Decade’s Lesson: Ideology is al-Qaeda’s Power

February 3, 2012 1:04 pm 0 comments

Osama Bin Laden. Photo: wiki commons.

Ten years have slipped by since Osama bin Laden’s jihadists massacred thousands of men, women and children in the northeastern United States, prompting the start of what Americans came to know as the War on Terror. The current administration, however, insists on more benign terminology, choosing for political reasons to describe the conflict as an “overseas contingency operation,” and a “war against al Qaeda.” But are we making progress in this conflict, whatever the name? Gaining an objective assessment begins with asking the right questions.

Has the decade-long global confrontation with al-Qaeda been an actual war, or a series of U.S.-led military operations against a single terrorist organization? Has al-Qaeda been acting alone against the U.S., or is it merely one among many in an expansive network of jihadists? Is it U.S. policy that incites jihadists, or a sui generis ideology with a centuries-old agenda? How does the broad-based U.S.-led coalition to defeat al-Qaeda measure up to the jihadist alliance to destroy the U.S.? Have U.S.-led military efforts defeated al-Qaeda globally and within nation-states, or have the jihadists increased their penetration of democracies around the globe? These are the “right questions” that need to be asked.

Traditionally, the Muslim Brotherhood and adherents of the Wahhabi creed have focused on seizing power in their immediate region, the Middle East, through a power struggle with regional regimes, and expanding their presence in the West through “influence operations.” The violent jihadists born out of the Soviet-Afghan conflict preferred a more direct route; they were convinced that war with the United States would allow them to build support for small emirates across the region, as a prelude to a Caliphate. From the end of World War II into the 1990s, the first mode predominated—with militant efforts led by political Islamists who preferred to expand their ambit by influence and indoctrination.

In the 1990s, however, al-Qaeda assumed the lead role in the jihad against the West. Lamentably, the U.S. national security apparatus has consistently failed to recognize the terror campaign against it—or to acknowledge that the efforts of jihadists form a single, intertwined global movement that is at war with the Western world.

A strategic deficiency of this magnitude (especially over the past four years) has led the U.S. and its allies to spend and sacrifice lavishly on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa, and other places, and on homeland security, while reaping comparatively meager results. The American failure to grasp the big picture of a coordinated global campaign against it has hobbled Washington bureaucrats in the confrontation with global jihadists and al-Qaeda, political Islamist networks, and the regional Iranian efforts to spread radicalization.

Indeed, today we are witnessing what is in effect a unilateral withdrawal from the field of competition against the forces of Islamism. This new direction in U.S. policy is based on two flawed assumptions: The first, which I refer to as the “jihad as yoga” view, assumes no ideological root to the conflict. Instead of waging a global integrated strategy, it posits, the U.S. is fighting “local wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq—wars in which the only possible objective was not to win, but to quit. Instead of acknowledging a struggle against a jihadi web of influence and operations, it minimizes the current U.S. effort to a limited war against a single organization: al-Qaeda. In this view, the killing of the organization’s head, Osama bin Laden, provides the predicate for declaring success, and a basis for withdrawal from the battlefield.

The second, and related, assumption identifies Islamist political forces as partners in the governance of many Middle East and Arab countries. Since 2009, for example, the dministration has steadily drifted toward engagement with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, as well as with the ostensibly “moderate” wings of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Taliban. In doing so, it has gambled that cutting a deal with one segment of the Islamist network would help to isolate al-Qaeda. But the Arab Spring of 2011 demonstrated that regional unrest, at least initially, was ignited by secular democratic yearnings, rather than Islamist fervor. Washington, by failing to adequately back the former while engaging the latter, has found itself on the sidelines of the pro-freedom struggle taking place in the Middle East and as a promoter of Islamist orthodoxy.

Today, in the tenth year of the conflict launched following 9/11, it is the overall strategic direction of Washington—rather than the state of the military struggle— that is the true issue to reflect upon. Whereas the first six years of the War on Terror took the U.S. in what was generally the right direction, flawed implementation eventually led to stalemate; more recently, ideological drift has led to strategic retreat. And now, the thing that prolongs our war with the jihadists is our inability to identify the threat—and therefore to act decisively against it.

Dr Walid Phares is the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad and The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East. He is the advisor of the anti-Terrorism Caucus of the US House of Representatives and the Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Legislative Group on Counter Terrorism.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Theater US & Canada New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    In his new play Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, playwright Oren Safdie tackles an issue that he has a major concern with: the relationship between Israelis and left-leaning Diaspora Jews with their “I know better” critical views. At the heart of the one-act play is Tony, a Jewish and gay Palestinian sympathizer who expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments when the play begins and at one point even sides with a Palestinian terrorist who holds his captive. Tony, who is also an [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    A Jewish comedy troupe released a parody video on Wednesday of Taylor Swift’s hit song Shake It Off in which they joke about taking extensive time off from work for Jewish holidays. “And the goyim gonna stay, stay, stay, stay, stay. And the Jews are gonna pray, pray pray, pray, pray. I’m just gonna take, take, take, take, take. I’m taking off,” goes the chorus for I’m Taking Off. Menachem Weinstein, the video’s lead singer, is the creative director at [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    JNS.org – The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” on Dec. 15 presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed producer, David O. Selznick. Adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie ever made. It earned the 1939 Academy Award for Best Picture, the same honor another Selznick film, “Rebecca,” garnered in 1940. Selznick [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Music US & Canada EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    Matisyahu got candid in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Monday about his religious and musical journey – after shedding his Chassidic skin, yarmulke, long beard and all – from the start of his career in 2005 when he became a reggae superstar with hits King Without a Crown and Jerusalem. The singer-songwriter embarks on his Festival of Light tour this month, an annual Hanukkah event that stops in Montreal, New York, and other cities before ending in San Juan, [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Personalities ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    JNS.org – It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga.—the son of immigrants who settled in the south and ran a hardware store on Main Street—the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi replaced Israeli star Gal Gadot as the female lead in the new Ben-Hur remake, Hollywood.com reported on Tuesday. The Homeland actress will play Esther, a slave that Ben-Hur sets free and falls in love with. Gadot quit the movie when it became clear that filming conflicted with her schedule for the Man of Steel sequel. The Israeli actress plays Wonder Woman in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Jack Huston takes on the [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    JNS.org – There is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of. On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.