Mueller on Afghanistan

(Cross-posted)

Read. This, in particular, is critical:

The very notion that al Qaeda needs a secure geographic base to carry out its terrorist operations, moreover, is questionable. After all, the operational base for 9/11 was in Hamburg, Germany. Conspiracies involving small numbers of people require communication, money, and planning — but not a major protected base camp.

At present, al Qaeda consists of a few hundred people running around in Pakistan, seeking to avoid detection and helping the Taliban when possible. It also has a disjointed network of fellow travelers around the globe who communicate over the Internet. Over the last decade, the group has almost completely discredited itself in the Muslim world due to the fallout from the 9/11 attacks and subsequent counterproductive terrorism, much of it directed against Muslims. No convincing evidence has been offered publicly to show that al Qaeda Central has put together a single full operation anywhere in the world since 9/11. And, outside of war zones, the violence perpetrated by al Qaeda affiliates, wannabes, and lookalikes combined has resulted in the deaths of some 200 to 300 people per year, and may be declining. That is 200 to 300 too many, of course, but it scarcely suggests that “the safety of people around the world is at stake,” as Obama dramatically puts it.

Read the whole thing, as the kids say. The only thing I’d add is that by trying to paint al-Qaeda as some epically powerful actor and a big enough threat to justify a nationwide occupation, the Obama administration is playing into the group’s PR message and making it a whole lot more attractive to form one of the wannabe/lookalike groups that contributes to that 200 to 300 figure. I’d wager anything that if we were to begin a gradual replacement of military forces with development officers, governance experts, and other state-building staffers from multilateral institutions and NGOs, and more importantly if Obama stopped making speeches painting al-Qaeda as some kind of existential threat, the casualty figures would be considerably smaller than 200 to 300.

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