Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Strategy against al-Qaeda

Via this blogger, I came across Nicholas Lemann's review in The New Yorker of various recent books on terrorism. One of the books Lemann discusses is Audrey Kurth Cronin's How Terrorism Ends (Princeton Univ. Press). According to the review, Cronin urges, among other things, trying to separate local grievances from al-Qaeda's global ideology:
" 'Bin Laden and Zawahiri have focused on exploiting and displacing the local concerns of the Chechens, the Uighurs, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat in Algeria, and many others, and sought to replace them with an international agenda,' Cronin writes. The United States should now try to 'sever the connection between Islamism and individualized local contexts for political violence, and then address them separately.' It should work with these local groups, not in an effort to convert them to democracy and love of America but in order to pry them away, one by one, from Al Qaeda. ('Calling the al-Qaeda movement "jihadi international," as the Israeli intelligence services do,' she writes, 'encourages a grouping together of disparate threats that undermines our best counterterrorism. It is exactly the mistake we made when we lumped the Chinese and the Soviets together in the 1950s and early 1960s, calling them "international Communists." ')"
Cutting the connection between al-Qaeda's international agenda and its local affiliates sounds sensible, especially since the affiliates already appear to be at least partly driven by local concerns. Take the recent suicide bombing aimed at the British ambassador in Yemen, presumably carried out by al-Qaeda-in-the-Arabian-Peninsula. The intended target was a high-ranking Western diplomat, but that in itself does not mean that the motive for the attack was a grandiose global ideology, as opposed to a desire to strike at a perceived ally and patron of the Yemeni government. And the recent bombings against Shias by al-Qaeda-in-Iraq seem more like a response to the killing of that group's two top leaders than part of an effort to further the establishment of a new caliphate.

The U.S. press, citing intelligence sources, has drawn a portrait of al-Qaeda's central leadership as increasingly isolated somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and increasingly unable to communicate effectively with its various branches. The connections that Cronin calls for severing on the plane of ideology may thus already be tenuous on the level of organization -- and that in turn may furnish an opening for pressing forward with a strategy of "address disparate threats separately."

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