Monday, July 02, 2007

Summer Spectacular

Former Spook comments on information emerging from coverage of the London terror attacks that al-Qaeda is planning a 9/11 style series of attacks on the US. But out of weakness, not out of strength.


The idea that Al Qaida wants to stage another 9-11-style "spectacular" is hardly new. A number of analysts who focus on the terrorist organization have long held that Al Qaida needs another, large-scale success, for a variety of reasons. As Strategy Page recently observed, the organization is hardly on a roll; the number of operations tied to the group has declined, and the U.S. troop surge in Iraq is forcing Al Qaida to devote even more resources to that battle--resources that might otherwise be allocated to attacks in western Europe and the United States.

But the bad news doesn't end there. The loss of Al-Anbar Province as a logistical and operations base was a devastating set-back for Al Qaida. Recent clearing operations in Dialya are having a similar effect, and American troops are now moving into terrorist safe-havens in the Baghdad security belts. While the battle for Iraq is far from won, Al Qaida finds itself increasingly on the defensive, in areas that were once terrorist sanctuaries.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban's spring offensive never materialized, despite the availability of training and support facilities across the border in Pakistan. ... Earlier this year, Al Qaida also suffered a major setback in eastern Africa, when Ethiopian troops, backed by U.S. airpower and special operations forces, routed the Islamic Courts in Somalia. ... Successful tracking and prosecution of Al Qaida's financial networks has made it more difficult for sympathizers to give money to the cause, and with the lack of apparent progress in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere, some donors may be re-thinking their contributions. In short, Al Qaida is in something of a squeeze, and needs to prove that it's still capable of large-scale, "spectacular" attacks on the enemy's home soil.

Some people are going to call Former Spook's analysis a kind of wishful thinking. But there is one aspect of his analysis which understates, rather than overstates, his conclusion. By bringing to the forces of radical Islam to battle, the US has achieved two things. First, as American critics have pointed out, it has allowed al-Qaeda to generate recruits to fight America. But secondly -- and this is the neglected half of the equation -- al-Qaeda's operations have allowed America to get recruits to fight them. The Anbar tribes are a good example. But from the Horn of Africa to France -- Sarkozy's election being another example -- al-Qaeda's activities have generated a backlash of their own.

Any reasonable person will probably concede -- without necessarily buying into Former Spook's analysis -- that this worldwide engagement certainly imposes a load on al-Qaeda. Even assuming it gained more recruits from its war with America, those recruits would still have to be trained, armed and fed. The critical question is whether al-Qaeda has lost more than it has gained by this process. Former Spook appears to be arguing that al-Qaeda is stalled and needs a win to convince its own backers, (their own version of the US Congress) that some sort of victory is possible and the thing won't drag on forever.

One possible item in Former Spook's favor is the recent attack in London and Glasgow. Al-Qaeda's attack cell in Britain consists of 3 or more medical doctors. Using doctors as suicide bombers, as one of the Glasgow attackers appeared to be, especially when they are "cleanskins" is an incredibly wasteful given their potential as sleeper agents or leaders. There cannot be so many al-Qaeda agents that they can afford to use neurologists as hit men. This suggests a certain level of eagerness to make a big publicity splash that is inconsistent with confident strength.

20 Comments:

Blogger NahnCee said...

My on-going impression of Islamic jihadists is one of undisciplined loose cannons. I know people talk about AQ taking years to plan 9/11 and the discipline that required, but it seems to me that that could just as easily have been reluctant cowardice.

My point here is why do we assume that the three or four or five Muslim doctors in the UK were acting upon specific AQ orders, and didn't just up and decide to do something on their own? Their planning seems more along the lines of something you'd download off the internet than even what Hizbollah has shown the ability to accomplish in Lebanon.

Given that the arrested suspects *are* doctors and have been working regular jobs in England, doesn't that mitigate against them being part of the recently graduated class of Jihadi U that had been promised was going to come after us?

7/02/2007 10:53:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Wretchard, I am far less sanguine about what is going on.

AQ might well not be the decisive organization in this fight. What AQ might be at this point is a brand and idea that spontaneously and decentralized fashion inspires jihadis world-wide.

If we look at AQ operations 1993-2001 it's mostly family based (Ramzi Yusef and KSM), minimal risk to the senior people, conceptually simple, and able to garner astonishing media coverage.

Many of the plots: JFK, Fort Dix, Miami etc. have home-grown objectives not ones directed by outsiders, have too much exposure to security forces, and so on.

Just as disturbing that AQ may or may not be planning a last-desperate push, is that events have moved out of AQ's control. That the Doctor's Plot (sorry Stalin) could be yes "cleanskins" but cleanskins from no particular AQ direction. People self-organizing.

