The Zawahiri Era
Armored in emboldened doctrine and rejuvenated recruits, al-Qaeda has now moved on to the training and implementation stage of its next attack pattern. As al-Qaeda in Iraq works to reclaim lost ground and allies, it is using attacks that fit the definition of targetable Muslims and cover the gamut of smaller operations. Oil pipelines, storage tanks and electrical-distribution assets have been sabotaged; military, security and police bases, stations and recruiting offices have all been hit by bombings and/or small-group assaults, as have national and provincial government ministries; and assassinations of government officials, bureaucrats, senior security officers and Sunni tribal chiefs working with the Baghdad regime have become part of daily life. (It is worth noting that Fort Hood and at least four U.S. military recruiting posts have been attacked by domestic Islamists in the last few years.) Iraq today has allowed al-Qaeda to practice, refine and teach (via the Internet) its host of revised tactics. Given the multinational makeup of al-Qaeda’s force in Iraq, there is no reason to doubt that those who graduate from this school will be sent abroad to ply their lethal trade.
Ayman al-Zawahiri has a chance to advance al-Qaeda’s work to an extent that bin Laden may have just begun to see in his last months. Having an opportunity and exploiting it are two different things, however, and al-Zawahiri’s personality, earlier operational record, multiple detractors as well as the absence of bin Laden’s steadying hand certainly leave open the possibility that he will fly the next plane into a mountain rather than, say, the rebuilt Pentagon. But we must not count on al-Zawahiri being anything other than what he has appeared to be since 1998: a rational, prudent, brave, dedicated and media-savvy leader.
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. Needless to say, an enemy with such an unassailable core is pretty formidable, if not impregnable.
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.
In fact, the administration continues to hand over a gift-wrapped advantage to al-Qaeda and the mujahideen, for U.S. military defeat is an inevitability. The West tends to forget that the Afghan insurgents’ 1989 rout of the Soviet army in Afghanistan was the key motivator for Osama bin Laden’s generation to join the jihad. The Red Army’s loss alone was not enough to destroy what was and is a deeply ingrained sense of defeatism in the Muslim world, but it did foster the belief that infidel powers are not destined to win each and every time they fight Muslims. For over a decade, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri led a charge to wipe out defeatism; they saw it as the biggest threat to Islam’s survival. Indeed, one reason bin Laden strove so mightily—and finally successfully—to lure the United States into Afghanistan was his belief that U.S. forces would be easier to beat than the Russians (objectively true) and that by defeating the mighty Western superpower, the back of Muslim defeatism would be broken (we will see).
Now, President Obama has allowed the testing of bin Laden’s theory by surrendering in Afghanistan and Iraq without accomplishing any of the original objectives Washington set. And today, moreover, Obama and his fellow interventionists in both parties and NATO have been unable to win a four-month-and-counting war against Libyan forces, which in the past were manhandled by Chad’s mighty military legions. If bin Laden turns out to be right in his contention that multiple defeats of the United States at the hands of inferior Islamist forces armed with Korean War–era weapons would end Muslim defeatism, al-Zawahiri will in two years be standing in sweet, high clover too tall for even his purported personal failings to cock up.