On Monday it was revealed that the CIA had thwarted a new al-Qaeda-sponsored terror plot hatched in Yemen. The scheme was brought down by a man said to have been a mole for the CIA and Saudi intelligence. After infiltrating the Yemeni cell, the agent enlisted in a suicide mission designed to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner, but turned over his equipment and intelligence once the plan was set in motion. The success of the counterterrorism mission — a story full of intrigue, double agents and high-stakes deception — is a testament to the prowess of U.S. defense capabilities, to be sure. Yet, the event also serves as a grim reminder that recent declarations by Obama surrogates suggesting that the war on terror is “over” have been overstated, to say the least.
On Tuesday, John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, contended that the discovery of the plot indicates that al-Qaeda remains a threat to the United States a year after Bin Laden’s death. Keep in mind, however, that Mr. Brennan himself revealed in 2009 that the terms “war on terrorism,” “jihadists” and “global war” were no longer acceptable within the Obama White House. At the time, he did concede that we were still “at war with al-Qaida,” yet he insisted that using the three above terms gave the terrorist organization unwarranted legitimacy, and further implied that America is at war with all of Islam.
The “we’re only at war with al-Qaeda” motif was amplified by an unnamed “senior State Department official” in a National Journal article written by Michael Hirsh in April 2012. “The war on terror is over,” said the official. “Now that we have killed most of al Qaida, now that people have come to see legitimate means of expression, people who once might have gone into al Qaida see an opportunity for a legitimate Islamism.”
Despite the ridiculous assertion by Hirsh that, if Osama bin Laden were still alive, he “would see a U.S. administration that, having killed most of bin Laden’s confederates, is now ready to move into a post-al-Qaeda era and engage with Islamist politicians as long as they renounce violence and terrorism,” al-Qaeda remains a potent force. Yemen, Pakistan Nigeria and Somalia represent relatively new and fertile feeding grounds for the terrorist organization — unless one wishes to engage in another round of semantic obscurantism. Such obscurantism attempts to ignore the reality that groups such as Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and Somalia’s al Shabaab espouse the very same jihadist ambitions as al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Furthermore, leaders of these affiliates have sworn “bayat,” or loyalty, to current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, even as they offer him funding and fighters. The Wall Street Journal’s Seth Jones offers the ultimate reality check: “None of these organizations existed a decade ago,” he writes.
Hirsh’s other contention, that the so-called Arab Spring “opened up new channels of expression, supplying for the first time in decades an alternative to violent jihad” is also undone. Documents taken from Bin Laden’s compound and reviewed by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reveal that Bin Laden was seeking a way to “reattach al-Qaeda to the Muslim mainstream.” Ignatius re-iterates the success al-Qaeda has enjoyed in Yemen, but he notes that Egypt’s Salafist party, “which like al-Qaeda traces its roots to the Islamist theorist Sayyid Qutb, has 13 seats in the new Egyptian parliament.” He refers to such political successes as “electoral bin Ladenism.”