J.J. Goldberg

Many Little Qaedas: How War on Terror Backfired

By J.J. Goldberg

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
President Obama and Yemen President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Oval Office, August 1, 2013

Boy, President Obama is really taking it on the chin over the latest Al Qaeda threat and the closing of those 19 embassies.

On the right, he’s getting hammered by the likes of The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, the Washington Post’s Marc Thiessen, Long Island Republican Rep. Peter King and even the distinguished Bard College international relations scholar Walter Russell Mead, an Obama supporter, all accusing him of underestimating Al Qaeda’s resilience, foolishly dialing back the war on terror and trying to stop the bad guys by dialogue—all of which have brought us to this sorry juncture.

From the left comes Obama’s own campaign counter-terrorism adviser, La Salle University political scientist Michael Boyle, accusing him in the Guardian of foolishly continuing and even escalating the failed Bush administration policies that have simply made things worse and—brought us to this juncture.

Which is it? Did Obama recklessly take his foot off the gas in the war on terror, or did he recklessly floor it? Leave it to the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson to point out the essential point, which is that the wheels fell off this clunker a long time ago. It was the war-on-terror strategy that created the current crisis.

The truth is that U.S. foreign policy helped to create the decentralized al-Qaeda, a branch of which is believed to be trying to launch some kind of strike.

Robinson offers the perfect metaphor to illustrate the practical effect of the war on terror that we’ve been fighting against Al Qaeda for the past decade:

Al-Qaeda turns out to be like a pool of mercury. Hit it with a hammer and you end up with 10 little blobs instead of one big one.

The original mistake, Robinson writes—the “most fateful choice, and the biggest strategic error,

was the decision to invade Iraq. George W. Bush’s epic misadventure diverted resources and attention from the war in Afghanistan, giving a reprieve to the Taliban. The Iraq war also provided new focal points for jihadist grievance — Abu Ghraib, for example — and gave new oxygen to the simmering intra-Muslim conflict between Sunni and Shiite.

That enabled Al Qaeda to establish itself in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2004 (the Forward’s Marc Perelman was the first to report that at the time). Then it moved to Yemen. Now it’s in Syria.

Getty Images
CIA deputy director Michael Morell

Robinson’s view of Al Qaeda was echoed Tuesday by the outgoing deputy director of the CIA, Michael Morell. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Morell said that for all of America’s successes against terrorism, “Al-Qaeda has had its own victory as well. The dispersal of al-Qaeda is their victory.”

Hinting at another aspect of the growing danger from Al Qaeda’s dispersal, Morell said that Syria today is the No. 1 threat to American security. In large part that’s because of the danger that Al Qaeda and other jihadists will succeed in toppling the Assad regime and getting their hands on its vast arsenals of missiles and chemical weapons.

Syria, Morell said, is “probably the most important issue in the world today because of where it is currently heading,” a reference to the prospect of a jihadist stronghold emerging there.

He rates Iran as No. 2, the core Al Qaeda organization as No. 3 and North Korea as No. 4. In fact, he said, “I don’t remember a time when there have been so many national security issues on the front burner as there are today.”

What to do? The Post’s Robinson has a good starting point:

My argument with Obama’s policies is not that the president has tried too hard to end the “war on terror,” as hawks allege. It’s that he hasn’t tried hard enough to leave behind the “war” metaphor as ill-suited to a struggle that is fundamentally ideological.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yemen, Washington Post, Walter Russell Mead, The Guardian, Syria, President Obama, Peter King, Marc Thiessen, Michael Morell, Michael Boyle, Jihadists, Iraq, Iran, George W. Bush, Eugene Robinson, Bret Stephens, Assad Regime, Al Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.