I'm going to quote something from Greg's piece, which is not the thrust of the excellent analysis, but is important to what I want to talk about.
Also, isn’t it possible that knowing what we know AQAP and its development that as the Obama administration talks about al-Awlaki and as the media focuses on him, AQAP continues to push him forward, hoping to take advantage of all the free advertising? Basically, hoping that his name and association with AQAP can bring them more western recruits.
This would explain his “poorly veiled coming out” and the reason AQAP didn’t talk about him prior to the attempt on Muhammad bin Nayyif and the Christmas Day plot, because he wasn’t integral to either one, including the one on the US. But as the Obama Administration focused on him, AQAP kept pushing him more and more to the front and now, after the parcel bomb plot we have a “Foreign Operations Unit” that he may or may not be the head of.
Greg and I agree on this- the admin and the media have pushed him forward, possibly transforming him from a fairly obscure cleric about for whom one would have to twist and torture loose connections to make into a major figure to someone who "may or may not be the head of" a new unit in AQAP. My take on the unit is that it is a sideshow for the leadership, a cheap way to do things on the side, but not part of their major plans. Regardless, there is the potential for al-Awlaki to "inspire" people to do bad things in the US.
I agree that right now taking him out would only make things worse. He isn't important enough to waste time and resources on, and because he is still largely unknown in Yemen, it would look punitive and reactionary and totally unnecessary to the people we need to court. Ideally, we would stop focusing on this guy and his immature violence-junkie sidekick Samir Khan and they could recede from the foreground. But I am not expecting the media to let go their hold on a charismatic English-speaker who is part American.
So, and here is the rhetorical- will there be a point when, given the trends, al-Awlaki will become important enough to take out, if not by arrest than by assassination? Can anyone foresee that day, or is it ludicrous? It is partly philosophical, partly tactical- can our incessant pimping of his importance make him important? I don't have an answer- I lean toward "no", but some other events which I need to write about could persuade me otherwise. Do any of you have any thoughts?