TigerHawk has a post which contains a couple of the articles I was going to cite (serve me right for procrastinating). He refers to an earlier post over at the Belmont Club in which he lays out some of the conditions which would have to pertain in order for a strategic victory over al Qaeda to occur, centering on the discrediting of its claim to destiny as a result of sustained and cumulatively humiliating military defeats:
Al Qaeda's switch to the wholesale slaughter of Muslim civilians did not happen by accident. In the early days it attacked military or governmental targets: Mogadishu, Khobar Towers, the African embassies, the USS Cole, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93's likely target (the World Trade Center was civilian, but a symbolic bastion of the infidel power structure and not a Muslim target in any case). Then the United States moved the fight to the heart of the Muslim world with invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Al Qaeda needed to achieve palpable victory over the United States and its allies in those theaters in order to sustain its credibility as an organization and the credibility of its ideology. When the United States proved impossible to dislodge by direct attacks, al Qaeda had no choice but to resort to terrorism against Muslim civilians, and that is proving to be its undoing.Woven into the heart of al Qaeda's ideology is the doctrine of takfir, the idea that Muslims who do not march in ideological/theological lock-step with its militant and austere form of Islam should be considered apostates, and so become legitimate targets of Jihad, along with and in more or less equal measure to out-and- out 'infidels.' Further, they view any hapless Muslims who become collateral damage in the cause of Jihad to be "involuntary martyrs," and so to earn the same privileges in the afterlife as those who willingly sacrifice their lives. In short, it was open season on anything that moved, and --shockingly-- this has had the effect of alienating al Qaeda among the very people for whom it was ostensibly fighting. By proactively and aggressively moving the fight into the enemy's home lands, the US has forced the Jihadis to make their stand among ordinary Muslims, and thus to focus the minds of those Muslims on the actual practices of a group which they may have passively supported from a distance...but found it much harder to back --let alone join-- when their loved ones were getting shredded while buying figs at the market.
An article in the latest issue of The New Republic by noted al Qaeda expert Peter Bergen, along with Paul Cruickshank, expands on the progressive erosion of al Qaeda's claim to legitimacy by citing various previous supporters --including some very high-status individuals-- of the Sunni Jihadi group's aims, who went unprecedentedly public in renouncing its vicious tactics. Conventional counterterror approaches have been augmented by community-based anti-radicalization efforts, which serve to contest the designs of Jihadi recruiters, notably in London, where radical mosques had proliferated like pigeons on Trafalgar Square. Al Qaeda and affiliated groups have been characteristically accommodating in alienating prospective supporters and operatives through the escalating succession of outrages they have executed and planned:
In December, Al Qaeda's campaign of violence reached new depths in the eyes of many Muslims, with a plot to launch attacks in Saudi Arabia while millions were gathered for the Hajj. Saudi security services arrested 28 Al Qaeda militants in Mecca, Medina, and Riyadh, whose targets allegedly included religious leaders critical of Al Qaeda, among them the Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abd Al Aziz Al Sheikh, who responded to the plot by ruling that Al Qaeda operatives should be punished by execution, crucifixion, or exile. Plotting such attacks during the Hajj could not have been more counterproductive to Al Qaeda's cause, says Abdullah Anas, who was making the pilgrimage to Mecca himself. "People over there ... were very angry. The feeling was, how was it possible for Muslims to do that? I still can't quite believe it myself. The mood was one of shock, real shock."
Whatever their beef with the Saudi regime, it is simply astonishing even to an infidel like myself that al Qaeda would be so outlandishly self-defeating as to target the Hajj for space's sake. I can think of no finer way to announce to the mass of Muslims that you are unfit to bear their standard than to spill Muslim blood in the vicinity of the Rock. And yet, these are the the depths to which al Qaeda has shown itself willing to sink in its depraved bloodlust.
In a recent interview with the WaPo, CIA Director Michael Hayden provided an upbeat assessment of the comprehensiveness with which al Qaeda is losing ground before the onslaught of overt and covert efforts to defeat it worldwide. Citing the dramatic progress in Iraq, increasingly muscular internal counterterror efforts by the Saudis, as well as covert actions in the Pakistani frontier provinces (about which he is reassuringly tight-lipped --some covert ops I am more than comfortable with knowing very little about, despite my powerful curiosity), Hayden lays out a bracing catalog of body-blows to al Qaeda's organization and members. Similarly, in a piece in Investor's Business Daily, the author enumerates the multiple fronts on which terrorist organizations across the globe are falling like...well, dominoes to global efforts to undermine and defeat them:
Has there ever been such an epidemic of terrorist surrender? And the trend is growing. For the first time, the possibility of a world without major terror organizations is real. The world has shrunk for them, while the nations that fight back are getting stronger.
Significantly, those doing much of the winning are U.S. allies — the ones we supposedly don't have.
The British have sprung to life after years of ineffectiveness. They now show their old mettle as they break the Taliban.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi, Colombian and Philippine militaries have become effective anti-terrorist fighters after U.S. training. Those countries' forces were directly responsible for victory in Mosul, and big reversals in the jungles of Colombia and Philippines.
U.S.-trained anti-terror forces now form a united, global front of sorts. It's a bad time to be a terrorist.
So where are the naysayers now with their conventional wisdom that the war can't be won? The tables are turning on terrorists all over the world. As victories crescendo, it should be trumpeted loudly: The surge is working.
Taken as a whole, I must confess that I am pleasantly surprised at the swiftness with which our internally-riven and self-doubting Western societies have made real progress against such a widely distributed, multifarious, and ideologically driven foe. Much work lies ahead, and I fear that al Qaeda may yet land a catastrophic blow here and there as it struggles to regain some of its deteriorating Arab Street Cred. And I haven't even gotten into the matter of Iran, and its quest to claim the mantle of Jihadist primacy through its machinations. Also, there is the wild card of what might happen if a hopelessly geopolitically unsophisticated Obama should saunter into the Oval Office, a prominent "Kick me" sign --conveniently written in multiple languages, including Arabic and Farsi-- prominently displayed on his back.
But I'll take these signs for the real hope that they offer, and save the last of my Paddy's Irish whiskey for a day when "the base" finally sinks back into the earth.
EDITED (5/30/2008, 2:10 PM) for clarity, Typos, and closer approximations of humor.