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What ‘Disrupting’ and ‘Defeating’ al-Qaeda Means to Obama

In my last post, I asked what it means to “disrupt” and “defeat” al-Qaeda, which President Obama said in his speech was the goal in Afghanistan-Pakistan. Denis McDonough, the National Security Council’s director for strategic communication, fielded those questions for me.

Referring to recent intelligence reports about al-Qaeda planning attacks on the United States from its Pakistani tribal-area safe havens, McDonough defined “disrupting” as “those plans not [being] further carried out.” So disruption is about planning, and the relevant measurement is a lack of further attacks on us. “Defeating” is about giving an alternative to “the violent, hopeless future” that al-Qaeda offers, though “different opportunities available to Pakistanis and Afghans and others.” Notice that “defeat” here is has an *ideological *meaning, and its primary measurement comes from the perceptions of Afghans and Pakistanis themselves.

So I followed up: is the goal then no safe havens? Or measured in al-Qaeda operatives killed and captured?

“We need to shut that safe haven down,” McDonough replied. “How we succeed against al-Qaeda members? The president has made very clear for years now that there’s a hardcore [membership of al-Qaeda] that there’s no reasoning with and no political process for. … At the end of the day, they have to be met by force alone.”

TWI is on Twitter. Follow Spencer Ackerman’s ongoing coverage of President Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy here.

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