This same critique applies directly to McCain as well. Note the last paragraph / sentence:
During the first Presidential debate in Mississippi Senator Obama claimed that “…al Qaeda is resurgent, stronger now than at any time since 2001.” By what measures has the Senator come to this conclusion? Let’s look at this question.
The terrorist organization has been unable to launch a single terrorist attack in the United States in seven years. But that doesn’t tell the entire story. Prior to 9/11, al Qaeda had ties to the previous 1993 bombing of the WTC (it is arguable whether al Qaeda was directly involved with that attack or came together with the perpetrators later, although I think they were already closely connected). It took al Qaeda eight years to launch another attack of that scale. This is an indication of the patience of its’ leaders and we can’t say the threat is gone. But we can certainly conclude it is diminished simply by the fact that the US has killed or captured dozens of al Qaeda leaders and international cooperation against these terrorist network increased greatly.
The threat of another large scale al Qaeda attack in the US is low, but not for lack of desire. Although the next attack will probably be of a much smaller scale, one or two men can still do a lot of damage. However, the threat to mainland US is decreased not increased as Obama asserts.
But what about the threat against US overseas interests and our allies? The threat there is much greater than at home right now. But even there that threat has been reduced, not strengthened.
We just came out of several years in Iraq with al Qaeda terrorists attacking US forces with some impunity because it was very difficult to identify and target them as they blended in with their Iraqi supporters. The flipping of the Sunni tribes to our side left al Qaeda fighters exposed and they have been mostly dealt with. Although the threat is still high in Iraq al Qaeda suffered a horrendous defeat at the hands of coalition forces.
The psychological impact of this defeat cannot be measured but it cannot be ignored either. Al Qaeda gained strength in the early 90’s by claiming credit (where none was deserved) for driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan and helping to bring about the dissolution of the USSR (that credit goes mostly to the native Afghani fighters not Arab interlopers).
But people love even a perceived winner. Al Qaeda ranks swelled with young jihadis in Afghanistan, Sudan and Pakistan. In the 90’s it sent fighters to Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Horn of Africa, Asia and established sophisticated cells in Europe and the United States.
The 1990’s was al Qaeda’s peak. Obama’s assertion that they are stronger now is pure fantasy. The loss in Iraq has substantially reduced the number of young Muslim men willing to ‘go to jihad’. It has handed al Qaeda a political, strategic, and public relations disaster. Former jihadis and even religious leaders in Saudi Arabia now decry al Qaeda.
The real damage to al Qaeda is evident when you consider its’ desired endstate. Al Qaeda wants to emulate the Shia revolution in Iran. It wants a caliphate established across the Middle East, Southwest Asia and Northern Africa. To start with, it needed to establish an Islamic state to stage and prepare for war and drive Western powers out. In fact, they got the opposite. Al Qaeda lost the Islamic state it held in Afghanistan (or rather the Taliban held as a close ally) and the West is far more involved in the Middle East, Southwest Asia and the Horn of Africa than it has ever been.
Some claim that what al Qaeda lost in Afghanistan it regained in Pakistan – thus the resurgent myth. But al Qaeda already had a strong presence in the frontier areas of Pakistan before 9/11. It staged in those areas while fighting the Soviets just as it and the Taliban are doing now. There were already training facilities and sympathetic madrassas in the frontier region. Al Qaeda has experienced a vast net-loss in territory and influence by losing Afghanistan.
Of course, al Qaeda does have a presence still in the border regions. Along with the Taliban, it is launching successful attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan. But a large measure of that increase in activity is because NATO and Afghani forces are now pushing into regions that were left to Taliban control up until 2006. Instead of waiting for them to come down from the hills the coalition is going into the hills to find Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in their lairs.
Add to that the stepped up drone activity in the border area and the loss in Iraq, al Qaeda has been dramatically reigned in from a global territory perspective. Last year it turned its’ focus on securing its’ last sanctuary in Pakistan. This is why al Qaeda and the Taliban assassinated Bhutto. To stop the alignment of the Democratic forces of Pakistan with the military dictatorship of Musharref, which was a US driven initiative that failed, but had a positive outcome none the less. Some will ask how a positive outcome can come out of the death of Bhutto, but I would inform them that Bhutto created the Taliban in the first place (something the media likes to keep hidden) so my sympathy is low.
