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August 13, 2013 8:48 am

Obama’s Actions Have Bolstered Al-Qaeda

avatar by John Bolton

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President Obama addressing the United Nations General Assembly. Photo: White House.

In light of Barack Obama’s repeated assertions that “al-Qaida is on the path to defeat,” many Americans were no doubt surprised to see the State Department issue worldwide travel warnings, close numerous embassies and consulates and evacuate nonessential personnel from Yemen. Shutting down nearly two dozen diplomatic posts across the Middle East is no small matter nor is cautioning all private U.S. citizens about their travel plans.

So, should we really have been surprised by this “new” threat? No, not if we were paying attention to the real world rather than Obama’s version of it. There are two basic issues: First, how do we react now to this particular danger; and second, how do we forestall such threats in the future?

We should not confuse these issues, as some do when they lament the embassy closures. Without question, the travel warnings and embassy closings are justifiable and prudent in light of the circumstances we face. Most importantly, we should not ignore the larger policy questions the current crisis raises, as Obama has done throughout his presidency. Looking ahead, our goal must be to prevent these intolerable threats from arising in the first place.

We should immediately and unhesitatingly abandon Obama’s dangerous illusion that the global war on terror is over and, with it, the story line that al-Qaida was never more than a small group of Afghanistan-based terrorists, driven into Pakistan after America overthrew the Taliban in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks. Once confined to this remote border area, in Obama’s telling, drone strikes decimated al-Qaida’s top leadership, including killing Osama bin Laden, and essentially destroyed its capabilities to conduct terrorist attacks elsewhere.

Accordingly, says Obama, the “war on terror,” if there ever was one, is over and America can resume its 1990s approach — treating terrorism as a law-enforcement matter rather than a war. Incredibly, Obama acolytes describe the current threat as something completely new and different.

This tissue-thin narrative is entirely false. Ironically, it is totally disproven by Obama administration leaks that the intelligence triggering the current tightened security was an intercepted instruction from al-Qaida’s overall leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to al-Qaida’s chief in Yemen. So much for the theory there is no connection between core al-Qaida and its affiliates!

Al-Qaida has never had a corporate- or military-style hierarchy but has, from its inception, encouraged its dispersed ideological adherents to act on their own consistently with local circumstances. Central control by Osama and others ebbed and flowed, declining, for example, after al-Qaida was ousted from Afghanistan but rising as it regrouped. While bin Laden’s death, 10 years in the making, eliminated its most influential leader, al-Qaida adherents were still able, among other things this past year, to conduct mass hostage-takings in Algeria, nearly overthrow Mali’s government, and kill four Americans in Benghazi last Sept. 11.

This latest threat reveals yet again that Obama’s perception of the threats facing us is dangerously flawed, his policies inadequate and the consequences for America grave indeed. Obama’s blindness to reality and his unwillingness to retaliate have afforded al-Qaida and other Islamic radicals renewed confidence. They see a weak president who pays scant attention to all-too-real dangers while overseeing massive reductions in U.S. defense capabilities.

Make no mistake, regional chaos is spreading: Syria’s civil war has killed over 100,000 and caused massive refugee flows; Egypt is on the brink; Yemen and Libya are disintegrating; and the charm offensive by Iran’s new president is having its entirely predictable effect on gullible Western leaders. Israel’s position grows more precarious, Turkey’s secular constitution is increasingly endangered and the Arabian Peninsula’s oil-producing monarchies worry they might soon be victims of Obama’s disdain for national-security problems.

Even simply reciting the dangers country by country understates the risk that the entire Middle East will spin collectively out of control. America will not be able to prevent all these problems, and should not try, but we will certainly watch it unfold inexorably unless we reject Obama’s view that American strength in advancing its own interests is one of the principal causes of the turmoil.

Obama sees U.S. strength as provocative and that a declining, withdrawing America is less likely to provoke our opponents. In fact, precisely the opposite is true: It is U.S. weakness that is provocative.

While obviously this slide toward Middle Eastern chaos is not entirely attributable to the decline of U.S. military power and political presence, our manifest failure to defend our own personnel and interests also creates problems for our friends and allies.

We are not heavily involved in the Middle East to be the regional policeman but to protect ourselves and our interests worldwide. The August terror warnings show that the Obama administration is failing at this most basic of government functions.

John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His exclusive column to the Trib appears the second Sunday of every month.

This article was originally published in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

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