A fully armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle taxis down the runway at an air base in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/US Air Force, Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)
It ought to be pretty clear that President Obama doesn’t have the slightest clue about what to do about terrorism and radical Islam.
How else to explain why the United States, after saying that Al Qaeda is pretty much dead and buried, closed nearly twenty embassies around the world last week after US intelligence agencies intercepted a single message from the leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in Pakistan to the leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen? And then, making things worse, the United States unleashed an unprecedented barrage of terrorist-creating drone strikes against targets in Yemen? And, finally, with allied branches of Al Qaeda in both Syria and Iraq, the United States is offering to help Iraq’s government battle the group—which is setting off waves of suicide bombs that kill hundreds—while, at the same time, supporting the same Al Qaeda group in Syria?
The New York Times, in reporting on the Yemen drone strikes—which, it notes, in the past have “set off a major public backlash against the United States”—points out that the strikes have been targeting mid-level radicals, not its leaders and not necessarily anyone plotting any attacks against US targets:
Senior American intelligence officials said last week that none of the about three dozen militants killed so far in the drone strikes were “household names,” meaning top-tier leaders of the affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But the American official said the strikes had targeted “rising stars” in the Yemen network, people who were more likely to be moving around and vulnerable to attack. “They may not be big names now,” the official said, “but these were the guys that would have been future leaders.”
Meanwhile, in Iraq, Libya, Pakistan and elsewhere, radical Islamists and Al Qaeda types have been freed in bold prison raids and other releases, the same Times piece reports:
Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate orchestrated attacks in late July that freed hundreds of inmates from two prisons in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib, American officials said. A few days later, more than 1,000 prisoners escaped under murky circumstances at a prison near Benghazi. In another attack, fighters stormed a prison at Dera Ismail Khan, just outside Pakistan’s tribal belt, freeing nearly 250 inmates.
Needless to say, the Obama administration’s overreaction to the threat of terrorist attacks, in Yemen and elsewhere, has much to do with the continuing aftermath of the September 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya—which was not Al Qaeda–related—that became a Republican party political football that is still being kicked around. (It’s also true, of course, that the Republicans refuse to fund better security for US embassies and other facilities around the world.)
It is the rebirth of Al Qaeda–style attacks in Iraq, though, that is most ironic. The United States has offered a $10 million reward for information about the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, who apparently now lives in Syria and runs an organization that he calls the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” As Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said over the weekend:
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu D’ua, is now based in Syria and has changed the name of AQI to the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS). He has taken personal credit for a series of terrorist attacks in Iraq since 2011, and most recently claimed credit for the operations against the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, the suicide bombing assault on the Ministry of Justice, among other attacks against Iraqi Security Forces and Iraqi citizens going about their daily lives.
And she added:
In this regard, the United States is prepared to work closely with the Iraqi Government to confront the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups. We look forward to discussing bilateral cooperation in this and other areas, pursuant to the Strategic Framework Agreement between our two countries, during the upcoming visit of Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari next week in Washington.
But the Iraqi foreign minister’s visit will be a confusing one, since Iraq has largely sided with Iran and with Iran’s Syrian ally, the government of President Bashar al-Assad, while the United States is backing the Syrian rebel allies of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
On August 8, The New York Times published an important analysis of the rising power of radical Islam among the Syrian rebels, under the headline “As Foreign Fighters Flood Syria, Fears of a New Extremist Haven.” The piece provided clear evidence that the most radical groups among the Syrian rebels are working side by side with the so-called Free Syrian Army, the American-backed force:
Yet the lines dividing the Free Syrian Army from jihadist groups are fluid, and the conflicts have not stopped F.S.A. leaders from working with their fighters, whose fierceness on the battlefield is undisputed. That has helped create a divergence between statements by exile opposition leaders rejecting extremists and their ideology and actions by ground commanders eager for any help they can get. …
This week, the jihadist group Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, or the Army of Emigrants and Supporters, led by a fighter from the Caucasus known as Abu Omar al-Shesheni—the Chechen—worked with Free Syrian Army battalions to take the Menagh air base in Aleppo Province after 10 months of trying.
As I reported last week, those Chechens, allies of Al Qaeda, pose a direct threat to Russia, which partly explains why Russia is supporting Assad so strongly. And one of the Syrian rebels interviewed by the Times reporter explicitly threatened Iran and, of course, Russia:
He also seemed to suggest that Russia would be a legitimate target for its role in supporting Mr. Assad and for its brutal suppression of Muslim militants in the Caucasus.
“Russia is killing Muslims in southern Muslim republics and sends arms and money to kill Muslims in Syria as well,” he said. “I swear by God that Russia will pay a big price for its dirty role in the Syrian war.”
Read Bob Dreyfuss on the Obama administration’s straining relations with Russia.