TERRORISM SALON: Peter Bergen on Why bin Laden Still Matters

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(Peter Bergen is a Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation).
Some of the issues in the final discussion I tried to address in a story for TIME earlier this month, so rather than rewriting that story I’m pasting it in below:

Does Osama bin Laden matter anymore? You could be forgiven for thinking he doesn’t. In recent months, an impressive cast of terrorism experts and counterterrorism officials around the world has coalesced around the notion that al-Qaeda’s leader is no longer an active threat to the West. They point out that he has not been able to strike on U.S. soil since 9/11 or in Europe since the London bombings three summers ago. In Iraq, his most successful franchise operation is on the ropes. Across the Muslim world, opinion polls suggest his popularity has faded, and many of his early supporters — including prominent jihadi ideologues — have denounced him. Even his messages on the Internet scarcely merit headlines in the mainstream media. Did you know he posted two audio messages on the Web in May? I didn’t think so.
The jihad, some experts contend, has moved beyond bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Dr. Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer, lays out the view in his new book, Leaderless Jihad, arguing that “the present threat has evolved from a structured group of al-Qaeda masterminds controlling vast resources and issuing commands to a multitude of info rmal groups trying to emulate their predecessors by conceiving and executing operations from the bottom up. These ‘homegrown’ wannabes form a scattered global network, a leaderless jihad.” According to this assessment, two decades since its founding in Peshawar, Pakistan, al-Qaeda remains a source of inspiration for certain extremists around the world. But it’s far from clear that bin Laden commands them.


