Sunday, January 13, 2008

al Qaeda... Dangerous defining of the enemy

I find it fascinating how most view every one's favorite "bad guy", al Qaeda. Were I to believe the media, our only problem is Bin Laden and Zawahiri. No one else is the enemy of the west.

Example? When it comes to Benazir's death, it appears there is
some sort of a drive to pin it solely on al Qaeda, as if for some reason that magically absolves neo-Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud.

This insistence to disassociate these two (INRE Bhutto's death) exposes a larger problem, IMHO. That being the void of understanding of just who and what al Qaeda is, how they operate, and why it is inherently dangerous to attribute every terrorist event vaguely to "al Qaeda".

Just as al Qaeda (or al Qaida) means "the base", it must also be recognized that it is not a single terror group, but an umbrella group. To use an American analogy, al Qaeda can best be defined as an "association" (think AMA, ADA, AARP, etal). Just as the AMA has figureheads and full time employees for the association, al Qaeda has their "association" leaders, Bin Laden and Zawahiri.

Also like American associations, Al Qaeda associate member groups combine *their* individual resources, intel and manpower to cooperate in shared goals - in this case, the various theatres of jihad. describes al Qaeda as "a multi-national support group which funds and orchestrates the activities of Islamic militants worldwide."

Back to the AMA (American Medical Assn) analogy. The AMA, like any association, is made up of
many member groups. Can the AMA accomplish any of it's particular agenda without the aid of the member groups and their resources? Of course not. Can any of the individual member groups act individually, and not under the banner of the AMA? Of course.

Bringing this same logic to Bhutto's assassination, could Baitullah Mehsud have done this on his own, under the Taliban banner, and not under any "association" with al Qaeda? Yes. But considering the PPP's stance that they would have worked with the MMA/JUI's Maulana Fazlur Rehman on seat adjustment if Benazir was elected, an assassination by Mehsud's Taliban, and hindering the prospect of placing Pakistan under Islamic law via legal means, probably wouldn't have gone over well. Tho Mehsud wanted Benazir dead, it was not necessarily to his benefit to take the credit.

On the other hand, could Mehsud's forces been the supplier of intel, manpower and other logistics for al Qaeda's assassination designs on Bhutto? Absolutely. Nor would it go against Mehsud's plan as he is on record with previous assassination attempts, and his continued desire to kill Benazir. It would be, in fact, a win-win for Mehsud to accomplish his goal to assassinate Benazir, yet let al Qaeda take the rap. Yet they are, for all intents and purposes, one and the same.

All of this goes back to how AQ works... a co-op of like minded militants pooling resources to accomplish a goal. As's profile states near the end:

Some terror experts theorize that Al-Qaeda, after the loss of it Afghanistan base, may be increasingly reliant on sympathetic affiliates to carry out it's agenda.

If Baitullah Mehsud did supply the physical logistics for AQ's assassination plan, does this also mean we should give Mehsud and his Taliban 'member group associate status' a pass, and only attribute this to al Qaeda? Again using the AMA analogy, this is akin to blaming AMA lobbyists who succeed in getting hotly contested legislation passed that primarily benefits the Women Physicians Congress, yet not holding the WPC liable for their own contribution.

I can hear you now... what's your point, Mata? Well, it's this. We are falling into a label trap - i.e. just focusing our battlefields on those engaged with the labeled "al Qaeda". This narrow definition of the enemy to be pursued proves dangerous when defining our enemies, and most especially, our foreign policy.

Example? Take this nation's attitudes towards the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was AOK in every one's book to go after al Qaeda in Afghanistan after 911.... even tho what we really did was go after their hosts, the Taliban, instead.

But our Congress felt it was *not* okay to battle those same al Qaeda "umbrella" elements that existed and operated under Saddam's (and the UN's OFF) convenient "blind eye" in Iraq... a country ripe with natural resources (oil and fresh water) and possessing the technology and money to produce bio-weaponry and nuke weaponry. Why? Quite simply because the Iraq umbrella elements didn't label themselves "al Qaeda", and thereby warranted no attention from the US Congress. (i.e. the most well known Iraqi AQ "associate member", Zarqawi).

al Qaeda member groups don't sign contracts, issue press releases or pay dues to be "a member" of this umbrella. While still conducting their own individual local events, they also happily throw in their resources to a shared goal with al Qaeda when approached - thereby joining the association membership without fanfare.

So my point? When we get too specific about labels, we only go after figure heads of the "association", and ignore the lifeblood of the organization - member groups. Lopping off the heads, so to speak, may cause some temporary chaos in the association. But it will continue none the less. And ignoring the very foundation of al Qaeda - their associate members - is no way to fight the global Islamic jihad movement.

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