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Robinson: Coming to grips with new al-Qaida menace

  • (DANA SUMMERS / Tribune Media Services)

If the new, decentralized al-Qaida is such a threat that 19 American embassies, consulates and other diplomatic posts have to be shuttered for a week, we have a decade of wrongheaded U.S. policy to blame.

The Arab Spring contributed by creating power vacuums for militant anti-Western jihadists to exploit. But myopic decision-making in Washington clearly played a huge role — and, while I hope we’re getting smarter, I have my doubts.

President Barack Obama’s decision to order the closure of U.S. outposts in much of the Muslim world drew rare bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees underscoring the perceived gravity of the threat. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., called it “the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years.” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said that “the administration’s call to close these embassies ... was actually a very smart call.” It’s hard to argue with prudent caution. At the same time, though, it’s hard to understand just how worried we should be. Osama bin Laden lies in a watery grave. His organization, once based in Afghanistan, is decimated. Regularly we hear news of someone described as an al-Qaida lieutenant being blasted to his reward by a drone-fired missile. There is a disconnect between these successes and the need to close so many U.S. facilities — while issuing a general warning to travelers — in fear of another attack.

The truth is that U.S. foreign policy helped create the new decentralized al-Qaida, a branch of which is believed to be trying to launch some kind of strike.

The most fateful choice, and the biggest strategic error, was the decision to invade Iraq. George W. Bush’s epic misadventure diverted resources and attention from the war in Afghanistan, giving a reprieve to the Taliban. The Iraq War also provided new focal points for jihadist grievance — Abu Ghraib, for example — and gave new oxygen to the simmering intra-Muslim conflict between Sunni and Shiite.

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