We Should Still Fear Al Qaeda
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2013 17:02
Recently, Peter Bergen, National Security Analyst for CNN, wrote an article arguing that al Qaeda has largely been dismantled and that the threat of al Qaeda is a “localized” and “containable” one. Among other claims he makes, one in particular stands out, that “al Qaeda and its allies’ record of effective attacks in the West has been non-existent since 2005.” In an effort to downplay al Qaeda’s record in the world, Bergen suggests that the homeland has not suffered a successful attack, conveniently ignoring the Fort Hood shooting and the Times Square bomber. Bergen fails to recognize the threat that al Qaeda and its affiliates pose not only to Westerners, but Middle Eastern and African governments.
Let’s begin with last September. Our consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked by al Qaeda affiliates and burned while our ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were murdered. It seems that al Qaeda is still capable of recognizing our weaknesses and taking advantage. It took weeks for the Obama Administration to admit that this was an act of terror and in the meantime they painted this as an impromptu “protest” against an anti-Muslim video. In reality, this attack was planned far in advance and scheduled for the anniversary of 9/11.
Mr. Bergen discusses how “core al Qaeda” is on its way to extinction and that its affiliates are no better off. Another interpretation, of course, is that al Qaeda has decentralized and dispersed its operations throughout the Middle East after Osama bin Laden’s death. Mr. Bergen praises drone strikes by President Obama which have increased in his four years in office over President Bush’s term. These strikes were highly criticized during Bush’s term in office and there is little criticism from the mainstream media now that Obama is in charge. The Obama Administration even just approved an executive power that allows the President to order a drone strike on American citizens abroad if they are suspected of being terrorist operatives. It’s unclear on why it’s “legal, ethical, and wise” for President Obama to kill that American citizen from the air, but a human rights violation if President Bush captures that same citizen and subjects him to enhanced interrogation to discover intelligence that might prevent an attack. (The movie Zero Dark Thirty illustrates how these techniques aided in the search for bin Laden.)
Mr. Bergen argues that Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia all have had successful campaigns against al Qaeda. This can be attributed to pressure by the United States on these governments to step up operations to dismantle terror networks across the globe. What Mr. Bergen does not understand is that these networks are still dangerous. Mr. Bergen says that al Qaeda operating from Yemen was behind the failed underwear bomber in December of 2009 in Detroit and the attempt to smuggle bombs into the country in October 2010 and, yet, these were not successful. These incidents, however, are evidence that al Qaeda is very much alive and operational.
In the current crisis in Mali, the Malian government called upon France to assist in routing jihadist groups that had taken over the Afghanistan-sized area of Northern Mali. Government forces had retreated and jihadists established Shariah law which included maiming thieves, public executions, and banning any religion other than Islam. Mr. Bergen argues that since this is a brutal form of law the jihadists will not win the locals over and they will eventually rise up against the jihadists. Mr. Bergen also says that if this does not happen, they will cheer international outside intervention.
But Mr. Bergen misses the point: Outside intervention is the only way to stop these Islamist extremists. When the historic city of Timbuktu is held at the mercy of Islamic extremists, there is a huge problem. When France has to send in troops to route out extremists, there is a crisis. It does not matter if these terrorists are “core al Qaeda.” They take their inspiration from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The al Qaeda-affiliated group Boko Haram is killing non-Muslims in Nigeria and attacked the UN headquarters there in 2011.
Mr. Bergen ends by saying that “al Qaeda and its allies’ record of effective attacks against the West has been non-existent since 2005” and “with threats like these we can all sleep soundly at night.” In the wake of Benghazi, this sentiment is not just naïve, it’s nothing less than bizarre. Our ambassador was brutally murdered in September in Benghazi and three Americans were killed last month during a hostage situation at a gas facility in Algeria. Clearly Obama even differs with Mr. Bergen if our President just approved drone strikes on American citizens. Secretary of State, John Kerry, has just visited Holy Cross, and we as Americans must hope that Mr. Kerry, as much as he is for a drawdown of U.S. forces across the globe, will understand and recognize the threats to us and our allies abroad.
History has shown that if we try to ignore the world, we will still be dragged into conflict. World War I drew us in to defend our allies. We tried to stay out of World War II and were caught off guard at Pearl Harbor. Troops were placed in Saudi Arabia to counter an aggressive Iraqi dictatorship under Saddam and ten years later, in protest, Osama bin Laden sent nineteen jihadists to kill nearly 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001. Pulling the blankets over our heads and going back to sleep, as Mr. Bergen suggests, will invite more of the same.