1/22/2006

Al Qaeda - Strategy mutating - Reading Machiavelli ?

What you hear is what you get: Al-Qaeda inevitably has to move beyond surprise, stealth and heavy symbolism (how can you top September 11?) So enters bin Laden the politician, who clearly identifies Bush as the problem and warns US. Overwhelmed by media noise, US once again won't listen. But Muslims will, and might support a new attack after this tape -- law

Strategy mutating
The fact that Zawahiri - influenced by the Islamists' foremost thinker, Sayyid Qutb - defines jihad as "an armed putsch ... requiring cooperation between civilians and the military to achieve its goal" proves that al-Qaeda is all about politics, and marginally about religion.

Bin Laden's latest tape is devoid of any window-dressing of Islamic phraseology. Al-Qaeda is above all involved in a long-range political war of attrition. Al-Qaeda's ideology relates to model military operations that can be easily comprehended and identified with by local populations.

In this sense, al-Qaeda's hit-and-run tactics in Afghanistan may work with Pashtun tribesmen, but Zarqawi's senseless killings of civilians may not be working with nationalist Sunni Arabs in Iraq.

Numbers also play a crucial part. This year marks the 10th anniversary of al-Qaeda's rite of passage from strategic considerations to an overall battle plan.

In August 1996 in Afghanistan, bin Laden issued his "declaration of jihad against the Americans occupying the land of the two holy sites". Less than two years later, in February 1998, the World Islamic Front against Jews and Crusaders was created and an offensive was intensified, culminating in September 11.

So al-Qaeda's war was firmly declared twice on the record. The Madrid bombings took place exactly two and a half years after September 11, which was a precise military operation that took five years of meticulous planning. Al-Qaeda's love of symmetry may point to an attack five years after September 11 - this year.

The initial, Zawahiri-formulated basic concept was to "strike at the faraway enemy" (the United States), thus opening the way to the overthrow of the "nearby enemy" - pro-American leaders in the Muslim world. This simply did not happen; al-Qaeda's strategy failed.

So, once again showing signs of strategic operational flexibility, al-Qaeda since September 11 and the invasion of Iraq mutated into privileging local jihads in Afghanistan and Iraq, where according to its own strategic objectives, it is winning. Let a thousand mini-al-Qaedas bloom. Now bin Laden's new message may reveal a renewed commitment to "strike at the faraway enemy".

According to Zawahiri's conceptualization, radical Islam must bridge the gap between an elite - a revolutionary vanguard, of which al-Qaeda is part - and the Muslim masses. Jihad, according to Zawahiri, requires a "scientific, confrontational, rational" leadership.

So stigmatizing al-Qaeda's leadership as "evil terrorists" won't help. Zawahiri and bin Laden are now practitioners of realpolitik. They favor Niccolo Machiavelli over the Holy Koran. It's all about coining the right rhetoric - and the right audio-video global media coups - to lift the Muslim masses out of fatalistic passivity, impregnate them with political conscience, and persuade them to join the jihad...

What you hear is what you get
Al-Qaeda inevitably has to move beyond surprise, stealth and heavy symbolism (how can you top September 11?) So for a high-impact, multi-layered message like bin Laden's, you don't need video. You have to force people to listen to what the voice is saying. Enter bin Laden the politician.

Politically, addressing US public opinion, bin Laden clearly identifies the Bush administration - and its "war on terror", a military response to a concept - as the problem. Overwhelmed by media noise, Americans once again won't listen. Dealing with the Muslim masses is much more complicated. They will listen - but they won't necessarily agree.

Asia Times Online :: Middle East News, Iraq, Iran current affairs

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