After all Osama (Civil Engineer) and Zawahari (Doctor) decided to give the elite life for terror. Why not Doctors, lawyers, accountants, and so on? Particularly if they think they can WIN.

Western weakness may be encouraging these attacks. What is Gordon Brown going to do? Mostly apologize much harder.

7/03/2007 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

I think the "amateurization" of the combat has spread both ways. The professional cadre of the AQ, as you point out, have been little in evidence. The load is now carried by the devout zealot inspired by the narrative and who plans his attack like the Fort Dix and London attempts. Set against that is a subtle but nevertheless real wariness and antipathy of the public against Muslims, which is not very discerning and unfortunate in many ways. So the Fort Dix people get turned in by video store people and the crowd chants "let him burn" when they see the terrorist on fire.

I don't see Former Spook's analysis as an indication that the movement al-Qaeda started is going to fold any time soon, but it does indicate that narrowly speaking, their professional cadre has taken a beating.

The War on Terror may be headed for the dreaded phase change. One in which it is no longer a contest between "professionals" -- the US Armed Forces versus full-time Jihadis but becomes a contest between Muslims and non-Muslims with all the unreasoning antipathy that attends intercommunal violence. In other words, we get a large scale replay of the communal hatreds of the Balkans and the Middle East. Us versus them.

This is what Osama Bin Laden hoped to achieve and what GWB hoped to avoid by his limited war on terror which skirted any confrontation with Islam. The "clash of civilizations" has not quite happened but with the halting response of the West that dangerous event is creeping closer every day.

One day the West may get its equivalent of the Samarra Mosque provocation. Something so outrageously vile that restraint begins to crack. While the Sunnis have the US Armed Forces to protect them in Iraq -- one of the main reasons for keeping Americans in Iraq is to prevent the Shi'a from starting a bloodbath that al-Qaeda largely provoked -- what will happen to Muslims worldwide if Osama Bin Laden starts a vicious, unreasoning conflict?

7/03/2007 12:35:00 AM  
Blogger brough said...

one of the doctors arrested in the motorway swoop was a neurosurgeon.

Could you imagine the chaos they would have wrought if they had dispersed to different hospitals and started killing patients? Even if they were discovered immediately, two of three deaths would have severely rattled the country and shattered confidence in public services. The national health service depends upon foreign doctors and health-workers to function, and the UK repercussions from such an attack could be as far reaching as the 9/11 attacks.

They infiltrate British society, are given dominion over life and death, and proceed to cover themselves in petrol and plough into a piece of concrete.

How long before they stop playing Wacky Races and trying to convert porch heaters into MOABs and actually engage in real, mass effect terrorism.

As Heraclitus said -- 'Fire is want and excess'.

7/03/2007 01:02:00 AM  
Blogger brough said...

...unless you have a moab or nuke... and that's probably not going to happen anytime soon.

7/03/2007 01:03:00 AM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Yes EXACTLY Wretchard, that was my fear from the beginning. That half measures and PC responses by the West would only encourage more attacks until we lose a city or something along those lines.

I can think of (but won't write) any number of ways in which non-professional terrorists, but men of careful mien and habit, could kill not thousands but tens of thousands of people to tremendous effect.

As for the Doctors, suppose they attacked the hospitals with not petrol bombs but say, anthrax. Or Sarin (which Aum Shin Rykio was able to manufacture). The death tolls there would be in the hundreds surely and destroy National Health.

As it is now, foreign doctors will face a purging from British life and the struggle will intensify in the UK over who owns and runs British society: Muslims and non-Muslims. I expect Gordon Brown to do more groveling, more attacks in response to said groveling, and the British Public already turn against Muslims in general in preparation for the "Samarra Mosque attack." Just as in Iraq, it was not just the attack itself but the drip-drip-drip of Sunni provocations that set the stage for violent warfare against a backdrop of blood debts and feuds.

If one considers Beslan, Pan Am 103, Beirut, Buenos Aires, Khobar Towers, African Embassy, 1979 Embassy take-over, and much else then yes, the blood feuds and debts exist here in the West as well.

And of course, many leaders can profit from a terrible counter-fight. Particularly those who would otherwise be nothing.

7/03/2007 01:36:00 AM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...

If Al Qaida had anything to do with this directly it would mean that the organization has lost its brains.

Isn't Glascow in Scotland? That's where golf comes from and Scotch wiskey and great looking suits. These things are appreciated worldwide and the ugly bombing does nothing but generate sympathy for those gentle people, the Scots, and rightly so.

This may mark the watershed of this round of terrorism. Let us hope so.

7/03/2007 01:37:00 AM  
Blogger jfreddd said...

