Al Qaeda, like the Communist Party, can rise anywhere. It rose in Iraq, in Somalia, in Mali, in Syria and in countless other places. Like Burger King, the franchise possibilities are endless and the brand name recognition is universal. And unlike Burger King, you don’t even need to pay for the privilege of using the name. Set off a few bombs or kill a few foreigners and watch the money start rolling in from the fat sheiks of the oil-swollen Gulf who have never slit the throat of anything larger than a goat, but like having their own terror armies.
OBAMA, DESPITE his third culture cred and his ability to carry around important books about world events while on vacation, has no clue what to do about any of that. Obama at War is really a dumber Bush at War, rehashing Bush era ideas and tactics with completely botched implementations. With Kabul in the rear-view mirror, all he has left is Bush’s policy of targeted drone strikes on Al Qaeda terrorist leaders.
The only other foreign policy idea that the Obama crew brought to the table, aside from ending the support for the dictators, which ushered in the Arab Spring and the Islamization of the region, was to avoid ground wars and focus on limited drone strikes and intelligence operations.
This approach has been rebranded as the smarter and smaller war. A true conflict for the 21st century with Muslim grad students in Yemen chatting on XBox Live with Muslim teenagers in Jersey City to convince them to make and carry liquid explosives on board a plane in tiny shampoo bottles while overhead a drone piloted by a formerly unemployed middle-aged professional skier with a degree in drone piloting from Kansas State hunts for them silently in their clan territories. It’s the world of a William Gibson novel, except it’s also our world now.
The targeted strike approach was largely borrowed from the Israeli playbook. Like Israel, the United States is in a tangled conflict that won’t end any time soon. And like Israel, it’s relying on saving some lives and weakening the terrorist infrastructure by taking out a few leaders here and there. Israel’s targeted strikes on Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders never ended the conflict, but aborted more than a few terrorist plots by killing the bomb-makers and planners who were making them happen.
The actual conflict did not end. Neither did the attacks. Rather than shooting soldiers, Israel was shooting officers, because shooting soldiers required extended ground engagements and occupations that had become politically untenable. The United States has embraced the same strategy for the same reasons using technology that came out of Israel. But it hasn’t given much thought to what comes after that.
The failure of the targeted strikes and arrests of terrorist leaders led Israel to pursue a physical separation through barriers and fences. The terrorists compensated for that with rockets and shelling. That led Israel to develop the Iron Dome, a defensive anti-rocket system. The suicide bomber, once ubiquitous, became a rarity, but the attacks have grown more powerful as the terrorists used the territory that they gained through Israeli withdrawals to deploy heavier long-range weapons that can reach major cities.
If the United States follows this same pattern of withdrawal and fortification, then by 2028, there might be an actual Fortress America guarded by anti-missile systems against Pakistani, Iranian and Egyptian nukes. And that scenario, as troubled as it sounds, is probably one of the better ones.
Israel withdrew from physical territories opening the way for a Hamas takeover of Gaza. Obama withdrew from geopolitical territories, announcing in Cairo that the United States would no longer support the undemocratic dictators of the Muslim world unless they had oil. Hamas, or its Egyptian parent organization, took over Egypt. Across the region, Islamist regimes rose and American allies fell. The Islamist winners of democratic elections turned into dictators leaving the United States in the awkward position of supporting new dictators while being jeered and denounced by the Arab Street.
What’s the next step? It doesn’t appear that there is one. Geniuses like Brennan only thought as far ahead as draining Muslim anger by rewarding political Islamists while using drone warfare to decimate violent Islamists. Not only is this distinction mostly imaginary, but the rise of political Islamists has made for more Al Qaeda takeovers and more work for the drones in North Africa.