AL QAEDA: THE REPORTS OF MY DEATH ARE GREATLY EXAGGERATED
Watchdog Wire, By Jerry Gordon:
Earlier today I watched a C-SPAN reprise of a Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) panel that featuring FDD Senior fellow, Tom Joscelyn, director of The Long War Journal, and Eli Lake, senior national security correspondent for Newsweek/The Daily Beast.
Watch the C-Span FDD panel: ”A Look at Al Qaeda and its Affiliates”.
I caught a discussion by Eli Lake about a story that both he and colleague Josh Rogin had broken at The Daily Beast. It concerned, “an electronic conference between leaders of al Qaeda’s regional branches featuring advanced encryption methods with video, voice, and chat capabilities.” MEMRI had posted a related story out of Lahore, Pakistan that an Al Qaeda “data hub” with a similar command and control net connecting what the Obama Administration has taken to call the “core” of Al Qaeda with its ‘affiliates’. The latter includes the alphabet soup of AQAP in Yemen, AQIM in the Maghreb, Book Harem in Nigeria, Al Shabaab in Somalia and the latest Jihadi group in Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
As The Counter Jihad Report quoted Jocelyn saying,” It’s indisputable that [al Qaeda has] made more gains now than at any point in their history,”
The FDD panel was endeavoring to assess the validity of the 2012 Obama Presidential meme of “bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is on the run”. Clearly, given the spate of AQ prison breaks across the Ummah in Libya, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen, releasing thousands of fighters the Jihadist group has not been flattened. This despite the Obama Administration conduct of counterterrorism, drone and special ops and secret war campaigns. AQ appears to be alive and flourishing. Moreover, AQ’s genetic ideological source, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been metastasizing from the Arab Spring genesis of early 2011 attempting to assume political power in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
AQ has become the go to opposition military force in Syria and has re-ignited sectarian warfare in Iraq. Only Egypt’s military has overthrown elected MB leader, President Mohammed Morsi, now in jail along with the spiritual Leader of the MB, Mohammed Badie. Meanwhile the Egyptian MB has engaged in a futile uprising against Egyptian Gen. Adel Fattah al-Sisi’s army and security forces. AQ has fomented sectarian warfare in Iraq after the Obama Administration took French leave in 2009 without putting in place a status of forces agreement. Now, even the al Maliki government in Baghdad is suggesting that it may need US counterterrorism assistance. The AQ opposition forces in Syria are fighting Assad’s military, the IRGC Al Quds force and attacking the latter’s ally Hezbollah in both Syria and Lebanon.
So what to make of all of these Jihadist activities by AQ? Note this exchange between Tom Jocelyn and Eli Lake at the FDD panel:
Eli Lake: “Earlier this summer, Yemeni authorities were able to apprehend a carrier from AQ as he was uploading what appeared to be information from an important business meeting between high level AQ officials. It was a recording of a 7-hour remote internet conference. It opened with a message from Al-Zawahiri where he assessed that the U.S was in a similar situation to the Soviets in 1989.”
“There is no doubt about that AQ has lost a lot of senior leaders in the region, however, they have adapted and Zawahiri has shown he has the ability to manage and delegate.”
Tom Joscelyn: “The whole distinction between AQ core and affiliates is something we have been trying to shed light on for some time now. The core is not well defined; it sort of vaguely refers to the leadership and the councilors around them. However, if you think about it, you realize AQ is not so stupid to keep the whole of their leadership in one locale.”
“Why did so many people get it wrong? When you look back at the history of the post- 9/11 world, you see assessments that have consistently been wrong regarding the capabilities of AQ; when you look at their literature, AQ defines themselves as political revolutionaries, they want to wield political power.”
Lake: [Al Qaeda has] high levels of encryption. They are constantly aware of internet security. No one is allowed to use any type of wireless broadcast. They have developed some pretty impressive technology.”
Joscelyn: “What needs to be pointed out is the fact that the leadership has a way of reaching out to affiliates worldwide.”
