Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Steve Clemons: Lost on al Qaeda's Threat in Yemen

I last wrote about Steven Clemons in September, when he appeared on CNN opposite Fausta Wertz. The discussion covered developments in Middle East international politics, and especially questions of developing-country nuclear proliferation. Clemons has an analysis up this morning, "The Yemen Brief: Expanding Scope of US Military Engagement Exactly What Bin Laden Wants." The piece also appears at the radical news outlet, Talking Points Memo (via Memeorandum).

I agree with Clemons when he suggests that "President Obama must step back and think about America's current strategic course." But Clemons'
preceding passage is deeply problematic:
National security officials in the administration need to go back and read Peter Bergen's Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden in which he recounts many aspects of bin Laden's plan from the Islamic extremist uber-guru's own words - which was to draw the US deeply into the Middle East, and by its presence -- destabilize the governments in the region.

Bin Laden, hiding somewhere in Pakistan, remains the single most significant sculptor of global affairs today, pushing the buttons of an American superpower as well as other regimes, so that they engage in emotional, knee jerk crusades that undermine what is left of a global equilibrium and the perception of American power.

Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and enemies yet to be named win with each new soldier deployed to the Middle East and South Asia.
I have not read the Bergen book, although published in 2001, the thesis that Bin Laden remains at the center of the global al Qaeda organization is badly outdated. While Bin Laden affiliates and family members remain important terrorist actors in global jihad, experts today speak of intense decentralization as the defining element of current international terrorism. As I reported previously, al Qaeda is now a drastically tranformed network of follow-on jihadi cells and copy-cat Islamists. Indeed, the group is actually making a comeback from its decimation in Iraq, when U.S. forces badly degraded the cells operating under Abu Musab al Zarqawi. In 2006, Zarqawi was killed by U.S. bombs in a fighter strike outside of Baqubah. (For more on this, see Frederick Kagan's pathbreaking analysis, "Al Qaeda In Iraq.")

I addressed some of Kagan themes in my recent piece, "
Leftists Spin Attempted Northwest Airlines Attack as Evidence of Fake Al-Qaeda Threat." It's simply not true that al Qaeda today can be primarily analyzed in terms of Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda is a "networked consortium" of loosely linked cellular bodies. I cited at my post the work of Audry Kurth Cronin. See especially, "How al-Qaida Ends: The Decline and Demise of Terrorist Groups." Plus, on terrorism more broadly, I discussed Brigitte L. Nacos' text, Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding Threats and Responses in the Post 9/11 World. Be sure to read that post for the changing significance of terrorism post-9/11.

Steve Clemons' entry is certainly valuable in its publication of the Yemeni Ministry of Public Affairs communiqué, "
Embassy of the Republic of Yemen Washington, DC Office of Media & Public Affairs." And Clemons is right to indicate that the administration faces serious challenges -- with renewed urgency -- on the national security front. Yet, his analysis is not especially helpful in identifying the types of strategic and tactical problems that late-edition al Qaeda organizations pose for U.S. foreign and military policy. Or at the least, Clemons wanted to begin his discussion from the bottom up, with those "enemies yet to be named." It will be these largely faceless operatives -- increasingly sophisticated and exponentially radical -- who will pose existential dangers to the U.S. and its Western allies in the years ahead.

Plus, be sure to watch Sheila MacVicar's penetrating analysis on al Qaeda in Yemen, especially her discussion of next-stage bomb technologies, "
Yemen's New Wave of al Qaeda."


Old Rebel said...

I thought the glorious victory in Iraq was going to eliminate terrorism -- remember how that "fly paper" strategy was supposed to work?

Someone's assumptions are wrong.

The Griper said...

that problematic statement says a whole lot more too. it shows Clemons did not think his theory through if he bases it on this theme.

think about it a bit. it is the old god/satan argument for recruitment.

if the U.S. does something then it proves that the U.S. is the great Satan and recruitment is based on fighting this great Satan.

if the U.S. does nothing then it proves that Allah is on their side. thus recruitment is based on this.