Self delusions about al Qaeda
...Arguably, U.S. intelligence made the same error -- in reverse -- in analyzing the WMD threat before the Iraq War. And now there is every sign that the intelligence community, in analyzing the al Qaeda threat, is making the same mistake again.
The administration is writing a narrative that the al Qaeda threat is on the wane. The White House now distinguishes between al Qaeda "core" and al Qaeda "franchises" or affiliates. Basically, it argues, the core represents the major threat to the homeland, and most of the core is gone. This leads to the comfortable view that Washington's task now is just to monitor the franchise threat and keep watch on the homeland. Somalia and Yemen are seen as success stories and models for elsewhere.
Essentially, the White House has drawn a clear line between groups focused on attacking U.S. and other Western targets (which it cares about) and others (which it largely doesn't).
But this narrative overlooks a lot. It ignores the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq, the foreign fighters in Syria, and allies of the Taliban and al Qaeda, such as the Haqqani network in Pakistan. Nor can the White House explain the chain of terrorists that has left a trail of blood from Libya to Mali to Algeria.
In describing the challenge as the mere dismantling of a transnational terrorist network, rather than as battling a global Islamist insurgency, the White House misses the true nature of the danger. Al Qaeda does not have the narrow goal of attacking the U.S. Its goal is to seize power across a wide swath of the globe. Threatening U.S. vital interests is just part of the strategy for getting there.
Yet the administration appears blind to the larger, ideological struggle. It seems completely baffled about how to respond to the Arab Spring.
Right now there appears to be a bit of detente between the Islamists and the Islamist terrorists. The future is unwritten. The two factions might clash, political Islamists might drift into al Qaeda's fold, or terrorists might turn more to working the political ropes. None of these outcomes bodes well for the U.S. But rather than warning signals, the White House conveys a "don't worry, be happy" message that fits its narrative.
...What we are seeing is a continuing decentralization that has been taking place sine the original 9-11 attacks. It is one of necessity caused by our war effort including the drone attacks. But the drone attacks are not sufficient to make the enemy believe his cause is lost That is the most important element in winning a war and it is one where the Islamist feel that Obama's retreats give them hope. It is our side that is acting like its cause is hopeless and that only emboldens the enemy. The war has many years yet to run even if we try to run away.