This view was shared by several European officials I met at a conference of terrorism experts in Florence in May, a few days after bin Laden’s most recent Internet postings. The officials told me they’ve found no evidence of al-Qaeda operations in their countries. If bin Laden has any role in the jihad, say the Europeans, it is merely as an icon. Alain Grignard, Belgium’s top terrorism investigator, says bin Laden is now a “Robin Hood figure; 100 people are inspired by him, but very few respond to do what he wants.”
If that’s true, why do so many political leaders continue to warn about the threat — or even the likelihood — of another major terrorist attack? Why did the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate say al-Qaeda “has protected or regenerated key elements of homeland attack capability”? Why would the head of Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, say there were 2,000 citizens and other U.K. residents who posed a serious threat to security, a number of whom took direction from al-Qaeda? The struggle against al Qaeda — and to a lesser extent, the quest to capture bin Laden — has20dominated U.S. foreign policy since 9/11.
But as the U.S. prepares to elect a new President, should that remain the case? The answers to these questions don’t lend themselves to easy policy prescriptions. But the best available evidence suggests that the threat posed by bin Laden’s acolytes hasn’t been extinguished– and his own influence over them is greater than many analysts acknowledge. In his old stomping grounds, the jihad is stronger than at any time since he fled from the Tora Bora mountains in the winter of 2001. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan militant groups have grown so aggressive that in late June they even threatened to take over a major city — Peshawar, once bin Laden’s home and the birthplace of al-Qaeda. Farther away, extremists in Europe and North Africa continue to covet bin Laden’s blessing and the al-Qaeda brand name.
As has always been true in shadowy, borderless wars, measuring the strength of the enemy isn’t an exact science. It’s true that many of the “leaderless jihadis” have set up operations independently of al-Qaeda, but when they turn to bin Laden’s organization, it’s not just for inspiration but also for training, assistance and direction — in short, for leadership. Many are able and willing to do bin Laden’s bidding; they pay very careful attention to his Internet postings and follow his instructions. And although their targets have generally been close to home, their association with al-Qaeda has tended to take their ambitions beyond their borders.
What’s more, many of these homegrown wannabes live in the West. It was al-Qaeda’s direct involvement that helped a leaderless group of British jihadis mount the multiple London bombings on July 7, 2005, that killed 52 commuters. Two of the bombers had traveled to Pakistan, met with al-Qaeda commanders and made martyrdom tapes with al-Qaeda’s video- production arm there. A year later, British investigators uncovered a plot by another cell of British Pakistanis to bring down seven American and Canadian passenger jets. According to Lieut. General Michael Maples, head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, the plotters received direction from al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
Bin Laden’s interest in British jihadis didn’t end there. Jonathan Evans, head of MI5, said last year that “over the past five years, much of the command, control and inspiration for attack-planning in the U.K. has derived from al-Qaeda’s remaining core leadership in the tribal areas of Pakistan.” U.S. officials, too, worry that a new generation of jihadis is making the trek to Pakistan, seeking al-Qaeda’s assistance. Sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies signed off on a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that al-Qaeda has made a strong comeback in Afghanistan and Pakistan because it has found “a safe haven in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] in Pakistan” for its operational lieutenants and top leadership. In February, Michael McConnell, director of National Intelligence, said in congressional testimony that there had bee n an “influx of new Western recruits into the tribal areas since mid-2006.” Philip Mudd, the former No. 2 in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, who is now working at the FBI to help improve its intelligence capabilities, told me, “There is a very clear, almost mathematical increase in lethality as soon as plotters touch the FATA.”
If jihadis seek material assistance from al-Qaeda in the FATA, they can get guidance from bin Laden almost anywhere there’s an Internet connection. He has issued more than two dozen video- and audiotaped messages since 9/11, and some of his exhortations have been acted upon. For instance, in December 2004, bin Laden called for attacks on Saudi oil facilities; in February 2006, al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia attacked the Abqaiq facility, perhaps the most important oil-production facility in the world. (Luckily, that attack was a failure.) More recently, bin Laden has called for attacks on the Pakistani state — there were more than 50 suicide bombings there in 2007, and there have been at least 19 thus far this year.
There’s some comfort to be drawn from the fact that bin Laden has not been able to strike on U.S. soil since 9/11. There is scant evidence of al-Qaeda sleeper cells in the U.S. Thanks to more effective intelligence-gathering, immigration control and the heightened vigilance of ordinary Americans, it is very hard for terrorists to slip into the country. It’s always possible that homegrown wannabes will mount some sort of attack, but in contrast to the situation in Europe, al-Qaeda’s virulent ideology has found few takers in the American Muslim community.
Yet bin Laden remains determined to kill large numbers of Westerners and disrupt the global economy. Since 9/11, al-Qaeda and its affiliates have bombed Western-owned hotels around the Muslim world, attacked a number of Jewish targets and conducted suicide operations against oil facilities in the Middle East; we can expect more of the same in the future. Al-Qaeda has also used new tactics and weapons — like the surface-to-air missile that nearly brought down an Israeli airliner in Kenya in 2002. And it retains a long-standing desire to acquire a radiological bomb. But al-Qaeda’s most dangerous weapon has always been unpredictability. That’s why it is dangerous to dismiss bin Laden as a spent force. While he remains at large, the jihad will never be leaderless.

— Peter Bergen
This week long terrorism salon will continue to be hosted by The Washington Note and UN Dispatch.

Comments

13 comments on “TERRORISM SALON: Peter Bergen on Why bin Laden Still Matters

  1. dış cephe says:

    Today’s news underscores the unstable premise of Matthew Levitt’s attempt to privilege his rigid political agenda, which doesn’t stop at excluding other voices, but tries to tamp down this very debate.

    Reply

  2. ısı yalıtım says:

    To amputate this discussion from the tyrannical regimes and brutal policies that cause them fundamentally mis-apprehends the issue at hand, and precludes any viable solution. And that doesn’t display much dexterity or thoughtfulness on Mr. Levitt’s part.

    Reply

  3. boya says:

    In the end, the law must be able to capture the full complexity of the issue, and not serve eagerly as a blunt instrument for furthering brutal and anti-American policies contrived by the machinery of state.