"Isn't Glascow in Scotland?....the ugly bombing does nothing but generate sympathy for those gentle people, the Scots, and rightly so."

Scots...gentle people? Hmmm, quite a few gentlepersons perhaps, but "gentle"?

It is no accident that one speaks of "Scots-Irish" and bloody warmaking in one breath. I'd agree with you that an organization that provokes such as the Scots is "has lost its brains." But not from foreign sympathies.

Warm, fuzzy Shetland wool is not grown by fuzzy people, although they may become quite warm if pushed hard enough.

I'd say Wretchard is spot-on fearing a general devolution to intercommunal conflict. Such a thing won't be pretty, and not one poster here will end up being happy it happened--no matter how eagerly he now chomps the bit to have at it.

7/03/2007 03:58:00 AM  
Blogger jfreddd said...

I should clarify:

First of all, I understand the great majority of Belmont Club commenters, and in particular those on this thread, to be lamenting the horrific bloodshed looming on the horizon, looming precisely because of appeasement and denial.

Perhaps Scotland *has* become a land of train spotting pussycats and we cousin Jacksonians over here represent but a last flickering before all succumb from obesity of the cerebellum. If so, the terrorists aren't silly, they'd be right.

But if Scots are not become quite so pacific, our silly governments on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as a great many innocent citizens (including both 'Scots' & Musselmen'), will likely experience some wrenching and violent transformations.

7/03/2007 04:32:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Of late I've come to hope that self-organizing groups within both the Muslim and non-Muslim community may actually prevent the smash. The unexpected demise of the immigration amnesty as well as the emergence of some, though not many openly dissenting or critical voices within the ummah has led me to think that some hopeful surprises may be in store for us.

The smash is not inevitable, but it is possible. However, the more people understand the problem, the greater the chance they can break lose from the demagogues and chart their own course. But apart from optimism, I have no real reason for concluding this. The very same information storms which may lead to a happy ending may lead just as quickly to a grimmer one.

7/03/2007 05:01:00 AM  
Blogger StargazerA5 said...

Wretchard said:
Of late I've come to hope that self-organizing groups within both the Muslim and non-Muslim community may actually prevent the smash. The unexpected demise of the immigration amnesty as well as the emergence of some, though not many openly dissenting or critical voices within the ummah has led me to think that some hopeful surprises may be in store for us.

I actually have the opposite interpretation. The self organization of the West is happening because the middle and lower classes are beginning to realize that the elites are not going to protect them. Temperatures are slowly rising and mindsets are starting to harden against Muslims. These groups will take action (such as the recent border/amnesty dispute) to force the elites to attend their responsibilities. In order to stay in power, the Western Elites will over-react and touch off the long-building conflagration.

I suspect the Muslim voices you are hearing are those who sense the same thing, unfortunately I think they are too little too late.

I had hoped that the fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan would create a firebreak that would keep the flames from reaching a critical mass and becoming a wildfire. I think our time for that is almost done; but I still have some, slim, hope that the Surge can still at least partially accomplish this.

StargazerA5

7/03/2007 06:43:00 AM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

Don't we have an historical perspective to work with?

If you were reading a history book today about German doctors causing grief in England in 1938 would that be a surprise? Would your first thought be that the Brits should have become even more accommodating to their Southern neighbors?

No. Because it's history we know what happened later. We know what timidity and accommodation bought. More importantly, we also know today how thoroughly Nazism pervaded German society and culture including higher education and the professions. German doctors murdered as easily as their less degreed counterparts.

Would anybody argue that the Nazis were generally good people who were misrepresented by a few extremists who hijacked a political philosophy? Would any modern reader of Mein Kampf dismiss the Nazi wisdom document as an historically irrelevant screed?

The world came to grief back then because, for whatever reason, enough ordinary Germans bought into the promised rewards of National Socialism to create an army, the organizations, and the institutions necessary to make a grab for supremacy.

The comparison is not perfect but there are enough similarities to Islam to, at the very least, cause thinking people to take a reality check.

One place to start is with the wisdom documents. Is the behavior of Islamist terrorists consistent with Islam's wisdom documents or is it so much of an aberration that we should accept the claim of the hijacked religion? Judge for yourself. There are many books and sites about the Koran and the Haidith. One site better organized than most is at this link. You can ignore the editorial comments if you wish but so far as I know the translations and quotes are accurate and above reproach.

If you have read Mein Kampf you understand that the future prospects of the untermenschen would not be happy if the author's vision were implemented. If you read Islam's wisdom documents and can foresee happier prospects for the infidel, let me know.

I have reached my conclusion that Islam is as toxic as Nazism. Perhaps more so because Islam has a spiritual element that Nazism, despite the effort, was never able to achieve.

