I still see now and then the claim that the invasion of Iraq represents a distraction or substitute for the effort against Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. I’ve commented earlier on the point that demonizing a single person as the Source of Evil is not a good policy, even in the case of Osama bin Laden, so I don’t worry too much about him in particular.
But even if bin Laden were the real focus, that doesn’t mean we should spend all of our time going after him directly. To do so (or to support doing so) is to miss one of the most basic strategies in competive games, “the fork”. A fork is a multi-axis threat to an opponent, where he can block some of the threats but not all of them. Even in tic-tac-toe, creating a fork is the primary strategy goal.
It works the same at the strategic level. By invading Iraq and using that to force other changes in the Islamic world, we create a threat to bin Laden (and the rest of the Caliphascists). In response to the normal bluster from the USA, the Caliphascists could just lay low for a few years and regroup. But now, every year they wait means more wearing away of their recruitment base. But if they respond, they have to come out where we can find them. It’s a classic fork - laying low means we roll up their support bases while responding means we roll up them. And we’ve actually been making progress on both fronts.
So when you hear someone go on about not concentrating on Al Qaeda, just smile and nod and realize how lucky we are that they’re not in charge of our strategy in this war.