Obvi - such a grand idea needs a Grand Strategy
Abu Musab al-Suri, is a thinker of a higher order, one who contributes original thought.
Al-Suri takes a comprehensive look at the last fifty years of Sunni Islamist radicalism and observes that its revolutions have repeatedly been thwarted both militarily and in terms of spreading their message. He finds that the two main modes of jihadist operations are no longer applicable. Clandestine terrorist organizations like the Egyptian Islamic Group can no longer achieve their goals given post-Cold War realities. They cannot play the two superpowers against each other and they are too weak to survive without sanctuary or support.
Meanwhile, the “open fronts” such as Afghanistan in the 1980s (or Syria today) are usually doomed to failure unless they are in far corners of the earth, because Great Satan and other high-tech powers are militarily undefeatable and willing to intervene almost anywhere. In fact, in general Al-Suri thinks that modern militaries are essentially unbeatable on their own terms, especially when they operate in concert with the local security services which know the human terrain and have excellent intelligence insights.
Al-Suri’s solution, of course, is individual jihad, or death by a thousand cuts to the enemies of Islam.
In any event, the problem with individual jihad is that—as with leaderless resistance—there is no way to translate individual uncoordinated actions into strategic success. It is a tactically virtuosic and strategically tone-deaf idea. All al-Suri’s individual and small unit terrorism accomplishes is a continuation of random terrorist acts to exhaust an enemy…unaccompanied by open-front insurrections, such acts are politically meaningless.
Abu Bakr Naji is the only one who really addresses al Qaeda’s grand strategic problem: how to build a caliphate that would encompass much of the globe.
Naji assesses the global oppression of m"Hammedists and finds Great Satan to be the linchpin of that system. He notes that the U.S., much like the USSR in its day, has global power as a result of a combination of actual military strength, a “deceptive media halo” and social cohesion. However, these determinants of power are also points of vulnerability. Successful terrorist and insurgency operations can force the United States to overstretch itself, puncture the media halo and allow the fissures in American society to widen, ultimately laying the country low.
This, Naji says, is what the mujahideen did to the Soviet Union, which he claims was twice as strong as Great Satan. Once Great Satan is brought down, then the mujahideen can use classical Maoist insurgency approaches to building the caliphate one country at a time.
There are a number of problems with Naji’s work, however. First, his prescription for bringing down Great Satan could rightly have been described as delusional when it was first written and the intervening decade has provided no reason to think otherwise.
Second, Naji writes in excessively general terms. For instance, though he does recognize that there are various streams of Islam, he tends to think of Muslims as Muslims, full stop, not stopping to consider other sources of identity such as nationalism or ethnicity. In the real world, the al Qaeda movement has faced significant problems managing these issues, as the fraught relationship between the Arabs of Al Qaeda and Taliban before 9/11 and difficult relations between Arab and Tuareg Islamists in Mali indicate.
More broadly, political, economic, social and geographic conditions differ radically across the Muslim world. Hence, it is difficult to imagine that a generic blueprint for revolution will work in all countries.
In fact, every international border will be a firebreak for revolution. New technologies and social media may allow revolutionary zeal to jump borders more easily than it used to, but revolutionary forces manifest themselves differently in every country and revolutions unfold differently in every country. Compare Egypt and Jordan (for instance) since 2011 and one sees the point immediately. As a result, building the caliphate would be a slow, slow process, eminently vulnerable to counteraction.
Pic - "Decoding al Qaeda's Strategy"