    Reply

  4. rich says:

    Whether bin Laden is capable of mounting a strike entirely misses the nature of the threat he poses.
    He matters for the one major reason that’s driven every single law enforcement officer since the inception of America.
    As long as Osama bin Laden is “at large,” George W. Bush is effectively emasculated. Bush’s humiliation is epic and the lost face is unrecoverable.
    Despite the compulsion to view Bush as capitalizing off bin Laden as a ‘continuing threat’ that enables continued America’s abuse of power at home and abroad, it’s a double-edged sword that’s cost Bush badly.
    Bush forgot the driving motivation of any Sheriff: to end the humiliation of an outlaw that gets away, that mocks the law. Bush’s hubris won’t let him realize he’s been made an object of ridicule; an ineffectual symbol of a new world order that doesn’t include America or justice for 3,000 Americans dead on 9/11.
    Like Jesse James or any other wanted man, bin Laden wins as long as he’s at large. That’s all he has to do to demonstrate the U.S. hasn’t got the power, the will, or the moral authority to bring him to justice.
    Think about that. BRING HIM to JUSTICE. Bush can’t be bothered, yet no one beats the drums the way they did in 1979 when Carter was accused of ‘hiding in the Rose Garden.’ Bush doesn’t really understand what’s at stake.
    The symbolic power of a free and unpunished Osama bin Laden is worth 100 successful attacks. For those who hate us, it’s the moment of realization “that our flag was still there” immortalized by Francis Scott Key. It empowers everyone to understand that it’s a whole new world. One where the US is fair game, and nobody’s gonna line up and ‘follow orders’ if America can’t make the case for a just war.
    Not having struck on American soil doesn’t mean squat. Did bin Laden have any intention of trying again? Why bother, when he’d already accomplished his aim? He provided a pretext, enmeshed the US in an unwinnable quagmire, which served dual purposes, and sucked the economic marrow out of America’s engines of power.
    “Does Osama bin Laden matter anymore? You could be forgiven for thinking he doesn’t. . . . al-Qaeda’s leader is no longer an active threat to the West.”

    Reply

  5. Don Bacon says:

    Q: why do so many political leaders continue to warn about the threat — or even the likelihood — of another major terrorist attack?
    A: Because fear-mongering is a staple of political leaders.
    Q: Why did the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate say al-Qaeda “has protected or regenerated key elements of homeland attack capability”?
    A: Because the CIA was told to put ts in the NIE.
    Q: Why would the head of Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, say there were 2,000 citizens and other U.K. residents who posed a serious threat to security, a number of whom took direction from al-Qaeda?
    A: “A number of whom”– come on.
    “The struggle against al Qaeda — and to a lesser extent, the quest to capture bin Laden — has dominated U.S. foreign policy since 9/11.
    Wrong. July 5, 2006 — The CIA has decided to disband the Osama Bin Laden Unit, that was set up back in 1996 to hunt the Saudi-born militant. The unit’s agents will be distributed to different departments working on militant Islamist groups. One US intelligence official quoted in this report said: “Al-Qaeda is no longer the hierarchical organisation that it was before 9/11. Three-quarters of its senior leaders have been killed or captured,” the official said.
    http://arabist.net/archives/2006/07/05/cia-disbands-bin-laden-hunt-team/
    “Yet bin Laden remains determined to kill large numbers of Westerners and disrupt the global economy.”
    Bin Laden’s determination?? — such a speculate concept, hardly one to base a national strategy on.

    Reply

  6. rich says:

