What's Al-Qaida's Next Strategy?

Originally published on May 5, 2011 5:09 pm
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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

The death of Osama bin Laden raises lots of questions about the future of al-Qaida. Well, counter-terrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross says if we consider al-Qaida itself dead, it's at our peril.

BLOCK: Bin Laden's strategy for defeating a superpower is well- entrenched in al-Qaida affiliates. And that strategy has, at its core, bankrupting America. Mr. Gartenstein-Ross directs the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization and is author of the forthcoming book "Why Al-Qaida Is Winning." Thanks for coming in.

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN: It's my pleasure.

BLOCK: You write, for Foreign Policy magazine, that Osama bin Laden's notion of economically bleeding the United States goes back to lessons he learned in Afghanistan, backing the Arab mujahedeen against the Soviets. Why don't you walk us through what that underpinning is?

GARTENSTEIN: I'm not saying this is the right interpretation of history, but it's how he saw it.

BLOCK: When you look at what Osama bin Laden said over the years about this goal to bankrupt the U.S., what did he say? How did he say he would go about doing that?

GARTENSTEIN: And then finally the strategy of 1,000 cuts. This was a phrase that was used after the U.S. economy collapsed in September, 2008, and the thinking is that smaller, more frequent attacks can drive up the U.S.'s cost of security and cause it, like the Soviet Union, to collapse under its own weight.

BLOCK: That is a fascinating example. When al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula bragged about the package bombs that it had sent that were intercepted, that operation was called Operation Hemorrhage. And they wrote afterward that it had cost only $4,200 to send the package bombs. They estimated that it cost Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures. This, they said, is what we call leverage.

GARTENSTEIN: It's actually a very smart strategy. And particularly after bin Laden's death, if we don't understand what they're doing, it's going to be very, very difficult to defend against.

BLOCK: Your book title, that we mentioned, "Why al-Qaida is Winning," should there be a corollary to that: and what the U.S. can do about it?

GARTENSTEIN: Absolutely. Al-Qaida, at the end of the day, is not going to win. But they're doing a very good job of grinding us down and learning the lessons of the past 10 years is an important part of formulating a better system moving forward.

BLOCK: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, his article in Foreign Policy is titled "Don't Get Cocky, America: al-Qaida is still deadly without Osama bin Laden." Thanks again.

GARTENSTEIN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.