Global Issues, US Politics

The Looming Tower

I just saw a wonderful talk by Lawrence Wright who was in Toronto accepting the Gelber Prize for his book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and The Road to 9/11. It is refreshing to see such a soft spoken yet tremendously authoritative treatment of this topic. An exemplar of the type of analysis fundamentally required if we are going to defeat the scourge of Al-Qaeda.

The lecture can be watched here, it will be an hour well spent.

Some interesting comments made by Wright:

According to internal Al-Qaeda documents, 80% of the organization in Afghanistan were killed or captured in the first major phase of Operation Enduring Freedom. At this point, the War on Terror was won, and it should have continued as a police/intelligence operation. Between December 2001 and 2003, the organization existed in a “zombie state”. Since the invasion of Iraq, they have experienced an astonishing rebirth, now having a base of operation and a recruitment tool.

Al-Qaeda has a 6 stage 20 year plan, written before 9/11:

1. 2001-2003 – Hit the US and create a chaotic reaction.
2. 2003-2006 – Recruit and build support based on the US reaction
3. 2006-2013 – Move conflict into Syria, Turkey and Isreal
4. 2013-2015 – Bring down governments in Arab countries
5. 2015-2016 – Isreal collapses
6. 2017-2020 – Apocalyptic battle between Islamic Armies and the West
7. 2020 – Victory. “falsehood” ends and Islamic governments rule the world.

Delusion, certainly. But at which stage does it move from the possible to the fantastical? 3, 4, 5?

He argued that there are three critical things that can be done immediately:

1. The most important thing that can be done to defeat Al-Qaeda is to develop real intelligence capacity, something that hasn’t yet been done. Only 25 people in the FBI speak Arabic, and most of them not well enough to interrogate. CIA made up of Irish and Italians, good for fighting the mafia and he mob, useless for Al-Qaeda. “We need skilled people on the ground. Until this happens, we are blindfolded.”

2. Develop allies, seriously. This fundamentally cannot be done with either a war mentality, or alone.

3. Real engagement with Isreal-Palestine, including immediate refutation of the settlements. While Bin Laden doesn’t care very much about the conflict, like Iraq, it is a significant recruitment tool.

These are just a few notes, check out the lecture.

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