Fascinating article by Gary Brecher arguing that the IRA had a near-perfect guerrilla strategy, while al-Qaeda is a bunch of losers.

The nub of the argument: according to Brecher, the IRA avoided attacks on civilians in Ireland and took the fight to England, mastering the skills of causing massive property damage with minimal civilian casualties.  This, he argues, was the most effective way to stay active and erode British support for the Protestants.  Al-Qaeda, by contrast, provoked enormous attacks on itself and thus jeopardized its existence as a movement.

And then read the comments, where various people rip Brecher a new one.  A few are loons, but there’s plenty of room to doubt whether the IRA was as smart, as non-violent, or as single-minded as Brecher has it, and above all whether it ‘won’ or not.   Certainly it didn’t achieve union with Ireland.  It made a place for its peaceful political side, but arguably it could have achieved the same end earlier without the violence, and the whole dispute looks slightly pointless anyway now that both countries are EU members.

Al-Qaeda looks like a success or failure depending on what you consider its “real goals” to be.  It’s certainly no closer to establishing a caliphate, but it certainly was able to recruit followers for a long time.   At the moment it looks blindsided by the Arab Spring, which gave the initiative back to the moderates; none of the long-term players, including al-Qaeda, saw that coming.