. The Ummah is mostly a fiction. If it becomes a genuine threat to the West, it will be history. Al Qaeda’s weakness lies in not understanding just how bloody and brutal the West is capable of being if it feels seriously threatened. I suspect that Israel alone, with 400 atomic weapons, is capable of wiping out much of the Muslim world, and that’s peanuts compared to what the United States would do if faced with a unified Muslim world bent on its destruction. (And biowar cuts both ways: imagine what would happen if smallpox got loose in Mecca at the right time of the year. I hope that any Al Qaeda types bent on biowar think about this long and hard.).
At any rate, most Muslims — even most Arab Muslims — don’t want to bring down the West in an orgy of gotterdammerung-style destruction, and aren’t likely to get behind anyone who does. But if through some miracle Al Qaeda were to unite them in that goal, it would simply mean the end of Islam as a world force. The big danger to us all (but especially to them) is that the Arab world’s penchant for substituting fantasy for reality makes them less responsible in this regard than the stakes suggest they ought to be and — and here you’re right — than the Communists were. But then the Soviets had the experience of World War Two. The Arab world has yet to experience such a sobering encounter with mass bloodshed. That, however, will change if they push too hard.
I hope never to see it too — because I hope that such a response won’t be necessary.