Why the CIA Director Is Wrong: Rethinking Al-Qaeda

osamaBy Barry Rubin:

It’s time, a dozen years after September 11 and following Islamist coups in the Gaza Strip, Islamist electoral revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Turkey, and a probable Islamist victory during the next year in Syria, to completely rethink our view of al-Qaeda.

First, al-Qaeda wasn’t involved in any of these events, and several other big developments we could list. Second, al-Qaeda hasn’t disappeared, contrary to the Obama administration’s claims. And third, the American homeland is now demonstrably well-protected from terrorist attacks, so consequently while success on this front remains important, it need not be the top U.S. strategic priority.

So let me propose a new way of looking at things: aside from being a problem of counterterrorism — that is, of law enforcement — al-Qaeda is no longer important.

It certainly isn’t strategically important, nor is it important for the biggest and most essential U.S. national interests. That doesn’t mean al-Qaeda should be ignored, yet combatting it is relatively manageable.

This alternative view is especially significant at a moment when the new CIA director is the father — and the president, secretary of State, and secretary of Defense the avid fans — of a theory that places al-Qaeda at the center of the world stage. Basically, their theory goes like this:

Al-Qaeda is terribly evil and a threat to America. It must be fought. But all Islamism — except for al-Qaeda — can be moderated and won over by a sympathetic U.S. policy. The Islamists are the best people to handle and defeat al-Qaeda, and by giving the people what they want — Islam running the society — their desire to commit terrorism or to attack America will subside. After all, if the United States shows itself to be Islamism’s best friend, why should Islamists be angry at it?

This strategy began with Obama’s Cairo speech, which was a profoundly pro-Islamist statement, and that’s why he invited Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders to sit in the front row.

In other words: put your enemies in power, and they are no longer your enemies. Moreover, once Islamists get into power they will get entangled in party politics, paving roads, running schools, and doing all the other things that governments do. They will lose their radicalism and certainly stop using violence.

There’s a lot to say against this theory.

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