The Daily Whim

The Daily Whim

Fri. Jun 28, 2002

Dead or Alive, Part Two: Al Qaeda

Dead or Alive, Part Two: Al Qaeda – Since 9-11, we’ve expected the worst from Al Qaeda. We’ve been assured by them, and by our own government, new terror attacks are on the way.

The proverbial check is in the mail, and has been for many months. But just like that proverbial check, it either never shows up, or is much much smaller than anticipated.

Remember last October? We were certain a Second Wave of attacks was sure to begin when we launched our military campaign in Afghanistan. After all, they had to know we would be coming, and would have a second assault waiting in place. Well, after listing a half dozen or so Al Qaeda attacks that received little or no military response, Donald Sensing makes a strong case that Al Qaeda didn’t expect us to retaliate in any real way: "For the attack just before 9-11, against USS Cole in 2000, all the Clinton administration did was vow to track down the attackers. Yet by ancient definition, at attack upon a nation’s warship is de facto an act of war. We did nothing. Thus emboldened, OBL decided to carry out attacks America itself [...] Yet the almost purely rhetorical response of the United States to repeated attacks certainly convinced OBL that the way was clear to a massive action within the United States itself. But al Qaeda did not expect and was not prepared for America to go to war after Sept. 11. That OBL expected some aerial strikes against Afghanistan after 9-11 is indicated by al Qaeda’s abandonment of older camps and facilities just before 9-11. But I do not think he expected the US to do anything much more severe than launch some cruise missiles and maybe a day or two of bombing by fighter-bombers. They were unprepared for a campaign of the intensity and duration that began the first Sunday in October [...] I think they shot their best shot on 9-11, and had no follow-on attacks planned because years of experience had shown them that they did not need to hurry."

Having totally miscalculated our wrath, they suddenly find themselves facing insurrection in Afghanistan, instituted and aided by US troops on the ground. Within ten weeks of 9-11, their Happy Home went boom.

Indepundit summarizes what happened when they lost their base (ironically, that’s the translation of ”Al Qaeda”): "Rumor has it that the leadership has ordered the surviving operatives to disperse around the globe to plan and carry out individual operations against American interests. Here is what they have accomplished so far:

Anthrax Al Qaeda might be responsible for five American deaths.

Richard Reid caught trying to ignite a ’shoe bomb’ on an airplane.

US Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan Car bomb kills eleven Pakistanis.

Karachi Bus Bomb kills eleven French and three Pakistanis.

Tunisia Synagogue Bomb kills fourteen Germans, four Tunisians, and one Frenchman.

Jose Padilla arrested entering the US.

I’m not impressed. This is not the same al Qaeda that had us shaking in our boots last fall. This is an organization that has taken a heavy hit and dispersed."

Nevermind the minor attacks listed, let’s look at targets missed. There have been many events that have caused my sphincter to tighten, because they represented very real or highly symbolic targets. The launch of our assault on Afghanistan in October, sure to trigger a Second Wave of assaults in the US; nothing happened. The first of several carrier battle groups passing through the Suez Canal, the most vulnerable moment those groups face; nothing happened. The speech by President Bush in November at the UN, in front of the collected leaders of the world; nothing happened. The convening of a Loya Jirga to determine the future of Afghanistan; nothing happened. Nuclear armed Pakistan and India on the precipice of war, needing only one ill-timed terrorist act to push them over the edge; nothing happened.

If you were truly a Big Player with skills and capabilities, these are the plays you might have made. Instead, we get shoe bombers and gang bangers who hardly even make it into the country before getting handcuffs slapped on them. Maybe this is part of the problem with the strategy of suicide assaults; your most talented attacker is, by definition, a One Hit Wonder. It’s the ultimate form of Brain Drain within an organization.

In the end, it would appear all you really face is … threats. A wave of word fear. Perhaps that’s the second wave. Threats of attack on the Golden Gate bridge, on apartment complexes, synagogues, fuel depots, shopping malls, etc., attacks via crop duster, shipping container, hijacked fuel tanker, and by gum, look out for the scuba divers! When one roots around in these warnings of fresh imminent attacks, they often contain vague information indicating the intelligence came from questioning either Abu Zubayah or Guatanamo detainees … who’ve all been in custody for many months, yet seem to still be in the loop for these imminent new threats.

I don’t buy it. Not all of it.

After all the recent bluff and bluster from Al Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith, if they can’t pull off something special for our birthday, with ten months lead time since their last attack, and a whole peck of urgency since then to show they’re still a Player, the world will know. If we wake up next Friday morning, and the news reports are about picnics and fireworks displays, I think we can be pretty certain: Al Qaeda is a dog that loves to bark, but has lost most of its teeth.

