In an article published in the Washington Post on Friday May 30, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden is quoted as portraying al Qaeda movement as
The article said Hayden asserts that
defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much
of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the
powerful declarations prompted a series of reactions and debates both
in political and counter terrorism circles, causing loud media
discussions. The main but simple question of interest to the public,
and subsequently to voters in the US and other Democracies, is this:
bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic
world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to
recruit adherents." More importantly, the article quotes the chief
intelligence declaring a "near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq;
near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia; significant
setbacks for al-Qaeda globally -- and here I'm going to use the word
'ideologically' -- as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their
form of Islam."
Is al Qaeda being defeated?
more complex questions arise from the CIA Director's statements, which
if answered accurately would leave the main assertion still unclear.
Following are few of these strategic questions:
al Qaeda is being defeated, who is defeating it? Is it the US and the
West, the Arab and Muslim moderates, or other Jihadists? If Usama Bin
Laden is being challenged by his own members, ex members or non al
Qaeda Jihadists, how can that be determined as a defeat and to whom?
a coup inside al Qaeda be of interest to Washington if the new team is
as Jihadist but not as "Bin Ladenist"? Or is it the US-centered
interests that are at play? Meaning the inability of al Qaeda under Bin
laden and Zawahiri to strike at America or target American troops and
presence overseas, including in Iraq?
it Bin laden's discredit, al-Qaeda's weakening or Jihadism's defeat
that is the broadest strategic goal to attain? Even farther in
questioning, is it al Qaeda'Takfiri method or it the global
Jihadist ideology that is receding? The matter is not that simple, as
one can conclude. So how can we measure an al Qaeda defeat in the
middle of a War still raging around the world? I propose the following
Is al Qaeda being defeated strategically worldwide as stated by the CIA Director?
the confrontation is still ongoing. Hence we need to situate the
conflict first. Are we comparable with WWII before Normandy or after?
In this War on Terror terms, what are our intentions? Is the US-led
campaign designed to go after the membership of al Qaeda, go after its
ideology or to support democracy movements to finish the job?
Everything depends on the answers.
and at this stage, al Qaeda has been contained in Iraq, in Afghanistan
and in Somalia. But al Qaeda has potential, through allies, to thrust
through Pakistan and the entire sub Sahara plateau. It was contained in
Saudi Arabia but its cells (and off shoots) are omnipresent in Western
Europe, Latin America, Indonesia, the Balkans, Russia and India, let
alone North America. Objectively one would admit that the organization
is being pushed back in some spots but is still gaining ground in other
locations. Although geopolitical results are crucial, a final blow
against al Qaeda has to be mainly ideological.
How can we measure al Qaeda's defeat in Iraq, if that is true?
are three ways to measure defeat or victory: Operational, Control and
Recruitment. First, is al Qaeda waging the same number of operations?
Second, does it control enclaves? Third, is it recruiting high numbers?
By these parameters al Qaeda was certainly "contained" in Iraq,
particularly in the Sunni triangle. This was a combined result of the
US surge operations and of a rise by local tribes, backed by American
military and funding. But this scoring against al Qaeda would diminish
and probably collapse if the US quit Iraq abruptly, or without leaving
a strong ally behind. So, technically it is a conditioned containment
of al Qaeda in Iraq.
How about Saudi Arabia?
Saudis have contained many of al Qaeda's active cells in the Kingdom.
But authorities haven't shrunk the ideological pool from which al Qaeda
recruits, i.e. the hard core Wahabi circles. The regime has been using
its own clerics to isolate the more radical indoctrination chains. It
has been successful in creating a new status quo, but just that. If
Iraq crumbles, that is if an abrupt withdrawal takes place in the
absence of a strong and democratic Iraqi Government, al Qaeda will
surge in the Triangle and thus will begin to impact Saudi Arabia.
Therefore the current containment in the Kingdom is hinging on the
success of the US led efforts in Iraq, not on inherent ideological
efforts in Saudi Arabia.
How about Pakistan-Afghanistan?
Afghanistan, both the Taliban and al Qaeda weren't able to create
exclusive zones of control despite their frequent Terror attacks for
the last seven years. But there again, the support to operations inside
Afghanistan is coming mainly from the Jihadi enclaves inside Pakistan:
Which conditions the victory over al Qaeda by the Kabul Government to
the defeat of the combat Jihadi forces within the borders of Pakistan
by Islamabad's authorities. Do we expect President Musharref and his
cabinet to wage a massive campaign soon into Waziristan and beyond?
Unlikely for the moment believe most experts. Hence, the containment of
al Qaeda in Afghanistan is hinging on the Pakistan's politics. While it
is true that the Bin Laden initial leadership network has been
depleted, the movement continues to survive, fed by an unchallenged
ideology, so far.
The war of ideas: Is al Qaeda losing it?
al Qaeda is contained on the main battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan and
somewhat in Somalia. It is suppressed in Saudi Arabia and other Arab
countries. But it is roaming freely in many other spots. It is not
winning in face of the Western world's premier military machine, but it
is still breathing, and more importantly it is making babies. All what
it would take to see it leaping back in all battlefields and more is a
powerful change of direction in Washington D.C:
simple as that: if the United States decides to end the War on Terror.
or as its bureaucracy has been inclined to do lately, end the War of
Ideas against Jihadism, the hydra will rise again and change the course
of the conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Arabia and the African
Sahara. All depends on how Americans and other democracies are going to
wage their campaign against al Qaeda's ideology. If they choose to
ignore it and embark on a fantasy trip to nowhere, as the "Lexicon" business shows, al Qaeda -- or its successors -- will win eventually.
if the next Administration would focus on a real ideological defeat of
Bin Laden's movement, then, the advances made on the battlefields will
hold firmly and expand.
some in the counter terrorism community are postulating that Bin Laden
is being criticized by his own supporters, or more precisely by
ideologues and Jihadists who backed him in the past, then turned
against him lately. These analysts offer striking writings by Salafist
cadres against the leadership of Bin laden and his associates as
evidence of an al Qaeda going into decline. Would these facts mean that
the once unchallenged Bin Laden is now losing altitude? Technically
yes, Usama is being criticized by Jihadists. But does that mean that we
in liberal democracies are winning that war of ideas? Less likely.
thorough review of the substance of what the Jihadi critics are
complaining about (a subject I intend to address in a future article),
is not exactly what the free world would be looking forward to. But in
short, al Qaeda is now contained in the very battlefield it chose to
fend off the Infidels in: Iraq. But this is just one moment in space
and time, during which we will have to fight hard to keep the situation
as is. Our favorable situation is a product of the US military surge
and of a massive investment in dollars. It is up to this Congress, and
probably to the next President to maintain that moment, weaken it or
Qaeda and the Iranian regime know exactly the essence of this strategic
equation. I am not sure, though, that a majority of Americans are aware
of the gravity of the situation. In other words, the public is told
that we have won this round against al Qaeda but it should be informed
of what it would take to reach final victory in this global