Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Al Qaeda's Game Plan: The Confirmation

Remember Doug "Pericles" Muder's essay Terrorist Strategy 101, in which he outlines what Al Qaeda wants and how they're going about getting it? (I mentioned it a few months ago in this blog.) Scout Prime has a detailed followup thereto, courtesy of the English-language online version of Der Spiegel. According to the Der Spiegel piece, Bin Laden and his followers are patient -- they have a twenty-year, seven-phase plan. And so far, Bush is playing right into their hands.

A couple of ::ahem:: brilliant articles came out before the US had committed to rash action, literally while the Trade Center's ashes were cooling. Allow me to who...er, recommend them:

From Stop the Spin
The defeat that the terrorists cannot endure is a defeat in the court of Muslim public opinion. Terrorists should be treated as criminals, albeit criminals with massive firepower. If possible, they should be captured and tried for crimes against humanity. The United States should take steps to redress massive injustices in Muslim lands, including the slaughter in Indonesia, which we facilitated [27]. To reprise Raymond Close's penetrating words: "[T]he most effective defenses we will have against the terrorist threat [are] a commitment to the rule of law, dedication to fairness and evenhandedness in settling international disputes and a reputation as the most humanitarian nation in the world.

And (remember, this was written before Tora Bora), from A Tangled Web

Fortunately, Bush (or at least his coterie of advisors) has not proven to be quite the fool that bin Laden apparently took him to be. Military operations are being planned with deliberation, not conducted in heat. With careful planning, the chances of a widespread Muslim backlash are diminishing. If bin Laden is captured and tried, or killed by Special Forces in small-scale combat, it will be hard for his followers to beatify him or take his demise as an affront to Islam. Still, due deliberation is the minimum we should expect from a president. Martial rhetoric is cheap, violence is easy, but who among them can raise the dead?

Two points:

1) The greatest fear I had, so great that I only referred to it by saying that I wished I could underline it for the reader, was that Al Qaida's plan was to pin the American army down in some remote region, then detonate one or more nuclear devices inside the US to cause mass casualties and simultaneously disrupt support for the troops. Fortunately, it seems they hadn't mapped out the tactical game that far ahead (and, of course, the US didn't commit large numbers of troops until spring of 2003). While they could still do something like that, it would no longer have the devastating effect that it might have had earlier.

2) The Spiegel article maps out a timetable, but it doesn't have any sort of tactical detail that would be helpful. Muden's article identifies the economy as a primary target. I think this is correct, even if bin Laden doesn't understand it in those terms. US war fighting doctrine is based, and has been since the Civil War, on superiority of production. To grossly oversimplify, the Germans relied on unit cohesion and technical excellence, the Japanese relied on the willingness of the individual to sacrifice himself for the greater cause, the Russians relied on size, and the US relied on the principles of mass production.

Vietnam was a setback to the doctrine, but as a general rule, it persists as doctrine because it works. The attempt to get a stranglehold on oil is probably an offshoot of the doctrine. The problem is that the doctrine doesn't work against popular movements, at least if applied militarily. Mass produce Gameboys and VCRs that entertain their kids at an affordable price, and you win hearts and minds. Mass produce weapons that kill their kids and you lose.

At any rate, terrorism has serious economic impacts. Money gets diverted from the civilian sector into weapons and, in this case, war. People travel less. Money has to be spent guarding borders, checking tomato trucks, and securing chemical plants. Worst of all, people stop talking to one another and working with one another as the fear of the national security state seeps in.

Aficionados of Civilization III (which is a mediocre game, but about the only one that seems to deal with resource issues) will recognize the problem. Invade your neighbor to grab his oil supplies and you get a temporary gain but suffer a temporary loss of trade. More lasting are his enmity and (if he isn't defeated quickly), the damage to your political system. Lose your democracy and suddenly your production drops way off. A winning strategy in Civilization is making it look like the other guy is to blame.
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