Late last week a State Department spokesman uttered “The war on terror is over.”
That utterance was followed up by President Obama’s surprise trip to Afghanistan (“coincidentally” on the anniversary of the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden, or so we are told…). While in Afghanistan, Obama gave a political speech aimed at folks back home in America in which he echoed the sentiments of his State Department spokesman in essentially declaring Al Qaeda beaten.
Before we deconstruct this politically motivated fantasy, we should probably point out that we are not now, nor were we truly ever engaged in a “war on terrorism.” We don’t want to belabor the point because many observers have pointed out this reality over the years. Terrorism is a method, not an enemy. As the late philosopher and columnist Jeff Cooper said shortly after President Bush named this struggle the “war on terrorism:” “Give us an enemy we can shoot at, Mr. President.”
But it was not to be. Obama stopped referring to the war on terrorism as soon as he came into office, his administration floating the term “overseas contingency operations” instead.
That drew instant and widespread ridicule and we haven’t heard the term mentioned much since it was originally floated after Obama got into office.
We should have paid closer attention. This wasn’t just about changing names. This was about ending the war effort. The goal in changing the name was to prepare the American people for an end to the war. Obama came into office knowing he was going to end the war–unilaterally. The fact is, the war and the threat of terrorism don’t help liberals get elected. There was a reason why the word “terrorism” was never uttered at the 2004 Democratic National Convention when the Democrats nominated Senator John Kerry.
The DNC did the polling and the focus groups and found out that the issue was a loser for them. Ever since, the hard left has been hell bent for leather on ending the war effort.
Obama’s State Department spokesman claimed last week that “since most of Al Qaeda’s is now dead” Islamists have other places to turn for legitimate inclusion in the political process.
There is so much to comment on here that we hardly know where to begin.
First of all, most of the original members of Al Qaeda were dead before Obama even got into office. Most estimates were that some 75% of Al Qaeda’s leadership had been killed or captured in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom. The killing of Osama Bin Laden just over a year ago likely did not add much to the operational degradation of Al Qaeda. Despite claims to the contrary, it is highly unlikely that Bin Laden still exercised operational control over Al Qaeda around the globe at the time of his death. So, this is hardly a new development as the Obama State Department spokesman implies.
We now know from seized documents and from former intelligence operatives that Bin Laden had, for years, limited his communications with the outside world, including Al Qaeda, to a single human courier. There is simply no way he could possibly have maintained operational authority or control over the organization in such circumstances.
This suggests that his death did not add substantially to the degradation of Al Qaeda’s operational capability.
Bin Laden was barely involved any more. He wasn’t even in a position to raise money–his chief role for years in the past. Nor did he find it necessary to issue frequent videotaped messages to his followers or to the world at large, something he took great pride in doing earlier in Al Qaeda’s war against the West.
Because of this, Bin Laden’s death cannot be accurately described as ending Al Qaeda. Perhaps we are on the cusp of defeating Al Qaeda in the Afghan-Pak theater of operations, but that is not due to Bin Laden’s death. Bin Laden’s death was in reality a byproduct of the campaign against Al Qaeda in that region over a period of years, starting way back in 2001.
Moreover, Al Qaeda globally is far from finished. The organization has evolved into an umbrella group for Jihadists around the globe. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is active in Africa. Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula is locked in an active, violent insurgency in Yemen. Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s successor and always the organization’s ideologue, is still at large. His Jihadist brother, released from prison in the so-called “Arab Spring” is back in operation in Egypt.
Then there are the Al Qaeda affiliates that don’t identify themselves as Al Qaeda, but certainly operate in a similar fashion. There’s Aby Sayyaf in the Philippines, which has kidnapped and murdered Americans in the past. There’s Al Shabaab in Somalia, which recruits heavily from the Somali refugee community here in the USA. There’s Boko Haram, which is making life in Nigeria a living hell for Christians. There’s Jemaah Islamiyah in Malaysia and Indonesia, which has attacked Westerners, including the 202 deaths in the Bali, Indonesia bombing in 2002. And of course, the Taliban themselves, who are allied with Al Qaeda and gave them a launching pad for operations in the 1990s.
All of these organizations still exist. We are told now that Bin Laden did not have a high regard for these affiliates, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any less of a threat.
But let’s not forget the Jihadist terrorist organizations that operate and who are not overtly aligned with Al Qaeda. These serve as a reminder that the enemy isn’t just “Al Qaeda,” despite what the Obama administration wants you to believe. We should not take too much comfort in the fact that most of these organizations operate overseas and don’t regularly target Americans. They don’t view Americans any differently than they view other Westerners or kafirs.
There is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, which, like Abu Sayyef, has targeted Americans in the past. There’s Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the horrific Mumbai attacks in 2008. Keep in mind that LeT used an American to conduct reconnaissance for that operation and their captured literature showed plans to target the American homeland. There are the Islamic Jihad Union in Uzbekistan and Jaish-e-Mohammed in Kashmir. There’s Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has known operatives in the US. And, along those same lines, we have HAMAS, which currently only targets Israel, but which has an extensive network in the US.
Most ominously, given the threat from Iran, is Hezbollah, described by more than one US official as the “A” team of terrorism. Congressional investigations estimate that they have thousands of supporters and hundred of operatives here in the US. A very recent report indicates that Hezbollah has a network centered on Shia mosques here in the US as well.
But this all misses the basic point. We are on the receiving end of a global Islamic insurgency. It’s not a homogenous insurgency by any stretch. Many of the insurgent groups are completely unrelated and some even hate each other. But they are all united in one goal: establishment of Islamic rule under Shariah law.
This war did not start on September 11th, 2001, with Al Qaeda’s attacks on the US homeland; it had been raging on a lower level overseas for decades. And the war will not end with the death of Osama Bin Laden, or the outright defeat of Al Qaeda, or the inevitable NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The declaration of victory is purely for domestic political consumption, which is very sad and dangerous indeed.
Center for Security Policy Vice President Christopher Holton is available for speaking engagements on the subjects of terrorism, terrorism financing, Shariah, Shariah-Compliant Finance and Jihad. For more information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org