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The Limits of the Counterterrorism Approach

Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008

Editor's Note: This article is one of three WPR features on the theme "The Al-Qaida We Don't Know."

Two months ago, on the seventh anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, dozens of American scholars published articles trying to determine whether al-Qaida is stronger or weaker today than it was seven years ago. Nearly all of the analysis, though, viewed al-Qaida exclusively through the theoretical lens of counterterrorism, an approach that essentially defines the organization by its choice of tactics. But ignoring the many social, cultural and historical factors that effect al-Qaida's relation to its principal constituency, the "Arab street," skews any effort to determine who is winning the War on Terror towards short-term tactical considerations, at the expense of long-term strategic ones. ...

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