'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Monday, 2 May 2011

Osama Bin Laden's Death - Ten Things That Happen Now

1. Obama is re-elected in a landslide
Strange how bin Laden's last impact was to influence a Western election. Just as jihadist acolytes had driven the encumbent Iraq-invasion supporting government in Spain from office when they bombed the Madrid trains, and just as bin Laden's video may have left Kerry stranded in the polls and precipitated Bush returning to office, in being killed during Obama's first term, his death will return the president to a second term. Clinton said it's, 'about the economy, stupid', but when you've killed the West's most wanted man after a ten-year hunt, well, that helps your popularity, too.
The chap in the spectacles [bottom right] isn't convinced by it all. "They promised me strippers at this party," he's thinking.

2. Al-Qaeda axis shifts
Many jihadii experts can name at least three centres of AQ activity - al-Qaeda Central (operating out of the autonomous regions of Pakistan); AQ in the Islamic Maghreb (operating principally from Algeria but with transnational reach in the Sahel); AQ in the Arabian Peninsula (operating ostensibly from Yemen, protected by the powerful Awlaki tribe in the region).
Bin Laden has been a marginal figure at best in recent years. The absence of an al-Qaeda spectacular in a decade has led to dwindling funds from sympathetic Saudi figures and other wealthy Gulf admirers. Since his position as the 'world's most wanted man' (I thought that was Prince Harry now, judging by the outpouring of love at the Royal Wedding), he has been dropped from the command structure, operating merely as a symbolic figurehead of spiritual and motivational significance. Even his audio releases merit less air time on Jazeera.

3. Drone use accelerated
Drones have been operating with impunity in the Pakistan borders and will almost certainly been used in this operation in a reconnaisance capacity. To limit their game-changing effects, the al-Qaeda axis will have to shift to new areas, in fact, the drone element may produce an extremely fluid geographical command structure, to the detriment of the group. Leon Panetta has been a big fan of drones. Arguably, drone use is what has allowed bin Laden to be killed now.

4. Mainstream America labours under false assumptions
The cheering crowds of hundreds in front of the White House chanting, "USA, USA" show the palpable relief on the face of a nation. Undoubtedly, the national psyche, so used to "getting things done" and overcoming obstacles by sheer tenacity and willpower, was emasculated by its inability to find "one man in a cave" and who had escaped in Spin Boldak on the Af-Pak border after British special forces may have been asked to stand aside so that US special forces, who then waited for substantial air support, could capture the prize during Operation Anaconda. But bin Laden is really unrelated to the changes that have affected al-Qaeda and the greater jihadist movement.

Dangerously, the world now comes to write Osama bin Laden's obituary. Throughout his later life he was able to harness history to his cause. Through 9.11, an act that he may have funded, the United States prosecuted two exhausting wars, firstly in Afghanistan, that is still ongoing, and in Iraq, which have redirected the emphasis in its military from a peerless symmetric fighting force to the role of counter-insurgency specialism.

Bin Laden's ideology was found wanting, in that jihadism failed to articulate any state-centric blueprint for rule. Jihadists have never toppled government because their means and aims are one and the same - jihadist terrorism that seeks no concessions. The making of a global ummah is as unrealistic and unattainable a goal now as it was a decade ago. It seeks to homogenize under a single banner a religion that is fractured. It ignores politics or working nation-states and devises an as yet unarticulated relationship between the individual and God. For all his peerless spiritual and moral leadership to the jihadis, the group and its affiliates must seek a new direction...

5. Jihadist in-fighting momentarily ceases
They will be debating what comes next at Langley and Vauxhall Cross. Either jihadist leaders seek to move themselves centre-stage in the wake of the figurehead's demise, or they coagulate, support and unify. Initially, and with the drone spectre still hanging over them, it seems unlikely that any figure will want to assume leadership. The groups will produce a new wave of invective against the West and stress the aims of their movements, which, as noted, has become an untenable, "jihad for jihad's sake".
6. Ayman al-Zawahiri assumes de facto leadership
He may not want the position, but Zawahiri is now the figurehead of al-Qaeda. The real leaders will make themselves known by their words, actions and ability to garner funding in the difficult times ahead. For leading sympathisers that fund the group, al-Qaeda Central is becoming something of an irrelevence. Other groups offer more creativity and tenacity in the north-west frontier province. Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Laskar-e-Taiba (LeT) with training facilities in Kunar province, though only regionally-focused, are large and well-funded groups with high operational capacity in the region. 

7. Al-Awlaki becomes main focus
Operating from Yemen, al-Awlaki now certainly represents the new threat from al-Qaeda. It is not the once in a decade spectaculars that he will propagate, instead he will continue to flatten the jihad structure and as a consequence inspire many more operations but of a less serious magnitude. Whilst he will still focus on trying to achieve hits on soft Western targets, most terrorism will now assume a regional-focus whilst the CIA has the momentum. Gulf patrons of al-Qaeda will be more favourable to coalescing around al-Awlaki than the former Egyptian-based al-Zawahiri - the latter will struggle to hold onto to these important financial bases which may result in him being increasingly isolated. Zawahiri understands the failings of AQ in recent years - his commentary on the 'Arab Spring' as recently as last month has still failed to hijack the uprisings. Jihadism is failing as an idea, many will now look to al-Awlaki to offer some reorientation.

8. Pakistan and U.S. relations worsen
When Pakistan was formed from the Indian-Muslim population in the postcolonial-melting pot after the Second World War, it sought to ally itself with the US to balance power from its regional rival India. Ever since, the US and Pakistan have enjoyed some sort of relationship. Indeed, when the US sought to support radical mujahideen elements in their war against the Soviet puppet in Afghanistan, the CIA channelled its funds through the ISI. Relations must now be at a low ebb. Bin Laden was living in a walled villa in a town sixty miles from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Early reports indicate that he had been living there for at least eight months.
It must be assumed that at no point were the Pakistani authorities allowed to know of CIA intelligence nor party to the special forces hit. This suggests that ISI/CIA cooperation will now move to a much lower level. Drone strikes will escalate in the autonomous regions and may even move to Pakistan proper. The CIA will argue that high level operatives are obviously being hidden in Pakistan with the knowledge of elements within the ISI, so the operations should likewise move to within the country. The CIA gets a huge boost from this operational success. Zawahiri and al-Awlaki next in line for the CIA AQ-hunters. Mi6 role in the intelligence aspect of the operation will be interesting, considering their largest base abroad is in Islamabad, 60 miles from where the world's most wanted man was living. Surely this demonstrates the continued difficulty of operating in culturally distinct regions.

9. US nationalism met with increased anti-Westernism
Well Gaddafi, if al-Qaeda were in charge of the uprising against you then the US have done you a great favour. Images of US celebrations beamed worldwide and nationalist chanting do little to offset anti-Westernism, though Obama's muted, defiant statement in the White House was very media savvy affording the al-Qaeda propagandists absolutely nothing to work with. Similarly, OBL's burial at sea allows no physical recovery of the body for propaganda purposes.

10. Pippa Middleton photographs are moved off the front pages of the tabloids.
But probably only briefly.


No comments:

Post a Comment