Ultimately, events have driven Musharref from office in what was seen as a defeat for US foreign policy. In his place, Bhutto’s widower has become the power man. Many saw this as a disaster as he was viewed as being weak against the extremists in the frontier regions.
As soon as his party took power in Pakistan it started negotiating with the Taliban. Many shook their heads at a new policy of appeasement that failed miserably the last time it was tried by Musharref in 2005. Observers had good reason to be doubtful. The peace accords under Musharref had allowed the Taliban to fester for another two years until Musharref began a military offensive against them in 2007. He did some damage to them by driving them from the Swat Valley, but not much. Then Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower replaced a disgraced Musharref as President last month.
When Zardari’s party started to negotiate with the Taliban I counseled caution to the nay-sayers. In my view, any new Pakistan government would first have to legitimize combat operations by attempting to negotiate first. I think that this man whose own wife was murdered by al Qaeda allied Taliban would understand that he must eliminate them but he would first have to legitimize the fight to a population that is generally sympathetic to the Taliban (although that sympathy plummeted with the assassination of Bhutto as I predicted at the time).
Which brings us to the present. The new government of Pakistan has been fighting sporadically with al Qaeda and allied Taliban tribes all summer although media coverage has been low. Now it appears, Zardari must feel he has legitimized a broader war because he has increased offensive operations according to recent reporting. Strategy Page has an interesting assessment.
According to Strategy Page the Pakistan military is taking the fight to the Taliban in the frontier region. Strategy Page claims that a large Pakistani force has identified Taliban strongholds and is taking them down with air and indirect firepower. The Pakistani military seems to have learned that just sending truck loads of troops in to get captured is a really bad idea. Now it is preparing the objectives with overwhelming firepower and following that with overwhelming force. Somebody in Pakistan is learning from the US military.
If Zardari holds his nerve better than Musharref, we might have the beginning of a full scale invasion into Taliban territory, an envelopment of al Qaeda’ last strongholds in the Taliban fortresses of the frontier. Strategy page reports that the particular Taliban tribe under attack has been putting out distress calls and that no other Taliban tribes are responding. In addition, al Qaeda fighter have been arriving to fight but have been destroyed along with the Taliban.
The pressure is on al Qaeda every which way it turns and it is losing, not winning.
The overarching point being that the Al Qaeda is not stronger now by any conceivable measure that Obama could put forward, unless he is simply looking at casualty numbers as the one and only metric. They go up, we are losing, they go down, we a winning. But that’s a rather silly way to measure success in war. In that case, I regret to inform you that the allies lost WWII on D-Day because we suffered over 4,000 KIA on the beaches of France, the greatest one day loss up until that invasion and probably after.
The truth is as it has always been, we cannot go to war with Pakistan to get Usama bin Laden. That means either Pakistan has to get him or we get lucky with a drone or special operations mission. The only sure way to get him is to substantially reduce his support among the Taliban tribes. We do that by discrediting him as a “hero” to the locals by defeating al Qaeda forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he loses his mythic proportions and becomes ‘just a man’ and his presence causes the tribes more problems than he is worth, someone will decide to claim that 25 million dollar bounty and give up his location.
They best way to make sure that happens is to turn the Taliban tribes against each other and make them jocky for an alliance with the Pakistan government. Then one of the tribes may give up his location to gain support. It’s yet to be seen if that plays out. Before Bhutto’s death, the Taliban tribes were beginning to war with each other but Musharref lost his nerve along with his credibility.
It is clear that Obama wants to make it look like the Bush administration has lost to al Qaeda and the only one who can beat al Qaeda is Obama. I find it dispiriting that the Democratic Party’s candidate is so willing to twist the truth and run down the accomplishments of our soldiers just to score a cheap political shot. Really, he could surely win the presidency without making up this nonsense.