What is Al-Qaeda's endgame anyway?

Do they want to kill all people who aren’t Wahhabi Muslim? Or just the West? Do they actually intend to reestablish the old Caliphate?

They want the overthrow of the Saudi government, and (secondarily) the governments of other Muslim countries, and for a militant spiritual renewal to sweep through the word of Islam, presumably to be followed by mass conversion of all infidels.

The fact that they think that flying planes into buildings and blowing up various things will in any way promote these aims is just more evidence (if it were needed) that they are lunatics who are completely out of touch with reality, even Muslim reality.

And let’s not diminish the role of simple lust for power, mainly at the local or regional level (or even personal ambition – “accomplishing” more than one’s older brother or the like).

Who do you mean by Al-Quada. Osama Bin Laden himself wanted to get the US out of Saudi Arabia. And the plan to do that was to provoke them into fruitless, expensive, unpopular wars that would erode their economy, curtail freedom and drive political wedges in the population.

Local affiliates are less concerned with the grand vision and Saudi politics, and more concerned with gaining political power on the local scale and resources (mines, forests, taxes, bribes) that come with that. They may also be groups that have existed long before any of this who have found “Al Quada” to be effective branding. It has strong name value, can attract outside resources, and is much better for recruiting than the old fashioned “People’s United Liberation Front of East Nuttenstock.”

For individuals, it’s often as simply as young men looking for any kind of direction, and any way to make an impact on the world. Young peoples idealism and easy zeal has always been easy to channel and exploit.

Clarification: there’s no U in the name under any common transliteration method.

From reading a biography of bin Laden his goals in Afghanistan were fairly linear.

Conquer Afghanistan to his version of Islam.

Conquer the other Muslim coumtries

Destroy israel

Convert the rest of the world
From what I recall it was in that order. As for 9/11 if the goal was to bankrupt the US and make us overreact then mission accomplished.

I don’t think I would consider them ‘lunatics’ so much as zealots or religious extremists. They believe their cause is just and they choose their targets carefully.

Zealots have been around for thousands of years, it’s just that now they have the means and know-how to cause tremendous suffering and death.

They have declared a Jihad against the West and everyone who doesn’t buy into their world view.

Why someone would join such an organization is beyond me, but it doesn’t mean they are lunatics.

Mission Accomplished!


Obtain control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

Well, except the getting the US out of Saudi Arabia part. Unless you count the handover of Prince Sultan airbase.

We’ve spent over a trillion dollars at war with them for 13 years, and even the POTUS probably can’t answer your question. One wonders if anybody inside the beltway has ever even pondered your question, except to muse “They just want to kill innocent women and children, so we have to kill them first”. We’ve asked a few people, some of them possibly knowledgeable, but tortured them first, so their answers are unreliable.

Plenty of religious enthusiasts, throughout history, have acted very effectively to attain their religious aims. The early Muslims who spread Islam far and wide in the first few generations after the time of The Prophet, are one example, St Paul, and Martin Luther, and St Francis are others, there are many more. I called Al-Qaeda lunatics not because they are militant religious enthusiasts, but because the means they attempt (with varying success) to employ are so transparently ill suited to their ultimate ends. They are more like the Children’s Crusade or the medieval flagellants (or, indeed Timothy McVeigh) than they are like Paul’s ministry to the gentiles, or the men who established the Caliphate. “Let’s blow some random stuff up, then everybody will like us!”

And if you think their primary aim (or even one of their primary aims) is to destroy the West, you are deluding yourself. It really isn’t about us. (Not yet anyway, not until they have got Islam licked into shape, which I think even they are sane enough to know is going to take some time.) 9/11 wasn’t really about hurting America, it was about impressing other Muslims, firing them up to join the Islamic revolution. Any harm they have done to America, or other non-Muslim countries is, in essence, collateral damage.

Once the Islamic world is licked into shape, then no doubt, the time will come to wipe Israel off the map. After that, however, I suspect that their fantasy is that the rest of the non-Muslim world will soon convert. It will not be necessary to destroy it (or not much of it), or to attack it militarily.

The goal is to reestablish the Caliphate. The way to do that is to overthrow the non-islamist governments and then merge all the muslim ruled countries.
They believe they have two enemies, the near enemy and the far enemy. The near ememy is the secular governments of muslim countries and the far enemy is the west. They believe that the reason they have not been succesful is that the far enemy has been propping up the near enemy, and so they attack the west to get them to stop supporting secular governments in the middle east. The model is Afghanistan. Afghanistan had a secular government installed by the USSR. Foreign fighters along with Afghani muslims inflicted so much loss on the USSR that they left Afghanistan. The secular government left behind was weak and fell to the Taliban who installed an islamist government. Once the middle east is taken over by the Caliphate the west will fall next.
Eroding the economy, curtailing freedom, and driving political wedges in the populace have no place in their plans. They want to take over the world.

