by Barry Rubin
Michael Leiter, director of the
We might as well begin by the statement I found most disturbing:
"I'm often asked if it's a coincidence that we haven't been attacked since 9/11, and the answer is flatly no."
Not attacked? True, there has been no large-scale September 11 type operation but the number of small attacks or incidents that might represent terrorist attacks has risen very sharply. Like a police department that claims success in fighting crime by reinterpreting the statistics,
Of course, Leiter's statement sounds ironic in light of the Detroit underpants' bombing but how about the Fort Dix plan, Fort Hood, the apparent preparations to attack Fort Bragg, and the assassination of an army recruiter in Arkansas (there does seem to be a pattern here, doesn't there?), the shooting at the El Al counter in Los Angeles, the murder at the Jewish community center in Spokane (another pattern), and so on?
Perhaps Leiter meant to say there haven't been successful attacks in most cases but that is also not quite true, though it is legitimate for officials like him to claim they have achieved a number of successes.
If the threat is being underrated, however, and terrorist attacks attributed to, say, mental instability, and attacks by individuals are being downplayed, this means the danger to the public is higher.
Leiter attributed the successes to three things; the first two are somewhat ironic after the
All of these factors failed in the
The third factor is, "The U.S. government's offensive actions in
This is true but perhaps misunderstands the nature of terrorism. If you are under pressure in
What I also find disturbing is his conception of the broader threat:
"More than 50 percent of terrorism victims in 2008 were Muslim, which is a very powerful reminder that this is not about the West being at war with Islam. This is Al-Qaida completely perverting a wonderful, peaceful religion, leading to death and suffering for Muslims in many parts of the world."
He is right about the West not being at war with Islam—I think the first person to say that after September 11 was President George W. Bush. Yet this statement is misleading, too. While more than 50 percent of terrorism victims are Muslims many of these casualties were inflicted by groups that aren't part of al-Qaida.
Of course, it is the government line that the
A second problem is that al-Qaida remains very popular among Muslims, especially when it kills infidels. Consider Leiter's main example to prove that followers of a wonderful, peaceful religion cheer on al-Qaida and similar groups:
"In places like Jordan that have experienced horrendous suicide attacks, like the bombing of the wedding in Amman in 2005, we have seen that al-Qaida's message has not resonated, in large part because people understand that al-Qaida does not have a positive message."
But all this says, in effect, is that if al-Qaida kills Muslims that makes it unpopular among Muslims while if it kills non-Muslims it—and other Islamist terrorist groups—becomes more popular.
This isn't an argument that al-Qaida is unpopular, only that it should—like Hamas, Hizballah, and some other groups—focus more on killing non-Muslims. Many Muslim clerics are praised in the West for "opposing" terrorism and saying it is against Islam when they are really only opposing and rejecting terrorism targeted at Muslims.
It reminds me of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying:
"We've admired the way
But the problem, of course, is that
He is correct in saying that "al-Qaida's ultimate goal is to establish a caliphate across the Middle East, into North Africa, and into parts of Asia, and expel the
Perhaps this isn't Leiter's job to identify since he is running the defense of
"I wouldn't try to attribute one set of reasons to everyone who identifies with this vision. They have a variety of reasons. American and Western policies have certainly had an influence, as has corruption in their own countries, a lack of what they believe is a true political voice, and a lack of economic opportunity. There are a wide variety of drivers behind why a 19-year-old in
But what about ideology, an ideology which is underpinned by an interpretation of Islam which doesn't seem so far-fetched given the contents of that religion's texts? And again, al-Qaida is a small group, far exceeded by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizballah, certain groups in Turkey, or the regimes in Iran and (non-Islamist but pretending to be a paragon of Islamism) Syria.
Leiter hopes that in five years the threat will be diminished because al-Qaida has been weakened, hasn't appealed to more people, while the "U.S. government is simply better at defending itself…and we can do it in a more targeted way that people feel more comfortable with. There are fewer questions about our improperly infringing on people's civil liberties."
I would suspect that the fewer questions might have more to do with the change in the White House rather than any alteration in security measures. As for his point that "al-Qaida's message simply isn't resonating with the world," I think that's misleading. The historic role of al-Qaida was not to lead the movement but to inspire other groups with more flexible strategies to become powerful.
But he is over the edge in talking about how these "partners" are working with the
"Build the schools that can teach the children?" But teach them what? There are a lot of schools in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, for example, that teach them basic ideas which prepares the groundwork for Islamists teaching them that what's needed is a revolution and the killing of infidels. That's the kind of simple-minded American development and higher living standards as a solution to everything that renders people like Leiter incapable of understanding the world.
Still, he might be doing a good job at defeating threats within the
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.