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November 14, 2008

CIA Director Hayden: U.S. Counterterrorism Doesn't Pass Muster
Posted by Patrick Barry

Michael Hayden has some dispiriting news about our worldwide counterterrorism efforts.  In short, they're not going so well:

[CIA] director, Michael V. Hayden, identified North Africa and Somalia as places where Qaeda leaders were using partnerships to establish new bases. Elsewhere, Mr. Hayden said, Al Qaeda was “strengthening” in Yemen, and he added that veterans of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan had moved there, possibly to stage attacks against the government of Saudi Arabia.

He said the “bleed out” from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also extended to North Africa, raising concern that the countries there could be used to stage attacks into Europe. Mr. Hayden delivered his report in a speech to the Atlantic Council of the United States in Washington, and it offered a mixed assessment of Al Qaeda’s ability to wage a global jihad.

He drew a contrast between what he described as growing Islamic radicalism in places like Somalia and what he said had been the “strategic defeat” of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia — the network’s affiliate group in Iraq.

Compare this sobering assessment to the remarks by President Bush before the FBI a few weeks ago, in which he pointed to the absence of a terrorist attack on the homeland as a sign that U.S. counterterrorism efforts were succeeding, and it's hard not to leave with the impression that the President is living in a shuddered unreality. The fact that no major attack has occurred on U.S. soil since 9-11 is nothing to scoff at, but should it be the primary criteria for evaluating our worldwide counterterrorism strategy? Not when there is a rising tide of "Islamic radicalism, when former insurgents from Iraq are bringing newly acquired talents to bear in Afghanistan, and when al-Qaeda is strengthening franchises in Yemen and Somalia.  While there thankfully has not been an attack on the homeland, the likelihood that such an incident will occur appears to be rising.

That Hayden should describe the diminishing significance of al-Qaeda in Iraq as a "strategic defeat" is also interesting.  As a matter of internal Iraqi security, AQI's reduced significance does amount to a defeat for terrorists, but externally, that defeat looks less strategic than it does tactical.  Elsewhere, al-Qaeda and other terrorist movements appear to be just as strong, if not stronger than they were before 9-11. The broader take-away from Hayden's assessment, and really every assessment from the intel community, is that U.S. counterterrorism policy has been, at best, like squeezing a water balloon - we're produced displacement, but nothing more.


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