Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

A look at what bin Laden is (was?) to terrorism and some suggestions from a retired Naval Captain and Pentagon Strategist.

It starts with scale. In the past, conventional terrorist groups like Hizbullah in the Mideast, Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, or the Basque separatists in Spain focused mainly on local issues and audiences. Their international presence, such as it was, funneled money and sympathy back into home-grown struggles.

Bin Laden thought big. Building on his years of covert fighting to undermine the Soviet attempt to control Afghanistan – resistance funded by the US, Arab leaders, and others as part of the final armed struggle of the cold war – bin Laden expanded into other fights. Recruits were shuttled through Afghanistan for training and combat experience by the tens of thousands. In the 1990s, these well-trained and combat-experienced "Afghanis" began to pop up in Bosnia, Algeria, Southeast Asia – anywhere that local troubles offered the Islamists a toehold.

One of bin Laden's innovations is no-credit killing. Traditional terrorist groups have taught us – their global audience and pool of candidate victims – to expect claims of responsibility for sneak attacks. By insisting on "credit" for mayhem, the terrorists ensure that we appreciate their commitment to violence as the path to improvement in our general welfare.

No such claims come from bin Laden. Apparently intending to deflect superpower retaliation, the Al Qaeda network has evolved a tight, no-fingerprints policy as it plans and executes strikes.

The bin Laden formula for superterrorism appears to include sophisticated communications and elaborate chains of businesses, some criminal, some seemingly straight. The scaled-up Al Qaeda network has a capacity for what a business executive would term strategic control – for tailoring itself, its workforce, and its "products" to the changing "marketplace."

Seaquist warns that adopting the strategy of our foe may not be the best way to combat him.

How should we – the US and its allies – respond? Clearly, we need to be inventive ourselves. In Washington there is talk about creating new kinds of military units that can move as secretly and as nimbly as the terrorists.

Mimicking Al Qaeda may not be the best strategy. Top generals sometimes win battles by bypassing the enemy army and seizing the objective with less bloodshed. Our objective is a civil, democratic world.

Rather than trying to outdo bin Laden with spreading our own covert organizations and secretive methods around the world, perhaps we should be moving forward from Afghanistan with a campaign that learns how to smother bin Laden and Al Qaeda with our most powerful tool – open, democratic, collaborative societies.

To a degree I think, and have here said before, that this is correct. This should be one of the methods we use to combat terrorism but we also must use every tool at our disposal, to do anything less would be criminal and result in more Americans dead.

< email | 8/07/2002 11:04:00 PM | link

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