‘Core al-Qaeda’ is not defeated

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President Obama Speaks on the US Counterterrorism Strategy at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013.

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  • @marcthiessen Obama’s effort to distinguish between “core al-Qaeda” and AQAP is pure sophistry

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  • @marcthiessen Obama’s entire meme of having put “core al-Qaeda” on the “path to defeat” is untrue.

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  • @marcthiessen AQAP is “core al-Qaeda.”

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In a speech at the National Defense University last May, President Obama tried to draw a distinction between what he called “core al-Qaeda” (which he assured us was “on a path to defeat”) and lesser affiliates like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who do not pose a threat on the “scale of 9/11.”

“Core al-Qaeda is a shell of its former self,” Obama boasted, adding that “they did not direct the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, or Boston” and that their “remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us.”

Well, it turns out that was wrong.

The Post reports that the plot which has led to the closure of U.S. embassies and the emergency evacuation of American diplomats was directed by none other than Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who gave “clear orders” to Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the founder of AQAP, to undertake an attack.

Okay, so let’s get this straight.

Obama says “core al-Qaeda” is on “the path to defeat.” Yet the plot that officials have called the “most specific and credible threat” since 9/11 was ordered by the leader of . . . core al-Qaeda.

Moreover, The Post reports, the person to whom Zawahiri delivered this order — Wuhayshi — “was once bin Laden’s personal secretary.”

Doesn’t serving as the personal secretary of the founder of “core al-Qaeda” qualify you as being “core al-Qaeda”?

And that’s not all. Not only was Wuhayshi a top bin Laden aide (who was with the al-Qaeda leader in Tora Bora), The Post further reports that Wuhayshi was “recently was elevated by Zawahiri to the number two position in al-Qaeda.”

So the leader of AQAP, the group which just put us on the highest terror alert since 9/11, is also second in command of . . . “core al-Qaeda.”

Sense a pattern here?

The fact is, Obama’s effort to distinguish between “core al-Qaeda” and AQAP is pure sophistry. AQAP was founded by a leader of “core al-Qaeda.” It takes orders from “core al-Qaeda.” It’s leader is second in command of “core al-Qaeda.”

AQAP is “core al-Qaeda.”

As American Enterprise Institute scholar Katherine Zimmerman points out, being “core al-Qaeda” does not require being located in Pakistan. Members of al-Qaeda’s core leadership have moved across the world — from Sudan in the 1990s, to Afghanistan before 9/11, to Pakistan in the wake of Operation Enduring Freedom. Now many of its “core” leaders are dispersed throughout the world — including in Yemen.

What this means is that Obama’s entire meme of having put “core al-Qaeda” on the “path to defeat” is untrue. So why is Obama so determined to make this false distinction between “core al-Qaeda” and AQAP? Because he wants to bring to an end what he dismissed in his National Defense Universityspeech “a boundless ‘global war on terror’” (his quotation marks). In that address, Obama made his intentions clear: He wants to withdraw from Afghanistan, end drone strikes, repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) Congress passed after September 11, 2001, and take the United States off of a “perpetual wartime footing.”

But if “core al-Qaeda” is not in fact on a path to defeat — if the affiliate Obama admits is “most active in plotting against our homeland” is in fact “core al-Qaeda” — then he can’t really declare an end to our war against them, can he?

In truth, Obama is just recycling the same tired line of argument used by critics of the surge in Iraq in 2007. Back then, many on the left tried to argue that bin Laden’s Iraqi affiliate, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was not really al-Qaeda — because if AQI was not really bin Laden’s al-Qaeda then we could safely pull out before they were defeated.

In a speech at Charleston Airbase, President George W. Bush systematically took apart these false distinctions, explaining in detail how “al-Qaeda in Iraq is run by foreign leaders loyal to Osama bin Laden.”

As Bush put it then: “There’s a good reason they are called al-Qaeda in Iraq. They are al-Qaeda . . . in . . . Iraq.”

Well today, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is run by bin Laden’s personal secretary who is now second in command to bin Laden’s successor, Zawahiri. There is a good reason why they are called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

They are al-Qaeda . . . in . . . the Arabian Peninsula.

Until they are defeated, “core al-Qaeda” is not defeated either.

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About the Author

 

Marc A.
Thiessen
  • A member of the White House senior staff under President George W. Bush, Marc A. Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to the president and to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Prior to joining the Bush administration, Thiessen spent more than six years as spokesman and senior policy adviser to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). He is a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, and his articles can be found in many major publications. His book on the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation program, Courting Disaster (Regnery Press, 2010), is a New York Times bestseller. At AEI, Thiessen writes about U.S. foreign and defense policy issues for The American and the Enterprise Blog. He appears every Sunday on Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends" and makes frequent appearances on other TV and talk radio programs.


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