    Today’s news underscores the unstable premise of Matthew Levitt’s attempt to privilege his rigid political agenda, which doesn’t stop at excluding other voices, but tries to tamp down this very debate.
    What we know—the basic facts at hand—exposes the moral and legal bankruptcy of Matthew Levitt’s narrow focus on “the actual acts of terrorism.” It’s another confirmation of what everyone knows.
    Pakistan Behind Indian Embassy Bomb
    http://www.iht.com/articles/reuters/2008/07/14/asia/OUKWD-UK-AFGHAN-PAKISTAN.php
    It’s hardly news.
    Pakistan Aided Attack in Kabul
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/01/world/asia/01pstan.html?scp=6&sq=pakistan&st=cse
    The NYTs reports that “Pakistan’s powerful spy service” committed a terrorist bombing in Kabul. They “helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy.”
    These fist-in-glove relationships are not new, nor do they confer innocence or even plausible deniability: statutes regularly enable DAs & AGs to charge planners and B&E drivers with terrorism or murder charges, whether they knew what was to happen or not.
    When “actual acts of terrorism” are committed by Pakistan or Israel or the United States, does Matthew Levitt have the integrity to condemn those with as much vehemence? Levitt does have that obligation. (Rendition=terrorism: you don’t get the right guy, you don’t get good intel, you do not have legitimacy as a state, before or after.)
    Mr. Levitt can’t contribute to a solution because he won’t grapple with the actual problem. Apparently, coming to terms with policies that contradict and undermine the fundamental political principles & insights upon which America is founded is asking too much.
    Enforcement that absolutely refuses to repair state policies in order to bring them under the rule of law, render legitimacy to the state, and structure in substantive political responsiveness to legitimate grievances—will not only doom to failure the best efforts of police and DA and AG alike, but will compound the problem by generating more terrorism.
    This is known as History of the American Revolution 101.
    Maybe Mr. Levitt believes that Gen. Howe’s rigid More Enforcement policy was an appropriate or legitimate response to George Washington’s political concerns, but he’ll be hard-pressed to find an American who doesn’t laugh out loud at the idea government is in a position to commit crimes agaisnt civilians. Or violate the Constitution at will or on a whim.
    Mr. Levitt wrote:
    “First .. . the “terrorism v resistance” argument is given weight it does not deserve since the legal issue at hand is not why one carries out a criminal act of terrorism like a suicide bombing but the fact that such an act was carried out at all.”
    Not so.
    First, though, note Mr. Levitt concedes that the legal system is not only not capable of resolving and ending terrorism, it is not even willing to do so.
    More important, Mr. Levitt errs, and errs badly. The “legal issue at hand is the fact that” the legal system can countenance, is complicit in, and condones terrorist acts undertaken by the machinery of state in violation of the law and in an evisceration of the Constitution.
    Whether implanting wahhabism & al Quaeda in Algeria, or training and directing death squads in El Salvador, or training Savak 17 in Iran after overthowing democratically-elected Mossedegh, or torturing inconvenient taxi drivers, or bombing a few dozen wedding parties, these actions by America are by definition terrorism.
    Add to that the routine tazering of American citizens here at home.
    To amputate this discussion from the tyrannical regimes and brutal policies that cause them fundamentally mis-apprehends the issue at hand, and precludes any viable solution. And that doesn’t display much dexterity or thoughtfulness on Mr. Levitt’s part.
    In the end, the law must be able to capture the full complexity of the issue, and not serve eagerly as a blunt instrument for furthering brutal and anti-American policies contrived by the machinery of state.
    King George III did not have the agility to treat English Citizens as, well, English Citizens. It’s long been apparent that King George (W. Bush) IV does not have the character or pragmatism to apply defining American principles of liberty at home or abroad. And we will continue paying the price for that.
    Didn’t the English Parliament condemn Washington and Adams and Jefferson as “terrorists”? Mr. Levitt has lost his way. And he misleads us about his responsibility to the country and under the law.

    Reply

  7. CeeHussein says:

    Cheney could dress up people to look like bin-Laden whenever he needs them.
    To Provoke War, Cheney Considered Proposal To Dress Up Navy Seals As Iranians And Shoot At Them
    http://thinkprogress.org/2008/07/31/cheney-proposal-for-iran-war/
    I agree with JohnH.

    Reply

  8. Mr.Murder says:

    Actually McCain has Eagleburger helping him, GHWB people, the Baker wing of pragmatism. The ones who got Desert Storm paid for.

