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Schelling asserts that while force can be used to
expel and repel, penetrate and occupy, it can also be used to hurt1.
He goes on to explain that while pain and loss are to some degree among the
casualties of war and are usually accidental or consequential there are some
that consider the power to hurt as an impressive attribute of military force. In
this sense there are actors that view the power to hurt as bargaining power as
mentioned by Schelling, they use inflicting pain and suffering in order to
influence another’s behavior or to coerce his decision or choice.2
Based on Schelling’s discussion on the contrast between brute force and
coercion I would like to argue that the Al Qaeda organization in its multiple attacks
before and after 9/11 has utilized and mastered the diplomacy of violence as a
strategy. Schelling argued that choice can be influenced by violence when an
individual believes it can be withheld or inflicted and mentioned that the
power to hurt is usually displayed by a performance of it. The idea is to
convince your opponent that you mean it and that you are more than willing to
do it again if necessary.3
This type of strategy became the bread and butter for the Al Qaeda
organization. One can argue whether this strategy was intended as a method of
coercion or one of deterrence, but in the eyes of the organization at least for
a while, it was effective.

Al Qaeda network evolved from the decade-long
conflict that plagued Afghanistan from 1979-1989.4
After Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union, the Afghan Islamist
extremists found a rallying call for their cause, as young Muslims from around
the world came to Afghanistan to volunteer in what was being called a
“holy war,” or jihad, against the invading Soviets.5
Al Qaeda emerged out of the anti-Soviet jihad
in Afghanistan in the 1980s. As the Soviets prepared to withdraw, Osama Bin
Laden and a few of his close associates, high on their perceived victory over
the mighty Soviet Union decided to capitalize on the network they had built to
take jihad global.6
Some of their core contentions includes:

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1.      Ending Israel’s occupation of
Palestinian territories

2.      Stopping Western (especially US)
support for authoritarian regimes

3.      Reducing US military presence and
hegemony in the Middle East and
Central Asia

4.      Ending ‘inhumane capitalism guided by
the war and oil lobby7

Although the ultimate goal of Al Qaeda is to
overthrow the corrupt “deserter” regimes in the Middle East and replace them
with “true” Islamic governments, their primary enemy is the United States,
which it sees as the root cause of the Middle East’s problems. In their
targeting of the United States, Al Qaeda believed it will eventually persuade
the United States to end support for these Muslim state regimes and leave the
region altogether. This would then leave the Muslim regimes free for them to
handle on their own terms. While the organization views the Shi’a Muslims as deserters
they consider killing them to be too extreme, a waste of resources, and
detrimental to the broader jihadist project.8

Al Qaeda has used a wide range of strategies
to achieve its objectives, most if not all their actions are a means to an end.
In their fight against the United States, Al Qaeda relied on the sensationalist
draw of their terrorist attacks to captivate and electrify the Muslim world
thus motivating and engaging new followers under Al Qaeda’s operations and to
convince the United States to retreat from the Muslim world.  This method was thought to be effective based
on previous successes with the U.S. withdrawals from Lebanon after Hizballah
bombed the Marine barracks and U.S. embassy there and the “Blackhawk Down”
incident in Somalia.9
In addition, Al Qaeda supports insurgents in the Islamic world to fight against
U.S.-backed regimes as well as U.S. forces in places like Afghanistan, where it
hopes to replicate the success with removing the Soviets.10
Another tactic used by the Al Qaeda is the issuing of propaganda to convince
Muslims that jihad is their obligation and to convince jihadists to adopt Al
Qaeda’s goals over their local ones. Al Qaeda
has long favored large-scale, dramatic attacks against strategic or symbolic
targets: The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11 are the
most prominent, but the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania, the attack on U.S.S. Cole in the port of Aden in 2000, and plots like
the 2005 attempt to down over 10 transatlantic flights all show an emphasis on
the spectacular.11
At the same time, Al Qaeda has backed an array of lesser terrorist attacks on
Western, Jewish, and other enemy targets; trained insurgents; and otherwise
tried to build guerrilla armies. These are all in an attempt to employ
Schellings’ brute force in an attempt to coerce the US into withdrawing their
presence from their territory.

Bett’s in his work posited that “the wisdom of a
choice of action also depends on the objective it is meant to serve. Strategy
may be immune to criticism if the objective could not fail to be achieved. Strategy
cannot be faulted, however, just because the objective it serves is dubious to
the observer, if it makes sense in terms of a different value of concern to the
one making the decision. If the decision-maker puts priority on a moral value
that conflicts with material welfare (e.g., honor), even self-destructive
behavior can be strategic”.12
With his critique of the psychoanalysis versus conscious choice he referred to
strategy as “an illusion because leaders do not understand what motives drive
them, and delude themselves about what they are really trying to do. They use
war not for manifest political purposes but for subliminal personal ones, so
the link between political ends and military means is missing at the outset”. 13 He
goes on to mention that an individual’s emotional unconsciousness is one of the
main non-logical influences in strategic decision making and went on to say that
decision-makers deceive themselves about their true goals when making a
decision or creating strategy. However one could ask yourself the question as
to whether this the case with Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda.

It can be argued that violence was never a means in itself for
the Al Qaeda, but rather an acceptable strategic component.14
Anti-Western narratives can be traced back to the Muslim brotherhood’s Sayyid
al-Qutb, one of the most important figures of political Islam who has demanded the, if
necessary violent establishment of an Islamic community based on sharia and
rejecting the influence of the West.15 Since the US
government is democratically elected, al-Qaeda leaders stress the
responsibility and culpability of the American people.16

Also notable is the fact that while Al Qaeda has
repeatedly called for attacks against Westerners, and especially Americans, it
has also displayed the ability to refrain from killing them when it suited its
One of the more notable examples of this is found in Al Qaeda’s decision on
multiple occasions to grant Western journalists safe passage into Al Qaeda safe
havens and allow them to interview Bin Laden face
to face.18
One of the justifications of this could be the fact that terrorism doesn’t work
if no one is watching, and in the days before YouTube and Twitter, Al Qaeda
needed Western journalists to bring its message to its target audience.19  This refutes the idea that leaders do not know
the motives that drive them. Bin laden knew exactly why he decided to attack
the US in the way he did as he had used similar strategies in the past to
achieve the goal of driving out I wanted interference.

1 Thomas
C. Schelling, Arms and Influence: With a New Preface and Afterword (Yale
University Press, 2008), page 1.

2 Ibid.,

3 Ibid.

4 Byman,
Comparing Al Qaeda and Isis: Different goals, different targets, 2015,

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

Metzger, Social Movement Theory and Terrorism: Explaining the Development of
Al-Qaeda, 2014,

8 Byman,
Comparing Al Qaeda and Isis: Different goals, different targets, 2015,


9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

Betts, Is Strategy an Illusion, 9.

13 Ibid.,

14 Metzger,
Social Movement Theory and Terrorism: Explaining the Development of Al-Qaeda,

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Byman,
Comparing Al Qaeda and Isis: Different goals, different targets, 2015,

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

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