Has the "GWOT" been at all effective in defeating Al Qaeda? By what measurement?
We have allowed Al Qaeda to morph from an entity who was comfortably ensconced in a semi-autonomous failed state, more or less coalesced in a general area.....into an entity that has proliferated and bounded outside our scope of observation and span of influence. When Al Qaeda planned the 9/11 attacks, they knew that we would retaliate in some form or fashion by kinetic means. We knew that the cadre was located, by and large, in Afghanistan. And they knew that we knew.
So Al Qaeda, knowing that we could not resist the temptation to bring our military to bear in a tantrum of massive and overwhelming force, made their comfortable accommodations known to us. The serious minded of us know that terrorist cells need only a collection of safe-houses and primitive communications systems in which to plan and operate. Terrorists know that we can interdict satellite phone transmissions at will. So my premise has been, and remains, that Al Qaeda knowingly lured us into a massive military undertaking in Afghanistan. That's really the only way to grind down a superpower. No amount of tactical attacks against the soft underbelly of American culture will succeed, it will only further erode the concept of liberty for it's citizens...as we are seeing daily; which in turn is a peripheral victory in the campaign.
By the time of the Tora Bora campaign, a relative few Al Qaeda cadre remained behind to propagate the myth that they could be militarily surrounded and defeated. Those few have now vanished and established cells and support structures in countless nations in the region, leaving us to spend a generation in futile combat against the hapless and unwitting Taliban. We are left struggling to compose public relations friendly faux-victories in the form of killing the revolving and apparently least enviable job in AQ - the #3 man.
Meanwhile our over-reliance on long distance technology gives us daily updates by breathless newsbabes, reporting that XX 'suspected militants' were vaporized by another drone attack. More often than not, the suspected militants were real civilians...thus justifying Al Qaeda's propaganda messages.
So the measurements for any sort of success can be summed up in about three metrics:
1: Are we more or less safe now than before 9/11? The answer if you listen to government is apparently less safe. Unless we purchase the next greatest technology from a corporation that will turn our tax dollars into more profit, we cannot hope to be kept safe from the terrifying menace. Unless we give up just a bit more individual sovereignty...our library checkout lists.....every meter reader an informant....our e-mails and phone conversations subject to surveillance...we apparently cannot hope to be kept safe from the cave dwelling offspring of goat herders.
2: Our military, after the aforementioned tantrum of muscle flexing, now stands mired in two occupied nations, unable to maintain a rapid reflexive and responsive posture to combat any future threat or any actionable intelligence. We remain engaged in a generational conflict against a host of entities who not only had not attacked us, nor maintained the means to do so...are unable to proliferate a threat outside of the borders they inhabit. Ironically, the patriotism has been and remains in question of those who bring these fact to light.
3: Is Al Qaeda diminished since 9/11? While people like to state that we've had no additional attacks on the homeland or that Al Qaeda is not capable of large scale attacks after our 'relentless pursuit' of them. But we know from captured documents and laptops since around 2003, that Al Qaeda is not interested in successive large scale attacks. The cost-benefit analysis isn't in their favor. What works, as we have witnessed, are peripheral attacks against allies and targets outside the US span of direct influence. The information war is far more profitable to Al Qaeda's goals than the kinetic war.
What significant alterations can we make in our strategic plan to combat terrorism?
We must remove the benefits of and the moral arguments for supporting terrorist groups. It goes deeper than the religious aspect. Religion has been merely a vehicle for the cause. The root causes of terrorist success are far more connected to poverty, education and despotic regimes who enable both. Balancing meaningful alliances with nations in the middle east that can combat those root problems with a tempering of alliances and military aid to major protagonists [Israel] will be more profitable than military invasions of minor annoyances and proxies.
Law enforcement interdiction and intelligence sharing agreements with those nations, and a retooling of our special operations forces to meet the threat are another logical step.
What is the metric for success? Or are we consigned to a forever war...ala...."we've always been at war with Eastasia Al Qaeda"?
Al Qaeda is a trans-national terrorist organization, a product of the market state...so comparisons to previous models, or especially state based regimes such as the Khmer Rouge are inapt. We don't yet know what the metric for victory can look like. We know what defeat looks like, we're seeing the precursors to that this very day. One simple fact of the matter is that perpetual war is profitable. Not for you and I, but for consolidation of state power and the careers of administrative and military officials and advocacy organizations. The post government careers of those who make a living hyping the tangible threat of terrorism to obscene proportions is immeasurable. The John Bolton's, Frank Gaffney's and Liz Cheney's among us wouldn't be a blip on the national radar were it not for the hyped threat.