I’m reminded of the dog that loved to chase cars, and one day, was lucky enough to catch one. He didn’t have a clue what to do with it, it was much bigger than it looked when he started, and he was no longer sure he understood the beast at all except that it must be Pure Evil.

And all he could do was bark at it.

[Update: I’ve added a new entry on this topic, post July 4th]

Peanut Gallery

1  Indepundit wrote:

Excellent post... it looks like you finished the thought that I started. I'm not saying that we should let our guard down - but I'm starting to suspect that al-Qaeda is now much more bark than bite.

2  d-girl wrote:

I'll feel a lot closer to the way you feel if we are not mourning any new losses on 9/12 and when Saddam is dead.

Comment by d-girl · 06/28/2002 11:19 PM
3  Thomas wrote:

That's a great post. You have an excellent insight.

4  Pat wrote:

Your "brain drain" comment reminds me of some things I've heard about Japan during World War II. Because their fighters were trained to die rather than retreat, they tended to lose their best and most experienced soldiers early in the war. While it's unlikely Japan could have held onto its Pacific empire for any length of time, it seems likely the war was shortened because their best didn't stick around to learn from their mistakes.

Comment by Pat · 06/29/2002 01:55 PM
5  Dan Hartung wrote:

I still think the better translation of al Qaeda is "the Foundation", especially after learning that its original activities on formation a decade ago was as a mujahedin widows'n'orphans fund. But I do agree with most of this analysis. The trouble with relying on the idea that your enemies are incompetents, though, is that it only takes one non-incompetent to get through.

6  Joel Katzman wrote:

A interesting, funny and just plain stupid article. Muslim radicalism is increasing all around the globe. It will only take a couple of committed suicide bombers to blow up the tunnels leading into New York. They might even be able to do it and get out alive. Nuclear weapon technology is spreading. to assume none of these problems will never touch our shores is a form of brain death. Most people believe radicalism and fundamentalism is on the rise in almost every country. We can look at our own past history. Waco and the Timothy Mcveigh.

7  PhotoDude wrote:

I don't mean to paint a picture of total disregard for Al Qaeda. We should still treat them as a threat that urgently needs removal. But we've also had a tendency to treat them like some mysterious boogeyman, with dark capabilities. The truth is, sometimes they can't even light their shoes. Is the threat of Islamic fundamentalism a growing and long term issue? Yes. Are we done fighting it? No. But we've started off with a fine example, and I think it's good to tally up the facts, versus the perception. And then move on to the next stage. No, we're far from done.

8  Frank Holloway wrote:

I first had the thoughts you express here back when Al Qaeda released its first propaganda video. As they went on about how they would soon launch new attacks that would make Sept. 11 look like child's play, I immediately said to myself, "They're bluffing." The reason they were talking about future attacks was because they didn't actually have the resources to pull them off. After all, Sept. 11 didn't come with any warning. Also, I seem to recall hearing that when Egyptian Islamic Jihad (many of whose alumni are now in al Qaeda) assassinated Sadat, they had no follow-up plan. They just sort of assumed it would create such chaos throughout the country that they'd be able to take over. I think al Qaeda may have made a similar mistake. Of course, I'm hardly underestimating their capacity to hurt us again -- my biggest fear is that they'll start imitating the Palestinian strategy of "Death by a Thousand Cuts" through suicide bombings. But I agree that al Qaeda's capacity to pull off another Sept. 11-style attack is severely limited.

9  Clint Hutchison wrote:

Actually, 'al-qaa'idah,' which is usually written 'Al-Qaida,' comes from the Arabic verb 'qa'ada,' meaning 'to sit down.' 'Al-Qaida' has a distinct overtone of being a place where you *sit around* and plan, like a military headquarters. It is nothing like a foundation or building metaphor.

10  PhotoDude wrote:

OK, Clint, you're the second person to suggest I lack Arabic skills. And I'd have to agree. My translation was purely due to media brainwashing. But however you translate it, they've lost their base, their foundation is rubble, and they hardly have a place to sit around and plan in comfort like they did prior to last September.

11  RPD wrote:

Interesting article. I also suspect that our counter terrorism measures are somewhat more effective than they are generally being credited for. How much gets dealt with that never sees any media attention?

Comment by RPD · 07/02/2002 11:32 AM
12  Steve wrote:

And I'm also reminded of the dog that loved to chase cars,and one day, was lucky enough to catch one. He didn't have a clue what to do with it, it was much bigger than it looked when he started, and he was no longer sure he understood it. And he never got a chance to find out because when he bit the tire of the moving car it broke his neck.

13  richard wrote:

with years of planning and recruitment they found 19 or 20 people that would give their lives for thier cause on sept. 11. On flight 93, 43 randomly chosen Americans were willing to give their lives for their country. we've got a lot more 2000 lb precision guided gps bombs than they have suicidal zelots.

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