CHALLENGING CONVENTIONAL WISDOM ON AL-QAIDA: IS IT STRONGER TODAY THAN WHEN IT FIRST DECLARED WAR AGAINST AMERICA…AND, IF SO, WHY?
Next month will mark a decade since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, and major media outlets have already started their coverage. Much of that coverage will tell the American people that al-Qa’ida has been significantly degraded—especially through this year’s killing of its leader, Usama bin Ladin by U.S. forces in Pakistan—and that the United States needs to look for the next threat. To our minds, the most important thing that Americans could do would be to reflect, seriously and honestly, about the war on terror unleashed in response to the 9/11 attacks—to reflect on what actually prompted the attacks, and whether the ways in which the United States responded have actually made it more secure. To stimulate this kind of reflection, we recommend reading and pondering an article, see here, published by Michael Scheuer—former head of the CIA’s bin Ladin “unit” turned trenchant critic of America’s counter-terrorism strategy and Middle East policy—earlier this week in The National Interest .
The article, entitled “The Zawahiri Era”, is, first of all, an analytic tour de force, offering an unflinching look at the motives and strategy behind the 9/11 attacks, al-Qa’ida’s rather successful adaptation to the post-9/11 environment, and the movement’s future prospects under Ayman al-Zawahiri’s leadership. But the article is also much more than that; its second half is an equally unflinching look at the political circumstances that keep al-Qa’ida going, with a focus on the United States:
“BEYOND LEADERSHIP crises, changing tactics and mounting operations is one steadfast reality: al-Qaeda’s indispensable, long-term and utterly reliable ally—Washington’s interventionist foreign policy—remains the group’s true center of gravity. It is a galvanizing force which cannot be harmed, let alone destroyed, until U.S. leaders in politics, the media, religion (especially evangelical Protestants), the military and the academy begin to accept the truth; that is, the United States government is hated by most Muslims for what it does in the Islamic world, and not for how Americans think and behave at home…
“As al-Zawahiri takes charge, the U.S. government continues to: arm and defend the Saudi police state; depend on oil and debt purchases from Riyadh and other oil-rich Gulf tyrannies; keep military forces in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan; fund and defend Israel; fund and direct a new U.S.-NATO war on Libya; and assist the UN, EU and George Clooney in tearing out the oil-rich southern region of Muslim Sudan and giving it to a new Christian state. In other words, the powerful religious motivation for al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups to fight the United States and the West remains exactly what it was when bin Laden declared war in 1996—Israel, oil, intervention, occupation and support for tyranny.
“And one other key thing remains the same. President Obama continues to glibly lie to U.S. citizens, claiming—as did Presidents Bush and Clinton—that al-Qaeda, its allies and those they inspire are attacking us because they hate freedom, liberty, democracy, gender equality, elections and virtually every other thing Americans hold dear. The script of these presidents deftly scares U.S. citizens and ably prevents substantive foreign-policy debate. It is useless, however, for educating Americans about the deadly and growing enemy they face, one that hates their government, not them. There is no better recruiting strategy for the mujahideen in all parts of the globe than to pray for the maintenance of the status quo in U.S. and Western foreign policy in the Muslim world. With Obama et al at the helm, they have little to worry about…
“Then there is the Hillary Clinton–devised cultural war on Islam, now championed by Obama and Cameron as the proper response to the so-called Arab Spring. After the fall of the tyrannical Arab regimes in Tunis and Cairo, and the now ongoing slipping-away of those in Yemen, Libya and Syria, Secretary of State Clinton decided the time had come not only to out-Bush George but to by far out-Wilson the lamentable, bloody-handed Woodrow. Not only would she and her State Department bring freedom and democracy to the Arabs, but she would through decree—and with force if necessary—install Western-style women’s rights, freedom of religion, and the separation of church and state (which in Democratic doctrine means driving religion from both governance and the public square). In other words, Professor Huntington’s clash of civilizations is ready to be started and then driven not by caliphate-obsessed Islamist fanatics—as promised by the (usually) neocon reactionaries Walid Phares, Bernard Lewis, David Horowitz, Robert Spencer, and the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard and National Review—but by naive, well-meaning, ahistorical, antireligious, arrogant and largely Ivy League–trained ne’er-do-wells like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, George W. Bush, and the editors and reporters of the New York Times and Washington Post.
“By declaring this cultural war on Islam, Barack Obama effectively applied a tourniquet to the wound inflicted on al-Qaeda and the Islamist movement by the SEALs’ killing of bin Laden. In the midst of uncertainties about the impact of that death, Obama told young Muslims worldwide that he was George W. Bush vis-à-vis U.S. policy in the Islamic world, even paraphrasing his predecessor’s zany ideas with such words as “we know that our own future [America’s] is bound to this region [the Arab world] by the forces of economics and security, by history and by faith.” The young-Muslim translation: U.S. and Western military, economic and political interventionism is here to stay, words that merely back up the signal sent by the U.S.-NATO war of whim on Libya, continuing drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, and Mrs. Clinton’s thinly veiled military threats against Syria.
“But they also heard much more. They heard Obama pledge the U.S. government to the task of making Muslims into good, secular Westerners. In the speech, Obama left no room to doubt that he foolishly believes democracy is on the march in the Arab world and that he will use U.S. power to intervene and transform Islamic culture. This latest war on Islam was a gift to Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda and its Islamist allies, second in magnitude only to Bush’s jihad-justifying invasion and occupation of Iraq…
“[W]ars are never won by dead martyrs, rather by living and intelligent fighters who demonstrate courage, piety, prudence, patience, a reliable eye for the main chance, and—if God smiles on the warriors—an enemy who plays the part of a willing and effective foil, at times even that of a patsy. Al-Zawahiri takes charge in difficult and dangerous circumstances, but he faces a situation more promising than any al-Qaeda has encountered since its founding. All Americans should pray al-Zawahiri squanders his opportunity, as that may be the only way to avoid the military defeat and economic ruin the U.S. political elite seem eager to impose on their countrymen by refusing to face and combat the true sources of the Islamists’ motivation.”
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett