Sheathing the Sword of Damocles: Assessing Al Qaeda and Devising a US Response
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Al Qaeda killed over 3,000 US citizens on September 11, 2001, and terrorism leapt to the fore of US strategic and political priorities. Yet, after nearly six year of concerted effort by the United States, the dominant power in the international system, Al Qaeda survives and is still acknowledged as a potent threat. This begs the question not just of why, but of what the United States can do to redress the situation. This dissertation seeks answers by examining the four key aspects of Al Qaeda that enable it function as a successful terrorist entity - strategy, organization, financing, and politics. These factors area analyzed relative to the dynamics of the phenomenon of terrorism in the US-Al Qaeda struggle. For each variable, Al Qaeda's perspective and efforts, as well as the perspective and efforts of the United States, are scrutinized. This dissertation assesses Al Qaeda is primarily a political threat, not a military one. Terrorists subvert legitimate political processes to achieve political ends. Al Qaeda challenges not only specific US political decisions, but also the very nature of the US political system, a classical liberal democracy, and the nature of the US-created post World War II international order. The character of the US political response is critical. As such, this dissertation concludes that US efforts to combat such a threat cannot be limited solely to a hard power approach. Such a component must be present in US strategy, for it alone directly degrades Al Qaeda's capacity for violence, the source of its power. The US approach must, however, include a greater emphasis on the US-Al Qaeda struggle's political dimension. The political aspect both drives the conflict and frames its execution, thus shaping the possible outcomes in both the near and far term. Fortunately, as the leader of the international system, the United States is in a position to politically undercut Al Qaeda. The United States can do so by adhering to globally revered traditional US political values and foreign policy emphases - the rule of law, a participatory political system emphasizing the importance of international institutions, and democratic values, such as human rights - in not just the execution, but also the formulation of US policy. The potential impact is significant. Internally, manipulating the US-Al Qaeda struggle's political dimension in accordance with traditional US values can weaken Al Qaeda's internal cohesion. Externally, the United States can narrow Al Qaeda's room for maneuver by depriving it of political support, thus strategically degrading Al Qaeda's operational capability. In the process, the United States will also stunt the terrorism process's subversive effects on the United States' political character. In short, addressing the US-Al Qaeda struggle's political dimension in a manner consistent with traditional US political values ensures US political integrity while also yielding national advantage.