So, all we have to do is airlift blue jeans and wide screen TVs into Yemen (and the like) and GIVE the common people what their leaders fear the most!

I don’t disagree with anything you wrote, but if this is really the long-term strategy then it is a serious miscalculation. Give the rest of the world one common enemy and what does the rest of the world do? Not just the west, but Russian and China too, will unite and destroy them. And take their oil.

Which will not resolve anything - the united powers will then break back up into their assorted sub-groups and quibble and quarrel as they have always done, and in 50 years this problem or some other similar problem will come up again.

Not that I think any of that will happen. A new caliphate is not in the cards at any time, in the real world.


I agree with your second point… that many groups that claim to be Islamic extremists are actually just gangs who use the “Islam” angle to gain legitimacy. My personal theory, and I have met in the military and counterterror community who agree, is that no more than 10% of the “jihadists” in the world are actual hard-core Islamic extremists. The rest are just common criminals who joined because it was the best opportunity they had to earn fame and glory (or rather, notoriety) because they come from regions that have little opportunity to advancement in society, have utterly inverted morality, and / or have been indoctrinated by Saudi-backed madrassas. Keep in mind that most of these organizations are in fact proxies by which larger states (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan) seek to control / destabilize enemies that they cannot compete with overtly. They are, as the Soviets would say, “useful idiots.”

Further, I agree with the other posts that have been made claiming Islamic terrorists genuinely believe their cause is just. Again, we’re talking about the 10% that are genuine hard-core fanatics. As much as it makes me sick to my stomach to think this, I must accept the mountain of evidence that says it is really, really easy to convince people to do things that are objectively heinous.

But as for your first point, this is something that has always bugged me a little bit. Did anyone in AQ actually say they planned to damage us economically and trick us into taking away our freedoms from the beginning? Or did that they take credit for that after the fact?

For example, I read one article that said that Iraq was a “trap” laid by Islamic extremists who wanted us to get bogged down in a pointless war. But every credible version of history that I’m familiar with says the Iraq had more to do with Saddam’s deception, the Bush Administration’s eargerness for war, and misinformation provided by an Iraqi defector who wanted Saddam taken down. If the Islamic extremists are taking credit for “luring” us into a “trap” in Iraq, then they are fundamentally distorting the chain of events that got us there.

For many years I specifically referred to the underpants gnomes when describing Al Qae’da. “Explosions -> ? -> World Domination” didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

When you start examining it, though, it starts to make sense. They are interested in power and money just like anyone else. Only a handful are genuinely in it for the religious angle. Blowing up buildings demonstrates their power. Demonstrations of power get them money from Saudis, Iranians, and worldwide Islamic “charities” (anyone who donates their zakat to an Islamic charity has directly sponsored terrorism). Money gets them the ability to recruit more people and buy more weapons, to the point where they are a serious competitor for government in some regions. (Nigeria, Somalia, Mali all come to mind.)

Some of them genuinely believe that in the near future the Mahdi (the 12th Imam, who has yet to be revealed) will appear and unite all the competing sects of Islam under a single banner. Others, like the Haqqanis, claim to be jihadists but are really just an organized crime group / tribal warlords, and they are in it for the money, booze, and women just like anyone else.

And we’ve been doing such a good job of that so far.

It leaves me stunned and speechless that every nation on Earth has suffered some degree of Islamic infiltration and Islamic violence, and yet we remain incapable of uniting against it. Some countries still don’t even have laws governing terrorism finance (Brazil comes to mind). The ugly truth is that there are just too many nations that benefit from the destabilizing influence of Islamic violence, revel in the injury it causes to stronger nations or enemy states, and are happy to tolerate it as a low-rent proxy for warfare.

Just to make the arithmetic easy, let’s say the Iraq war cost a trillion dollars and there are 10-million households in Iraq. For the same price, we could have given every Iraqi family a cool $100,000 in US cash. Do you think that would have won some hearts and minds? Would that have “sent the right message”? After all, winning their hearts and minds and sending the right message were daily trumpeted as the object of the whole exercise.

How could Al Qaeda top that? Then turn WalMart loose in Iraq, and the whole trillion would have come right back home.