Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Features Opinion Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Late Friday night, on November 13, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris. It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying. It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →