Here's another LA Times commentary reference/link. This one is a column by Marc Sageman, author of Understanding Terror Networks, called Killing the Hydra: Only attacks on its ideas can defeat a network like Al Qaeda (you need to register to use the LA Times site).
Sageman situates the Al Qaeda network within a broad "loose-knit, violent, Islamic revivalist social movement held together by a common idea: the global Islamist jihad". With the Taliban-provided base in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda on the one hand had the infrastructure to carry large-scale and relatively complex operations.
"But the Afghan sites, which gave Al Qaeda its control over the movement, were also its Achilles' heel because they became specific military targets. After 9/11, U.S. and allied forces destroyed all identifiable terrorist targets: training camps, residential compounds and support facilities. Communications were disrupted. The network lost much of its internal glue and reverted to being small clumps of terrorists loosely connected to each other."
Now, Al Qaeda is more "network form" than ever. "Far from having a formal command structure, wherein followers strictly obey orders from above, these [new] networks are self-organized from the bottom up and demonstrate a great deal of local initiative and flexibility. Like the Internet, they function very well with little coordination from the top."
The network has survived because the circumstances that created the environment for it to flourish has not changed, or if anything, has only intensified. That environment being capitalism in the age of electronics, i.e., globalization and all of the havoc it wreaks. Under new conditions, it has adapted accordingly, in true network form.
Sageman considers Al Qaeda and similar networks as "idea-based" networks, that is linked by a common outlook or ideology. Following his logic, idea-based networks can only be combatted with ideas. That is, if the nature of the connections between the participants in the network, or the broader population that sustains and nourishes the militants are ideas, then counter-ideas, or anti-ideas (e.g., [a negative one,] "de-legitimizing terrorist ideas, and a positive one, aimed at promoting an alternative vision of a just and fair Islamic society living in harmony with the West") can destroy the network.
One must consider if such ideas can exist independent of the world from which they arise: poverty, expropriation, exploitation, destruction, eviction, dislocation, torture, etc. etc. That is, a hatred of "the West" -- really, globalization -- cannot be replaced by a love of globalization because that too would be an obvious lie (as in not reflecting reality, covering over, inaccurate). Only an idea that corresponds to reality can dislodge an idea based on fictions. Islamic fundamentalism itself is as much a lie as "globalization means democracy means freedom" is.
The war of ideas is critical, but what ideas? Ideas that ultimately correspond the kind of world that new technologies make possible -- free of the poverty and exploitation that give rise to the mis-directed insurgencies like Al Qaeda.