Virtually every movie of the Friday the 13th movie should have been the last. And yet, despite the best efforts of both lucky teenagers and determined writers, Jason Voorhees just keeps coming back. Why? Because a hardcore group of people out there keep demanding to see him.
Al Qaeda is not so different. Bin Laden is dead, its central leadership is decimated, the Pakistani Taliban increasingly uninterested in much more than trying to rule Waziristan, and yet, for some reason, America feels the need to shutter every embassy in the Middle East and North Africa. (Thanks, U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi, for flooding my inbox).
Since October 2001, when American military operations started in Afghanistan, America has been winning the war against Al Qaeda. And yet despite multiple successes, and al Qaeda’s many failures, the group, like Jason, just keeps coming back.
Never a geopolitical threat, but a damned big political one
Al Qaeda never could achieve its geopolitical aims. It’s economic program would see everyone from Pakistan to Morocco riding donkeys and dying at the age of 30 rather than forging a Muslim Grande Armee to invade North America. Utterly irrational, al Qaeda couldn’t even control its Iraqi branch enough to prevent the full on Shi’a-Sunni civil war in 2006-07 that the Sunnis were decisively losing. Without America’s surge to stem the bloodletting, and the timely allegiance switch of many a Sunni sheikh to America’s Awakening Councils, the Sunni community of Iraq may well have ended up changing address en masse to Syria. This poor strategy was proof enough that al Qaeda was inherently self-destructive.
Alas, al Qaeda, those crazy bastards, embarrassed and enraged a superpower on 9/11. Every American politician is aware that appearing to be anything less than murderous in regards to al Qaeda is to open themselves up to the accusation that they somehow desire another 9/11. Regardless of party, politicians in the West must talk and act tough when it comes to al Qaeda – hence France’s invasion of Mali earlier this year.
Why won’t they just die?
America has hunted down al Qaeda everywhere it can. Because al Qaeda’s totally irrational, they’ve got almost no friends. Their once formidable bridges in the Persian Gulf were burned when they bombed Saudi Arabia; Sudan found incentive to expel them; even Pakistan’s government loathes them.
In the emirates, I used to see these commercials in Arabic called “Say No to Terror” on TV. I even taught lessons using the website. The commercials are simple: they treat terrorism the same way the Reagan administration treated drugs. Think of your mother, life, the poor people you’ll hurt, etc., says the campaign. It was proof enough that Gulf governments considered the threat quite real. Their bored and restless youths, instilled with a strict version of Sunni Islam clearly not being practiced by their leaders, are all too enticed to join something pure. (One of my best educated students once shocked me by saying that Salafism was the “true” version of Islam, despite this not being the school’s official religion).
Elsewhere, being bored, badly educated, and in nasty surroundings will make anyone crazy
Al Qaeda’s main recruits come from poorly run places that are miserable to live in. On occasion, hardcore Westerners show up and impress everyone with their passports, but these are not the foot soldiers that are taking territory in Yemen or killing oil workers in Algeria. Even these foot soldiers aren’t so numerous. Their bits of territory in Yemen seem to be more tribal than part of Al Qaeda’s grand world domination scheme.
Bomb away, Mr. President
After the Afghan and Iraq adventures, it’s clear that Al Qaeda’s brand of terrorism is best combated through a combination of pinpointed air strikes, commando raids, and good old-fashioned intelligence work. Bush’s military overreaction was a result of Cheney and Rumsfeld’s imperial hubris and Bush’s own conviction that he was waging a grand war on evil. Al Qaeda is a nasty bunch, but Satan’s legions they are not. Obama has adjusted course and has wisely been happy to bomb al Qaeda’s leaders whenever they sit still.
But how long until they go away?
Al Qaeda may never actually totally die out. Even the Nazis, who were given history’s most epic ass whooping, still have various branches here and there. Like murder, al Qaeda’s brand of terrorism ends up being managed by states rather than eradicated. Until civilization reaches deep into the world’s various hearts of darkness, al Qaeda won’t go anywhere. The game will be that the world’s governments must get them before they get any of us. Sadly, like the Jason franchise, we haven’t seen the last of them.