What is al Qaeda's grand strategy? An in depth interview with Saad al-Faqih, an expert on al Qaeda, provides some insight into this. Dr. al-Faqih (picture) highlights the role of Dr. Zawahiri in evolving the strategic thinking of bin Laden:
- Zawahiri impressed upon Bin Laden the importance of understanding the American mentality. The American mentality is a cowboy mentality-- if you confront them with their identity theoretically and practically they will react in an extreme manner. In other words, America with all its resources and establishments will shrink into a cowboy when irritated successfully. They will then elevate you and this will satisfy the Muslim longing for a leader who can successfully challenge the West. Zawahiri advised Bin Laden to forget about the 12 page statement as nobody had read it and instead issue a short statement identifying every American as a target. Even though this was controversial from an Islamic perspective, Zawahiri argued on pragmatic grounds that it had to be sanctioned. The statement in February 1998, which was only 3 or 4 lines, effectively sanctioned shedding the blood of every American.
This decision resulted in the east African embassy attacks of 1998. The result of these attacks were as follows:
- Zawahiri had prophesised correctly—the Americans over-reacted by bombing Afghanistan and Sudan and consequently shifted the focus of blame away from al-Qaeda. If the Americans had not over-reacted to that attack they would have won a great moral victory. Clinton himself identified Bin Laden as the enemy and, in effect, delivered a hero to the Muslims. Before the embassy attacks only a few intellectuals and people with scholastic and practical interests in Jihad remembered Bin Laden but after the attack Bin Laden was transformed into a popular hero. The Americans thereafter persisted in turning Bin Laden into an obsession. The immediate effect of this was that thousands of Muslims travelled to Afghanistan. I was told that before the Kenya and Tanzania bombings hardly one or two people from the Arab countries would make their way to Afghanistan in any given month but after the bombings almost ten people would make their way there on a daily basis….
He goes on to explain the motivation for 9/11 and the result of the American reaction:
- The next stage involved initiating a full scale polarization between Muslims and America. Therefore, even if al-Qaeda disappears there would be a huge interest in fighting the U.S. and its allies. This underpinned the planning of the 9/11 attacks. The purpose was not to kill thousands of people. Nobody saw the attacks as an assault against buildings and people, almost everyone saw it as a symbolic action. And everybody is agreed that the world changed after 9/11. The way the attacks were orchestrated had a lot to do with this—those young boys came with nothing and only relied on their will, secrecy, devotion and great perseverance. How on earth could 19 young men with box cutters wreak such humiliation on the sole Super Power of the world? The answer is linked to the “asymmetrical warfare” that I will address later. The 9/11 attacks forced America into a cosmic battle with Muslims. Of course America claims it is waging war against terrorism but actually Muslims perceive this war as an unprecedented assault on Islam. Ultimately the real issue here is the perception of Muslims and the vast majority of Muslims around the world feel besieged by America.
The result of this, according to al-Faqih will be internal turmoil in America and its eventual adoption of an isolationist policy:
- Now strategically I think America has not only lost but it is likely to vanish. It has started a campaign which has forced the majority of Muslims against it. But of course tactically it has scored major gains. A lot of these so-called strategic analysts mistake these tactical gains for strategic leverage. The point is that these people are not strategic analysts because they never bring the historical, ideological and social dimensions into their calculations. They only consider political and military factors....
There are many people in America who want to tackle the matter in a much more intelligent manner but they have been silenced by this pervasive McCarthyism. There are people that are very tired with this cowboy attitude. Once the next attack occurs they are likely to say that Bush has had two years of this cosmic battle against terrorism and we ended up with an even bigger attack. Now is the time to try a different approach. Now of course the right wingers, the Zionists and the arms lobby will refuse to give ground and then a clash inside America is likely to ensue.