The Future of Al Qaeda

Monday, February 28, 2011

Via a good friend of mine, I saw this NYT article: As Regimes Fall in Arab World, Al Qaeda Sees History Fly By.

The article forms a decent point-counterpoint about what the growing unrest and movement towards democracy means to Al Qaeda. Though the article itself doesn't answer the question, it does a better job than most point-counterpoint articles in that at least this one cites real experts with real opinions based on real research rather than the usual fare (research versus some idiot they found on a blog...ahem...).

For nearly two decades, the leaders of Al Qaeda have denounced the Arab world’s dictators as heretics and puppets of the West and called for their downfall. Now, people in country after country have risen to topple their leaders — and Al Qaeda has played absolutely no role.

In fact, the motley opposition movements that have appeared so suddenly and proved so powerful have shunned the two central tenets of the Qaeda credo: murderous violence and religious fanaticism. The demonstrators have used force defensively, treated Islam as an afterthought and embraced democracy, which is anathema to Osama bin Laden and his followers.


“So far — and I emphasize so far — the score card looks pretty terrible for Al Qaeda,” said Paul R. Pillar, who studied terrorism and the Middle East for nearly three decades at the C.I.A. and is now at Georgetown University. “Democracy is bad news for terrorists. The more peaceful channels people have to express grievances and pursue their goals, the less likely they are to turn to violence.”

This is in contrast to:
There is evidence that the uprisings have enthralled some jihadists. One Algerian man associated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the network’s North African affiliate, welcomed the uprisings in a weekend interview and said militants were returning from exile to join the battle in Libya, arming themselves from government weapons caches.


Michael Scheuer, author of a new biography of Mr. bin Laden and head of the C.I.A.’s bin Laden unit in the late 1990s, thinks such enthusiasm [disappointed demonstrators turning to Al Qaeda as the only viable option] is more than wishful thinking.

Mr. Scheuer says he believes that Americans, including many experts, have wildly misjudged the uprisings by focusing on the secular, English-speaking, Westernized protesters who are a natural draw for television. Thousands of Islamists have been released from prisons in Egypt alone, and the ouster of Al Qaeda’s enemy, Mr. Mubarak, will help revitalize every stripe of Islamism, including that of Al Qaeda and its allies, he said.

As I read the article, it seem to me that democracy is quite simply good for democracy. Though it may yield some short-term mayhem - we may face some newly-elected governments that are none too fond of us for historic reasons - in the long term, I believe M.E. democracies will ultimately be best for U.S. foreign policy and security in that region.

I think a lot depends, too, on work an educational opportunities present in the region; highly-educated youth with no means to find work have turned, in the past, to groups like Al Qaeda to not only vent frustration but also because that group would possibly help overthrow the (sometimes U.S. installed) government that was currently doing nothing for them. Maybe not so much with a democracy, being much more, um, accountable? To their citizens...


Anyway, the whole article is short, to the point, and worth the read as the debate over the best course of action for Obama takes place.


steves 12:16 PM  

Excellent article. I will have more to say later.

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