Ring out the old, ring in the new
Bill Roggio describes the continuing campaign against al-Qaeda in Iraq.
US and Iraqi forces continue to work to dismantle al Qaeda's network in Diyala and nationwide. Multinational Forces Iraq identified 51 senior al Qaeda members as killed or captured in December, Major General Kevin Bergner, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq said in a January 2 briefing. Among them were "8 regional, city and functional emirs, 9 cell leaders, 6 that were involved in media and propaganda activities, 5 foreign terrorist facilitators, 7 vehicle bomb and improvised explosive device facilitators, and 16 other facilitators, such as religious advisors, financiers, intelligence gatherers and weapons traffickers," said Bergner.
If one were an al-Qaeda analyst, seeking to find an answer to the questions posed by the unbroken string of catastrophes listed above, the basic problem to resolve is whether the Jihad's "business model" itself is at fault. The normal tendency when experiencing failure after having reached a high point is to blame tactical mistakes. But when the string of defeats goes on for too long the possibility of strategic failure must be faced.
Here we come to one of the most unrecognized weaknesses of a clandestine organization. Nearly every secret society is structured for command from the top down. This top-down architecture is imposed by bandwidth limitations inherent in clandestine operations. Democracies are bandwidth hogs because anyone and everyone argues over which direction to take. Clandestine organizations which must guard their communications closely don't have the carrying capacity to permit debate. They can't hold conclaves, congresses and the like. Their capacity for self-correction is limited.
One workaround to this limitation would be to create an open political wing under which the armed wing would be subordinated. But al-Qaeda, having rejected the democratic process from first principles, is by definition unable to subordinate itself to anything besides the theocratic vision of its leaders.
This is a roundabout way of saying that while al-Qaeda may be resistant to tactical setbacks, it is by nature susceptible to strategic failure. Once it gets itself into a conceptual rut, or its leadership goes off on a tangent, there is little the mass base can do to rescue it from itself. Thus, the history of clandestine organizations is not one of evolutionary progress but succession. When al-Qaeda falls far enough from accumulated setbacks it will be challenged by another clandestine organization with a new and possibly better strategic vision. Therefore what is likely to happen in Iraq, and possibly in the world at large, is that al-Qaeda will continue to decline until a new and better adapted Jihadi group makes an appearance. If there is a next September 11 it will be launched by a new organization, possibly an offshoot of the old, which has been gathering unnnoticed in the shadows while we continue to beat up on Osama's old jalopy.