    Reply

  9. Don Bacon says:

    Q: why do so many political leaders continue to warn about the threat — or even the likelihood — of another major terrorist attack?
    A: Because fear-mongering is a staple of political leaders.
    Q: Why did the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate say al-Qaeda “has protected or regenerated key elements of homeland attack capability”?
    A: Because the CIA was told to put this in the NIE.
    Q: Why would the head of Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, say there were 2,000 citizens and other U.K. residents who posed a serious threat to security, a number of whom took direction from al-Qaeda?
    A: “A number of whom”– come on.
    “The struggle against al Qaeda — and to a lesser extent, the quest to capture bin Laden — has dominated U.S. foreign policy since 9/11.”
    Wrong. News report, July 5, 2006 — The CIA has decided to disband the Osama Bin Laden Unit, that was set up back in 1996 to hunt the Saudi-born militant. The unit’s agents will be distributed to different departments working on militant Islamist groups. One US intelligence official quoted in this report said: “Al-Qaeda is no longer the hierarchical organisation that it was before 9/11. Three-quarters of its senior leaders have been killed or captured,” the official said. http://arabist.net/archives/2006/07/05/cia-disbands-bin-laden-hunt-team/
    “Yet bin Laden remains determined to kill large numbers of Westerners and disrupt the global economy.”
    BinLaden’s determination — such a speculative concept, and certainly nothing to base a national strategy on.
    Certainly George Bush hasn’t.
    March 13, 2002
    Press Conference by the President
    Q Mr. President, in your speeches now you rarely talk or mention Osama bin Laden. Why is that? Also, can you tell the American people if you have any more information, if you know if he is dead or alive? Final part — deep in your heart, don’t you truly believe that until you find out if he is dead or alive, you won’t really eliminate the threat of —
    THE PRESIDENT: Deep in my heart I know the man is on the run, if he’s alive at all. Who knows if he’s hiding in some cave or not; we haven’t heard from him in a long time. And the idea of focusing on one person is — really indicates to me people don’t understand the scope of the mission. Terror is bigger than one person. And he’s just — he’s a person who’s now been marginalized.
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/03/20020313-8.html

    Reply

  10. Don Bacon says:

    Q: why do so many political leaders continue to warn about the threat — or even the likelihood — of another major terrorist attack?
    A: Because fear-mongering is a staple of political leaders.
    Q: Why did the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate say al-Qaeda “has protected or regenerated key elements of homeland attack capability”?
    A: Because the CIA was told to put this in the NIE.
    Q: Why would the head of Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, say there were 2,000 citizens and other U.K. residents who posed a serious threat to security, a number of whom took direction from al-Qaeda?
    A: “A number of whom”– come on.
    “The struggle against al Qaeda — and to a lesser extent, the quest to capture bin Laden — has dominated U.S. foreign policy since 9/11.”
    Wrong. News report, July 5, 2006 — The CIA has decided to disband the Osama Bin Laden Unit, that was set up back in 1996 to hunt the Saudi-born militant. The unit’s agents will be distributed to different departments working on militant Islamist groups. One US intelligence official quoted in this report said: “Al-Qaeda is no longer the hierarchical organisation that it was before 9/11. Three-quarters of its senior leaders have been killed or captured,” the official said.
    “What you have had since 9/11 is growth in the Islamic jihadist movement around the world among groups and individuals who may be associated with al-Qaeda, and may have financial and operation links with al-Qaeda, but have no command and control relationship with it,” he added.
    http://arabist.net/archives/2006/07/05/cia-disbands-bin-laden-hunt-team/
    “Yet bin Laden remains determined to kill large numbers of Westerners and disrupt the global economy.”
    BinLaden’s determination — such a speculative concept, and certainly nothing to base a national strategy on.
    Certainly George Bush hasn’t.
    March 13, 2002
    Press Conference by the President
    Q Mr. President, in your speeches now you rarely talk or mention Osama bin Laden. Why is that? Also, can you tell the American people if you have any more information, if you know if he is dead or alive? Final part — deep in your heart, don’t you truly believe that until you find out if he is dead or alive, you won’t really eliminate the threat of —
    THE PRESIDENT: Deep in my heart I know the man is on the run, if he’s alive at all. Who knows if he’s hiding in some cave or not; we haven’t heard from him in a long time. And the idea of focusing on one person is — really indicates to me people don’t understand the scope of the mission.
    Terror is bigger than one person. And he’s just — he’s a person who’s now been marginalized. His network, his host government has been destroyed. He’s the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match. He is — as I mentioned in my speech, I do mention the fact that this is a fellow who is willing to commit youngsters to their death and he, himself, tries to hide — if, in fact, he’s hiding at all.
    So I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you. I’m more worried about making sure that our soldiers are well-supplied; that the strategy is clear; that the coalition is strong; that when we find enemy bunched up like we did in Shahikot Mountains, that the military has all the support it needs to go in and do the job, which they did.
    And there will be other battles in Afghanistan. There’s going to be other struggles like Shahikot, and I’m just as confident about the outcome of those future battles as I was about Shahikot, where our soldiers are performing brilliantly. We’re tough, we’re strong, they’re well-equipped. We have a good strategy. We are showing the world we know how to fight a guerrilla war with conventional means.
    Q But don’t you believe that the threat that bin Laden posed won’t truly be eliminated until he is found either dead or alive?
    THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I say, we haven’t heard much from him. And I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don’t know where he is. I — I’ll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban.
    But once we set out the policy and started executing the plan, he became — we shoved him out more and more on the margins. He has no place to train his al Qaeda killers anymore. And if we — excuse me for a minute — and if we find a training camp, we’ll take care of it. Either we will or our friends will. That’s one of the things — part of the new phase that’s becoming apparent to the American people is that we’re working closely with other governments to deny sanctuary, or training, or a place to hide, or a place to raise money.
    And we’ve got more work to do. See, that’s the thing the American people have got to understand, that we’ve only been at this six months. This is going to be a long struggle. I keep saying that; I don’t know whether you all believe me or not. But time will show you that it’s going to take a long time to achieve this objective. And I can assure you, I am not going to blink. And I’m not going to get tired. Because I know what is at stake. And history has called us to action, and I am going to seize this moment for the good of the world, for peace in the world and for freedom.
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/03/20020313-8.html

