The Airing of Grievances
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Pimping For The Atlantic Monthly
I finally got around to reading a fascinating piece in the most recent issue of the Atlantic Monthly. It's written by a Wall Street Journal staffer who was able, after the fall of Kabul in November 2001, to somehow purchase two computers used by senior Al Qaeda figures (senior meaning bin Laden and Zawahiri level). He goes into great detail about the contents of one of the computers (the CIA confiscated the other before he got a chance to make backup copies), including email correspondence between bin Laden and Mullah Omar, Zawahiri and his lieutenants, and downright spooky poetry written by a jihadist who had committed himself to an impending suicide operation. Here's a link to the article [EDIT: thanks Nordy], you can either subscribe (highly recommended, the Atlantic is one of the most intellectually stimulating magazines out there) and read the full version, or just pick up a copy from your local newsstand.

My thoughts after reading the piece:

- Given their disorganization and continual "corporate" bickering, pulling off 9/11 took way more luck than it did skill.
- The Iraq War and the way in which it was approached really was a dream come true for these guys. Relatively defenseless target? Check. Heightened perception that the US might be overstepping its bounds? Check. Increased hostility from the world community towards Americans? Check. A rallying point for Muslims? Check. Breeding ground for new terrorists? Check. They thought, incorrectly, that the invasion of Afghanistan would be the quagmire that helped bring the United States down, a la the Soviet Union. While it's still not secure by any means, Afghanistan will be nothing compared to the disaster that Iraq will be if we don't stabilize the situation soon.
- The impression I got was that pre-9/11 Al Qaeda was the angry Muslim equivalent of the He-Man Woman Hater's Club from "The Little Rascals". Strong-willed and purposeful, to be sure, but basically a bunch of disorganized idealogues with a little bit of cash. And not even that much cash. Much has already been written about how we overestimated their financial capacity, this article confirms it. An email conversation between Zawahiri and one of his minions is printed, with the two haggling over $300 phone bills.

To be sure, these are evil fuckers who would like to kill as many Americans as possible (although, strangely, they cite 10 million non-combatant casualties as some sort of "cap" to their eye-for-an-eye-style agression - anything up to that is A-OK according to their twisted interpretations of Muslim law). And I truly think, with full props to our military, intelligence, and law enforcement efforts, that we've done a pretty good job capturing or neutralizing senior Al Qaeda figures. We need to do better, particularly with younger, and presumably more reckless, terrorists filling those ranks.
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