Monday, February 25, 2013

Steve Coll on the Terrorist Groups Formerly Known as al-Qaeda

At The New Yorker, Steve Coll makes the point that "al-Qaeda" has become strictly "yesterday."   Money quote:

This March marks ten years since the United States led an invasion of Iraq based on bad intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. That dark anniversary offers a reminder, if one is required, that in any conflict where a President claims war powers the Chief Executive’s analytical precision in describing the enemy is a grave responsibility. A franchise is a business that typically operates under strict rules laid down by a parent corporation; to apply that label to Al Qaeda’s derivative groups today is false. If Al Qaeda is not coherent enough to justify a formal state of war, the war should end; if the Administration wishes to argue that some derivative groups justify emergency measures, it should identify that enemy accurately.

Jihadist violence presents an enduring danger. Its proponents will rise and ebb; the amorphous threats that they pose will require adaptive security policies and, occasionally, military action. Yet the empirical case for a worldwide state of war against a corporeal thing called Al Qaeda looks increasingly threadbare. A war against a name is a war in name only.

Earlier in the piece, Coll points out that with the Obama administration's hammering on what has become a perpetual (and self-perpetuating) state of war with "al-Qaeda," the late medieval Hundred Years War may come to seem like child's play.  Yet as long as Obama and his successors can dangle before a largely ignorant and easily inflamed American public a Medusa-faced al-Qaeda, we as a nation will never be able to move completely on from the events of 11 September 2001.  More significantly, we may never be able to move off the path down which we have been headed these last years. That path ends with the US as global proconsul enforcing its will through an over-glorified military elite complemented by off-the-radar special forces inflicting instant - and sometimes unjustifiable - destruction from the skies.

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