“We are acting as if though the affiliates are something that AQ just stumbled upon. They have been part of their overall strategy for some time.”
“[O]ur enemy gets a say in this fight, and if we keep defining them narrowly as terrorists we are just going to keep picking off senior leadership without cracking the base of the organization.”
Lake: “[AQ and Iran] are like two rival cartels who share the interest of making sure that the FBI is weak. … [T]hey can cooperate when they see it is clearly in their shared interest.”
Joscelyn: “If you look at it right now, obviously Syria is a huge disagreement between the two. What is interesting is how many times the two have been able to put aside their differences in order to collude.”
The Washington Free Beacon noted differences between Lake and Jocelyn on what AQ’s objective is:
Lake said he remained hopeful that peaceful Muslims like the protesters in Egypt would reject the Islamist ideology, pointing to the necessity for groups such as AQAP to employ violent thugs to enforce Sharia law.
Joscelyn countered that al Qaeda continues to achieve victories despite the rejection of jihad by younger generations of Muslims.
“They’re not just terrorists—they’re political revolutionaries—and they want power for themselves.”
At a critical point in the panel discussion, FFD President and moderator Cliff May offered a useful historical analogy from WWII about fighting the no name war against AQ’s Jihadist ideology:
In 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill got together — they could see that they would defeat the Axis powers. They had no intention of destroying the populations of Germany, Italy and Japan, but they decided that they needed to destroy or defeat what they called the philosophies, what we call ideologies today, that were responsible for WWII. When we talk about ‘violent extremism,’ and we don’t grapple with the ideologies that are behind the regimes, movements and groups that are attacking the West. We are not taking up that task; we are not discrediting or delegitimizing those ideologies.
Jocelyn’s acknowledgement that the AQ doctrine is revolutionary and seeks to impose political governance based on Sharia is I believe a correct analysis. Thus the Administration’s AQ core /affiliates paradigm is inaccurate. All we are engaged in are endless whack a mole counterterrorism .campaigns. Rather AQ is more like a revolutionary mafia endeavoring to spread its doctrine through opportunistic forays into the soft underbelly of the Ummah. The on again off again relations between AQ and the Islamic Regime in Tehran is a reflection of the diverse but underlying commonality in the fundamentalist Jihadist doctrine. May’s historical reference to the Quebec Conference in 1943 between Roosevelt and Churchill and the decision to destroy fascist militarist doctrine sent a message to the TV and FDD panel audience: “it’s the doctrine, stupid”.
Jocelyn knows that the “core Jihadist” doctrine of AQ has to be destroyed and replaced. Unfortunately, its thin religious veneer allows it to escape prosecution in the West, because it looks like an attack on a “religion” rather than what it is a totalitarian political ideology.
Given the attendance by the policy wonk community from both the Hill and the NGO’s, clearly FDD did a service both inside and outside the Beltway.
Jerry Gordon is Sr. Vice President of World Encounter Institute and Sr. Editor for the New English Review. He is a former Army Intelligence officer who served during the Vietnam era. Mr. Gordon has published widely in such outlets as: FrontPageMagazine, The American Thinker, WorldNetDaily, ChronWatch, New English Review and its blog The Iconoclast, Israpundit and others. He has been a frequent guest discussing Middle East issues on radio in both the U.S. and Canada. He is co-host of the Middle East Roundtable series on Northwest Florida talk radio 1330 – AM WEBY in Pensacola. He is a graduate of both Boston and Columbia Universities. He holds an MBA in Finance from the Columbia University Graduate School of Finance. He ended his investment banking career in Manhattan as Vice President and Director BMO Capital – a US subsidiary of the Bank of Montreal, where he developed a cross border merger and acquisition and private financing practice involving clients in Canada, the US, UK and Israel. He is the author of a collection of interviews with notable personalities in the counter-jihad movements in Canada, the US, titled The West Speaks.