The Corner

From No Strategy to Sorry Strategy

Three cheers for the excellent post by FDD’s Ben Weinthal on the importance of factoring Iran’s promotion of terrorism into any effective response to the jihad.

Two weekends ago, i.e., between President Obama’s admission that he had no strategy for confronting the Islamic State terrorist organization and his adoption of a sorry strategy this week, I contended here that

The main challenge in the Middle East is not the Islamic State; it is the fact that the Islamic State and its al-Qaeda forebears have been fueled by Iran, which supports both Sunni and Shiite terrorism as long as it is directed at the United States. There cannot be a coherent strategy against Islamic supremacism unless the state sponsors of terrorism are accounted for, but Obama insists on seeing Iran as a potential ally rather than an incorrigible enemy.

Obama’s new strategy fails on every significant count. It fails to appreciate that the threat is directly to the United States, not just to the Middle East and North Africa. If focuses obsessively on the Islamic State, which, though significant, is only one part of a far more imposing Islamic-supremacist threat. It neglects al Qaeda, which will be strengthened by Obama’s aerial attacks on IS and the military support provided for al Qaeda’s “moderate Islamist” allies on the ground (see, e.g., the Long War Journal report today from Lisa Lundquist: “‘Moderate’ Syrian Revolutionaries Front continues to support al Qaeda”). It ludicrously suggests that we can delegate the responsibility for defending American national security to the Iraqi military (which only recently abandoned its positions upon being routed by Islamic State forces) and the rabidly anti-American Muslim Brotherhood – the backbone of what the administration and many Republicans call the “moderate Syrian opposition” (to avoid the embarrassment of saying the words “Muslim Brotherhood”). And it ignores the essential maestro’s role played by Iran and other state sponsors of the jihad.

This week, in connection with the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, I’ve been asked several times whether the Islamic State (the former ISIS, now known as IS) is in a better position to attack the United States than al Qaeda was on September 10, 2001. The answer is yes – they have better safe-haven for plotting, more resources, and plenty of state sponsorship, while we have even worse immigration enforcement. Nevertheless, the question erroneously assumes a threat narrower than the one we actually face. The fact is that al Qaeda itself is in a better position than it was on September 10, 2001.

The IS/ISIS myopia – which is as common in the media coverage as in the White House strategy – significantly understates the terrorist threat. The conventional wisdom is wrong: the Islamic State is not worse than al Qaeda. It is al Qaeda in the sense that it is an offshoot of the original and its methods – decapitation, assassination, mass-murder, bombings – are methods al Qaeda has been using for 20 years. Al Qaeda is still a force to be reckoned with, despite the president’s repeated but risible claims to have “decimated” it and put it “on the path to defeat.”

At the moment, IS and al Qaeda are lethal rivals, but that won’t last forever. Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal have reported that serious efforts have been made to broker a reconciliation. They’ve been unsuccessful so far, mainly due to the enormous jihadist egos and ambitions of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Ayman al-Zawahiri, emirs of IS and al Qaeda, respectively. Nevertheless, history teaches us that when the United States gets involved, competing jihadists – even Sunnis and Shia, for all their internecine hatred – pull together against us. They now have good reason to realign.

Even if they remain divided, though, al Qaeda’s franchises are still formidable – in fact, until quite recently, they arguably had the upper hand in the fight against IS – the intramural Sunni battle that is ancillary to the competitors’ common jihad against the Syrian and Iraqi regimes. On the Syrian side of that jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood often fights alongside al Qaeda. (Indeed, al Qaeda’s alliance with the Brotherhood is one of IS’s bones of contention with Zawahiri.)

While much has understandably been made about the atrocious IS beheadings of two American journalists, it is al Qaeda that has pulled off the more devastating act of war against the United States. It humiliated us two years ago yesterday by attacking a sovereign (and mysterious) American compound in Benghazi, killing our ambassador and three other Americans, and wounding many more. Al Qaeda affiliates have now seized much of Libya and still hold parts of Syria, just as IS controls much of Syria and Iraq. Al Qaeda also has very active franchises in much of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and now the Indian subcontinent. If you’re only focusing on IS in the Levant, you’re missing lots of the picture.

Moreover, Iran is still the kingpin: a revolutionary jihadist state that controls its own forward terrorist militia (Hezbollah), the puppet regime in Syria, and a network of Shiite terrorist cells in Iraq – which, as Ben points out (relying on Bill Roggio’s reporting), are reaping the benefit of Obama’s air campaign against IS. Iran has made America its principal enemy for over 30 years; has killed, tortured and detained Americans throughout that time; continues to fuel the anti-American jihad in Afghanistan, just as it facilitated the anti-American jihad in Iraq; and, as Ben also points out, continues to detain American citizens. Yet, Obama treats the regime in Tehran as if it were a stabilizing regional influence, running a perfectly normal democratic country – potentially, the solution to our problems. Gradually, he enables their destabilizing quest to become a nuclear power.

A week after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush laid out the strategy that is still the only one that can defeat our global Islamic-supremacist enemies: Strike the terrorists wherever they operate, without geographical limitations; and treat state sponsors of terrorism as if they were terrorists – organizing our policy and our government assets (military, intelligence, diplomatic, treasury, law-enforcement, etc.) on the reality that they are hostile regimes to be squeezed until they either reform or disappear. This doctrine is straightforward, but it is hard to follow … and Bush failed to follow it, squandering political support on the foolish, prohibitively costly sharia-democracy experiment; convincing himself that “moderate Islamists” were both moderate and reliable; and choosing dead-end diplomacy with Iran even as the mullahs supported al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Iraq insurgency.

Obama, by comparison, will not even acknowledge the Islamic supremacist ideology that unites our enemies. He miniaturizes jihadist networks – some now with tens of thousands of fighters – as if they were local criminal gangs with no aims other than making mayhem on their own turf. They pose, he insists, no real threat to the United States. The commander-in-chief who, until recently, denigrated IS as “the jayvee,” takes advice from the Brotherhood (when not seeking it from designated terrorist organizations), empowers our enemies, dispirits our friends, and sees Iran as part of the solution to, rather than the principal driver of, our national security challenges.

Dark days.

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