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10 July 2011


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The Twisted Genius

If the various manifestations of the "Arab Spring" are allowed to grow, I think Al Qaeda will die an even quicker death. We should support and nourish the "Arab Spring" without trying to take it over or direct it. That would be the surest way to screw this pooch.


Many of the facts being used in the current discussion of al-Qa'ida's imminent demise are not in fact new, they have been around in one from or another at least since the capture of KSM.

Regrettably, there is also a Greek chorus that loves to hew to the refrain, "whenever we hurt them, it makes them stronger."

Counterterrorism has become quite the little cottage industry, and there are those who have economic motives for the great war on terror to continue.

Every analyst loves to chase a juicy story, and their bosses like the attention they can garner downtown. I think John Brennan has brought a new level of maturity, but in the last administration the bars on credulity were so low as to be non-existent.

Today, it is the dreaded Homeland Security and TSA who ride to the sound of the guns. No story, no matter how impractical, that appears on a so-called "jihadist website" is too foolish. Witness the "implanted bombs."

In 2009 a would-be assassin tried to take out Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef--the Saudi CT guy. His was what might be called an "inserted bomb." He managed only to splatter himself all over the wall and burn the prince's fingers.

Perhaps it is Hollywood that is to blame for the widespread belief that any piercing of the pressure enclosure of an airliner will cause immediate destruction. It ain't so. Witness the recent Southwest flight with the very large hole in the aft fuselage. Destruction? Nope. Think about how much of what "implantable explosive" it would take to duplicate that incident, and how that explosion could possibly be coupled to the airframe.

Do I expect TSA to go into paroxysms of fear over this story? Sure, it's great security theater.

TTG is, of course, correct, the Arab Spring is AQ's greatest enemy, not those who would feign pry the diapers off ninety year-old wheelchair patients.


Al-Qaeda has become an American obsession - especially for the security/intelligence establishment and the huge terrorism industry that it has spawned. A detached appraisal of the current situation, set against the backdrop of the 9/11 decade, points to the conclusion that the prevailing threat estimate is grossly exaggerated. That holds for both likelihood and magnitude of any conjectured attack. My personal view is that a truly consequential threat, were it ever to materialize, would take a very different form. It would involve just a handful of persons from the greater Middle East with expert credentials in biology, chemistry or the like. One may run a large import-export business. They would have ready access to the United States where they may have institutional ties to universities/research laboratories as well as business connections. They would be motivated by grievances such a close relative or two killed by Blackwater in Baghdad, a drone attack, or something similar. They would have experienced deep humiliation at some point in dealings with American officials. They would be embittered by U.S. actions – direct or indirect - against Muslims re. Palestine, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Lebanon, even Egypt.
The plot could entail creating a nationwide anthrax style panic. Lethal material might be sent to the Pentagon, Central Command, the CIA and/or any high profile American politician. Killing a few persons would be the aim. In addition, packets of the material would be distributed in a small number of airports, sports stadiums and freight cars. As a practical matter, this in itself is child’s play. (Try it with some innocuous substance). The perpetrators would inform the media of their location. Once their existence is confirmed, they would declare that 25 similar packets have been placed in other locations. It may be true or it may just be a feint. Then watch the panic.
What could we do about it? No standard counter terrorism tactics would have any preventive effects. The hundreds of billions we have spent to make Americans safe and secure would have been wasted. The perpetrators will have been motivated by concrete American actions in the Middle East. They might demand their cessation. Does anyone in Washington think in terms of this possible threat? Nothing that I have heard or read suggests that they have. Why? One, it is hard to admit impotence – especially in American macho culture when the testosterone is churning. Two, there is the powerful terrorism industry. Reflection is not expensive and requires few resources. It makes neither money or careers.
Three,the United States in incapable of changing its 'pro-active' policies in the Middle East - for reasons of intellectual, emotional and political deficiency. Finally, politically, thinking along these lines has no pay off, and we live in an era when gaining electoral office eclipses any serious thought about what one might do once having attained it. For some, even the Presidency’s appeal is mainly as a good resume item – and a hack of a lot more fun than anything else they can imagine. Finally, as a people Americans cannot stand living with uncertainty.


Governments have a habit of achieving the exact opposite of their stated goals.

That applies to Israel as much as The United States and Australia.

"Confrontation" with militant Islam only strengthens and validates it. Gentle subversion is far more efficient and cheaper.

To put it another way; the Soviet Union did not collapse as a result of Reagans iron determination, it collapsed because the fiction that an economy that produced the Trabant was a workers paradise finally became unsupportable.

To put it yet another way; DVD's, iPads, thumb drives full or porn and Western TV sitcoms are better weapons in this game then drones and cruise missiles.


To put it yet another way; DVD's, iPads, thumb drives full or porn and Western TV sitcoms are better weapons in this game then drones and cruise missiles


Walurs you are a military genius. No danger that the system will take your advice however.


I have to tell you, Walrus, all those "weapons" are deployed in amazing numbers in the Middle East right now. We didn't send them. They are the logical outcome of the world communications revolution and, I suppose, the endemic sexual repression in the region.