I recognize and acknowledge that individuals can self identify as Muslim and still have acceptable social value systems. Human nature is far too complex to categorize people by simple labels, but I will not be deluded by any claim that Islam is anything other than a toxic and violent political movement.

7/03/2007 07:37:00 AM  
Blogger Griswel said...

There's something to be said for responding to an attack by going absolutely apesh*t.

Muslims took out two American buildings - America took out two Muslim countries.

7/03/2007 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

...foreign doctors will face a purging from British life ...

I'm thinking that "foreign" doctors will be purged all over the world, not just in Britain. I'm also thinking Hindu's, Buddhists, Catholics and Jews will not be stripped of their physician jobs -- just Muslims.

There won't be a black and white law that says "no more Muslim doctors", but there'll be an HR edict enforced that results in that end. Maybe "no one will be hired who prays five times a day, for the overall good of patient care". Or "anyone who observes Ramadan will not be eligible for employment because fasting is injurious to a doctor's concentration".

Muslims want to be victims? Good. We have not yet BEGUN to think up excuses to victimize them!

7/03/2007 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

NahnCee said...

"My on-going impression of Islamic jihadists is one of undisciplined loose cannons. I know people talk about AQ taking years to plan 9/11 and the discipline that required, but it seems to me that that could just as easily have been reluctant cowardice."

9/11 was a well planned operation that took years to prepare for. There was a very well thought out strategy behind 9/11, e.g. the United States was supposed to be bogged down in a Soviet style war in Afghanistan. Also it was assumed the United States would attack Saudi Arabia (most of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis) which in turn would have triggered the "Clash of Civilizations" because Mecca and Medina were compromised. However, the U.S. didn't follow al Qaeda's script. In Afghanistan, we used the Northern Alliance as proxies to take down the Taliban. We ignored al Qaeda's Saudi Arabian bait and pulled our troops out of that country. We then blind sided al Qaeda by taking out Saddam and turning his country into an al Qaeda bug zapper. Now most of al Qaeda's "second lieutenants" have been killed in action leaving al Qaeda with only generals hiding in caves and buck privates acting on their own initiative. If we can get the Iraqis strong enough to deal with what's left of al Qaeda then we can diminish our presence in that country. Of course the "fly in the ointment" is Iran. Circumstance has presented them with a golden opportunity. Our ultimate response to Iran will determine success or failure in the Middle East.

7/03/2007 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

There's something to be said for responding to an attack by going absolutely apesh*t.

Muslims took out two American buildings - America took out two Muslim countries.


Au contraire. Our response was measured and humane. If we had gone "absolutely apeshit", the entire Middle East - and most especially Mecca and Saudi Arabia -- would have been turned into a glassy parking lot on September 12.

Which looking back, would have saved a lot of grief.

7/03/2007 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Brett said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/03/2007 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger Brett said...

Al Qaeda needs another 9/11 attack but shear genius is hard to reproduce (Kamikaze’s are hard to replace) so 777 should look like a world wide offensive ala Tet '68 where even the Great Satan is called to action. These turds define the terms of their success after the fact and the MSM will run it in bold above the fold.

7/03/2007 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

In mid-1945, as our forces applied increasing pressure on the Japanese home islands, the Imperial Japanese Navy came up with a audacious plan. They would launch their largest submarines, equipped with their most advanced submarine-launched aircraft to attack the Panama Canal.

What would this bold action accomplish? Nothing much, really. Even if they knocked out the canal for a while there was still far more than enough US Naval power arrayed in the Pacific to crush Japan. But they launched the attack anyway.

Enroute to the attack, the subs surfaced and got a radio message that changed everything. The Americans had been working on secret weapons as well and an aircraft named the Enola Gay had completed its mission first. They dumped their beautiful new airplanes overboard and headed back to Japan.

Desperate, last ditch, and futile attacks are what failed totalitarians DO, that’s all.

7/03/2007 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Yeah, but then the Japanese handed over their really nice samurai sword and gave up. Where's the Muslim-Terrorist-In-Chief who's gonna hand over his rusty pock-marked scimitar and give up for the billions of Muslim terrorists-in-waiting located all over our globe?

Would some foaming-at-the-mouth Algerian Rage Boy in Paris calm down and turn over a new leaf if bin Laden crawled out of his cave tomorrow and announced, "Enough! It was all a big mistake, we're sorry, and it'll never happen again."

Would Saudi Arabia quit breeding, raising and producing wannabe mujahadeen if Zawahiri gave up? Would Pakistan quit selling nuclear components to any Islamic state with enough oil money to buy its very own bomb? Would the Palestinians grow up and start acting like human beings?

I don't think so.

7/03/2007 06:10:00 PM  

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