POL 362-Terrorism and International Relations
The immediacy and the primacy of any truly potent force is the ability to perpetuate itself. Sharp and energetic outbursts have their place, and can be known to have great effect-cataclysmic forces, despite their maximum destructive potential, are temporary in their total effects in relation to some absolute goal. In other words, they are generally limited in scope, and well defined in purpose; there is a tactical objective, which is usually consummated quickly. The more dreaded force creeps along, escalating incrementally, and while it may abide a strategic goal, or even a policy, it is generally open-ended. This sort of ambiguity I am referring to differs from the flexible tactical necessity in that strategic outcomes are very much affected by tactical ones, on an organizational level. Strategy is a matter of planning, of organization. Tactics have more to do with training and prowess. Both are mutually interdependent, and serve different purposes. Generally speaking, the desired outcome of an action tailors the type of action; short-term goals, where focal presence and point control are desired will require tactical action. Goals that are intended to work as part of a broad system and at some length, generally at a remoter distance, will require the strategic approach. Needless to say, tactics are dynamic; strategies, not nearly so. A prudent force can and will exploit both when and as appropriate and to maximum effect. Thus, when it is opportune, the prudent force is tangible; it appears as a consolidated entity with measurable resources, goals and means. Opportunity manifests itself differently in any scenario, and so the prudent force will become intangible as required, becoming diffuse, compartmental, autonomous, and self-sufficient. Given the American experience, which is also intimately a global experience, al-Qaeda is a force which has displayed such characteristics. It is probably because of this flexible nature, no doubt fueled just as much by barefaced material exigency as by calculating choice, that the lifespan of al-Qaeda after September 11th has been hotly debated. Differing accounts on either pole focus on al-Qaeda’s continued relevance as the premier terrorist network, whether it is any longer effective or not. From there, the natural conclusion comes around to asking how effective al-Qaeda is, and by which mechanisms does it project that effectiveness. Aside from this, both parties agree that al-Qaeda has an uncanny habit of surviving in the turbulent international dialectic that spawned radical Muslim distress, vicariously.
If anything is clear, al-Qaeda has a tremendous insulating capability. It is like a fungus that germinates through spores, reaching ever remoter places, ready to bloom when the conditions are right. While in reality it is probably not so simple, this is the crux of Sageman’s argument. Sageman contends that the current breed of...