Thumb drives, DVD's, iPads, and porn are everywhere among the youth. I tend to agree that these things have already gone far in shaking the system, but it's not our government's doing.

Whether such things will actually shake the foundations of Islam I am not certain, I am not even certain that would necessarily be an unmitigated good, but I am pretty certain they are having an amazing effect on governments.

Babak Makkinejad


The consumption of Western luxury goods by Muslims will not fundamentally alter them.

You can look at the very many European paintings from the 14-th century onwards (or perhaps even earlier) and note the depiction of Persian rugs as well as other luxury goods from the East. It mattered not to the disposition of Christians.

Comparison with the Soviet Union is not apt; Islam is not going to collapse and die due to Western pornography or the incomprehensible and at times reprehensible episodes of Friends.

Western peoples and sates are well advised to either accept that Muslims have a different and alien culture and tradition or to leave them alone.

Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans accept this.


MB, I think you have engaged in the scenario writer's art. It is not difficult to mentally create the motivations, expertise, resources and access. Far harder, i think, to find them all strung together in perfect synchrony in the real world. The "super villain" threat has long been popular, but it's no more likely for all its scariness.

A group of Iraqi M.D.s decided the punish the UK. They had the training perhaps. Their chosen weapon? Crude gasoline bombs that failed to function. Faisal Shahzad in Times Square, same difference.

These things are oft painted as narrow escapes for maximum publicity, but really, not so much.

Your worry is the same.


Babak Makkinejad,
Well said, it is the governmental organs that are being wracked with change, not Islam.

Charles I

Fine, but will we get your Constitution, our cash, and our collective sanity back?



The Times Square incident confirms more than it reveals. For it is in the mode of the underwear bomber incident and the Colorado/Queens incident. A mixed-up youngster who was given a list of bomb ingredients but ignored the “some assembly required” instructions – if he had them or could understand them. Together, they form a suggestive pattern from which we can draw a number of inferences.

1.The tangible terrorist threat to the United States, as opposed to the speculative one, is neither acute nor of great magnitude. Al-Qaidi, the original group that organized and executed 9/11, evidently lacks the capacity to deliver anything more than occasional pinpricks. This dog hasn’t barked because it can’t bark.

3.The volunteers who have undertaken recent missions are amateurs who received little training, lacked the skills to do much of anything, and were unknown to our intelligence agencies and to those of other friendly countries. These callow protagonists reinforce the conclusion that the ‘terrorist” groups are thankfully lacking in resources – human and otherwise.

4.Most of them are lacking much in the way of motivation to attack the United States, too. The Taliban agenda has always been Afghanistan or Pakistan. Whatever assistance and direction was given to this latest “walk-on” was so meager as to indicate that their agenda and orientation hasn’t changed markedly. A target of opportunity presented itself, so some Taliban leader gave it a try – and this ex-IBM kid out of their hair. The same can be said for the al-Qaidi spinoffs like AQM or al-Qaidi in North Africa.

5.The now demonstrable fact that some Taliban group(s) would strike our homeland hardly constitutes a surprise requiring a reappraisal of “the enemy.” When you have been killing people for eight and half years, it follows that the target may try and kill you – however half-hearted this attempt. That is human nature – as we demonstrated when we first went into Afghanistan.

6. Our warring across a large swath of the Islamic world has been conducted largely on the enemies’ terrain. This is not a rule that they have agreed to – whether the Taliban, al-Qaida franchises or, of course, classic al-Qaidi itself which started it all on 9/11. Shock that large scale violence could lead to violent acts on American soil is a sign of how dissociated from a complicated psycho-political reality we can be. Doesn’t Scripture itself say something about reciprocated violence?

7. “Ordinary” Muslims originating from the places under attack by the United States can be expected to volunteer themselves for terrorist acts. Their numbers will be small and the consequences probably not of the first magnitude. The worst prospect is what similarly motivated British Muslims did in the London underground in 2005 – very nasty indeed. In fact on a par with routine occurrences in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

8.The Department of Homeland Security remains a minimally competent mess. Our counter terrorism apparatus overall has dismaying flaws. Fixing them will not guarantee protection against the threat noted above; but it is still prudent to come to grips with the problem before the first books appear with the title: “AMERICA”S WAR ON TERROR: THE FIRST DECADE”

9 This most feeble infringement of American territorial immunity sparks a mildly hysterical reaction. The spontaneous hysteria has been intensified by politicians – including those in and around the White House – playing to the crowd. One, it is a mission impossible given the extent of the Islamist networks in the region and the availability of other havens - e.g. Baluchistan and Karachi, not to speak of those abroad.

Three, the crude logic that on whomever's soil a would-be terrorist gets 'training' is a legitimate target for American intimidation and/or occupation points to a nightmare of endless interventions. We could wind up chasing Islamists across much of Africa, Asia – and Europe. Do we really want to find ourselves in 2020 launching strikes against militant Muslims in Mindanao - where we got our start in counter-insurgency 110 years ago? After only fifteen years there, we did get control of 'Moroland' - if that is any consolation.

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