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  11. Dan Kervick says:

    I guess Peter Bergan is just using “Bin Laden” here is shorthand for “Al Qaeda”. He gives us reasons for thinking that the so-called leaderless jihad is not so leaderless, and still relies on Al Qaeda – the actual organization, not the brand – for training, direction and support. But I really can’t find anything in this piece that constitutes evidence that Osama Bin Laden – the actual flesh and blood human being, not the logo – is still playing any significant operational role in Al Qaeda. Maybe he is and maybe he isn’t. Does anybody actually know? Who has even seen the man lately? Who has even talked to someone who has seen the man?
    I do trust Peter Bergman to give an honest account of jihadism and Al Qaeda, as he sees them. I trust Marc Sageman to give an honest account too, again as he sees them.
    But the problem is that I no longer trust anything the US government tells me about Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iran. Not a word. Not … a … single … word.
    That’s too bad, because I would really like to know what is going on. And I assume there are many hardworking folks in US intelligence who are doing their best to assemble a clear and accurate picture. Unfortunately, they are directed by an administration that has shown no compunctions about using and manipulating intelligence, frequently and with little regard for long term consequences, for mere propaganda purposes – that is, to tell lies. The well is now thoroughly poisoned. So when I hear any argument that begins, “according to US intelligence,” I shut down.
    I’m afraid that it will be the same with a McCain administration. He is advised and associates himself with the same too-clever-by-half neoconservative frauds that George Bush took a shine to. They are the same would-be, half-baked Machiavellis who have been behind most of the “noble lies” of the past seven years, lies which in their conceited imaginations would persuade all the fools outside their little in-the-know circle. But the only people who are duped by them any longer are those ever dwindling pods of far right saps who listen to the jingo shock jocks.

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  12. Mr.Murder says:

    Missile shield was Rummy’s concern, Bush was busy all of government and trying to remove Chavez before 9-11.
    Colin powell was in South America on that day visitng the deposed King of Afghanistan…

    Reply

  13. JohnH says:

    Bergen’s statement that “The struggle against al Qaeda — and to a lesser extent, the quest to capture bin Laden — has dominated U.S. foreign policy since 9/11” is totally false. Iraq dominated US foreign policy until Cheney and the neocons shifted into “demonize Iran” mode. Now the focus seems to be shifting once again, after 5 years of inattention, to Al Qaeda.
    Al Qaeda dominated US DOMESTIC politics until Katrina. And, yes, al Qaeda matters greatly to those who need a bogeyman to distract America’s attention from serious domestic issues, like erosion of civil liberties and the shrinkage of the middle class.
    But if Al Qaeda didn’t exist, another, similar bogeyman would have been invented. This may explain why the Bush administration seems to have been in no hurry to shut down Al Qaeda.

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