Sunday, February 7, 2010

Obama outsmarts the terrorists?

Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast explains how Obama is outsmarting the terrorists.  Consider this remarkable excerpt:
Which brings us to Barack Obama’s “war on terror.” Conservatives keep saying that Obama doesn’t really believe we’re at war; that he sees terrorists as mere criminals, not the epic evil-doers that they really are. But here’s the irony: It’s precisely because he doesn’t see the terrorist threat as quite so epic that al Qaeda is falling apart. (emphasis added)

To understand why, it helps to understand that al Qaeda is one of the weakest enemies America has ever faced. In their day, the Nazis and communists each ran a great power. (In the case of the communists, two). What’s more, during the Depression, vast numbers of people across the globe—including some of the most famous intellectuals in the United States and Europe—believed the fascists and communists could build societies that were more prosperous and dynamic than their democratic competitors. Barely anyone has ever believed that about al Qaeda. Not only have the jihadists never controlled a powerful country, but no one really believes that if they did it would be anything other than a basket case. To millions of people, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia once offered compelling visions of modernity; Taliban Afghanistan never did.

At the end of the day, all jihadist terrorists can really do is kill. But the more they kill, the more they alienate their fellow Muslims. As the French scholar Gilles Kepel has pointed out, the reason jihadists turned their attention to the United States in the first place was because they utterly failed in the 1990s to overthrow the governments of Algeria and Egypt. They failed because the more people they killed, the more hated they became. And when they lost popular support, they were easily crushed.

In recent years, the dynamic has been playing itself out again. In countries like Pakistan and Jordan, where al Qaeda keeps slaughtering innocent Muslims, its public support has fallen off a cliff. During the Bush years, the only thing that kept al Qaeda from complete ideological collapse was Muslim hatred of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our unblinking support for Muslim dictatorships and for Israel, and our use of torture at places like Abu Ghraib and Guant√°namo Bay.

Now Obama, by pledging to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and close Gitmo, and by eschewing torture—in other words, by not overreacting to the terrorist threat—is cutting al Qaeda’s throat. Although the U.S. government is still not exactly loved in Muslim nations, it is hated less. Between 2008 and 2009, according to Gallup, approval of U.S. policies rose 23 points in Tunisia, 22 points in Algeria, 19 points in Egypt, 17 points in Saudi Arabia and 13 points in Kuwait. In Indonesia, according to the Pew Research Center, approval of the U.S. rose 26 points. And not coincidentally, al Qaeda’s slide seems to be accelerating. Between 2003 and 2009, according to Pew, support for Osama bin Laden has dropped 34 points in Indonesia, 28 points in Pakistan, 28 points in Jordan, 20 points in the Palestinian territories, 16 points in Lebanon and 13 points in Turkey. In Indonesia and Pakistan, much of the decline has occurred in the last year alone. Bin Laden is having so much trouble demonizing the United States that his last audio tape focused on climate change.
Maybe Obama isn't worrying about al Qaeda, but his intelligence chiefs certainly are.  And I'm quite sure they know more about the current threat environment than does Mr. Beinart.  CNN reports on recent testimony by U.S. intelligence chiefs before a Senate committee:
Asked by committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, of the likelihood of another attempted terror attack on the United States in the next three to six months, the officials agreed with Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair's initial answer of "certain."

While none of the intelligence chiefs, who included CIA Director Leon Panetta, FBI Director Robert Mueller and others, cited a specific pending threat, their testimony made clear that an evolving al Qaeda remains their top concern.

"My greatest concern, and what keeps me awake at night, is that al Qaeda and its terrorist allies and affiliates could very well attack the United States," Panetta said. (emphasis added)

Al Qaeda is adapting methods to make their plots more difficult to detect, shifting from large attacks with multiple players to using individuals without any background in terrorism, Panetta said.
If I understand Beinart's argument, he believes that the less President Obama is concerned about terrorism, the less likely he will be to commit the U.S. to actions that further inflame the perpetrators of terror.  Meanwhile the more al-Qaeda kills innocent Muslims, the more ostracized they will become by other nations.  Using this perverse logic, I suppose he believes that Wold War II would have had a better ending if England and the United States had not seen the Nazi threat as "epic."  This is a naive and dangerous argument.

It is also clear that the author equates appoval of U.S. policy with a lessening of hatred for Americans.  This is a fallacy.  A different conclusion could reasonably be drawn:  The terrorists prefer Obama's policies to those of President Bush because it gives them an opportunity to rest, regroup, reorganize and launch more attacks against the infidels which, make no mistake about it, the terrorists still hate.

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