Saturday, September 27, 2008

The War with al Qaeda

On September 11, 2001 al Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center, severely damaged the Pentagon and killed almost 3,000 Americans. In the seven years since, we have waged war on al Qaeda, yet they still control territory, run training camps, launch attacks, communicate with their followers, and have even developed a large international network. We failed to destroy al Qaeda and their Taliban allies because President Bush failed to focus America's power on the task, and, IMHO, because Americans generally, including John McCain, do not understand the conflict very well (1). In particular:
  • al Qaeda's primary weapon is the suicide bomber. Suicide bombers are hard to stop, but also hard to recruit as motivation must be very high.
  • The primary motivator for al Qaeda suicide bombers is the presence of mostly Christian American soldiers on Muslim land (2). The suicide bombers believe al Qaeda's claim that America is waging war on Islam and they must defend their religion.
  • al Qaeda's strategy for victory is to goad America with suicide attacks into over-reacting (3). This has been fabulously successful with America getting into fights with third parties like Iraq, and spending ourselves into bankruptcy.
  • The invasion of Iraq was a great gift to al Qaeda. It helps recruit suicide bombers and drives America into debt as taxes were not raised to pay for it.
  • The current economic crisis has the potential to hand al Qaeda victory. If the American economy tanks there will be no money for our vast overseas military deployment forcing an abrupt, disastrous withdrawal.

    What to Do

    First, our long term strategy must be to withdraw all American troops from Muslim lands. We are so deeply embedded that this will take quite some time. Also, al Qaeda and the Taliban must be destroyed, and this will require American soldiers in Afghanistan. However, simply announcing our intention to withdraw, along with a few near-term concrete steps, will remove most of the motivation and make recruiting suicide bombers extremely difficult. Why kill yourself for something that will happen anyway?

    Of course, there is a reason we have a massive military presence in the Persian Gulf (4). To understand why, ask yourself the following question: If the Persian Gulf had not a single drop of oil, how many American soldiers would be in the region? Answer: a few embassy guards, maybe. To withdraw we must eliminate, or at least severely limit, our use of oil. In the short term only conservation, basically driving less, can have much effect. In the medium term we can develop electric and hybrid plug-in cars and run them on ground solar and wind energy (5). In the long term we can completely solve our energy problems with Space Solar Power, which can deliver massive quantities of extremely clean energy to Earth for the next few billion years.

    Second, we must get out of debt. The bankruptcy al Qaeda seeks for us will be caused by excessive debt. Consider that the federal government owes $10 trillion, we have $12 trillion in mortgages, $1 trillion in credit card debt, and there's auto loans, city debt, state debt, commercial debt, etc. One observer calculates the total American debt today at $53 trillion -- $175,000 for every man woman and child, and growing rapidly (6). We will either reverse this trend soon or al Qaeda will win; America will go bankrupt. So spend less than you earn, get rid of your credit cards, pay off your debts, and insist that politicians cut spending and raise taxes. We must move back from this cliff or fall off.

    Third, Americans, including the elite, are woefully ignorant of the Islamic world (7). For example, the CIA suffers from a horrendous shortage of translators and none of Bush's top advisors speak Arabic. This is unfortunate as the third leg of victory is knowledge. Some sage once said 'Know thy enemy' and few truer words have been spoken. Study the islamic world, if possible learn one of the key languages then visit their web sites, get involved in the discussions, if possible visit and talk to people in person. We can only win when the suicide bombers stop volunteering, and that will only happen with overwhelming rejection of al Qaeda within the Muslim world. The government, by itself, cannot create the necessary support; but there are 300 million Americans. We can forge millions of links to the Islamic world. That's the last bit we need.

    Victory cannot come from going shopping, as Bush famously told us to do after 9/11. Victory requires hard work and sacrifice, not just by the soldiers but by everyone. Get to work.


    (1) In this discussion I assume that the purpose of our military is to defend America against attack, not run the world. If what you really want is a global empire, a much different approach is needed.

    (2) This is what McCain doesn't understand, as evidenced by his remarks about staying in Iraq for 100 years. As long as American soldiers stand on Muslim land there will be suicide bombers attacking the U.S.

    (3) The US military's counter insurgency manual notes that sometimes one should not react to insurgent attacks. Many such attacks are not designed to do damage so much as to prompt an over-reaction that kills innocents and generates hatred of the U.S.

    (4) We not only have well over a hundred thousand soldiers in Iraq, we have major military bases throughout the Persian Gulf, special forces in Iran (reportedly), trainers in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, and a major naval presence in nearby waters.

    (5) Nuclear plants are just al Qaeda targets, and nuclear fuel and waste make great dirty bombs. Oil, natural gas and coal could help, but they will run out fairly quickly. Furthermore, taking carbon out of the ground and releasing it into the atmosphere worsens global warming. Solar and wind are good for the lifetime of the Earth and are so spread out that they are very difficult for terrorists, or even enemy nations, to seriously damage.

    (6) The median family income in the U.S. is about $50,000/year, hardly enough to pay off that $175,000 per person anytime soon.

    (7) It should be noted that the Islamic world is, if anything, even more ignorant of America and the West.

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