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FDD Remembers - The 9/11 Compendium


The Aftermath of 9/11 in the Middle East
The Bush doctrine enabled us to speak openly of Arab political reform
By Khairi Abaza

Beyond catastrophe and mourning, September 11th had unforeseen consequences in the Arab world, especially in my home country of Egypt. The attacks of that day, by citizens of America’s key Arab allies, made officials in Washington rethink their relations with Arab dictators, and begin supporting democracy in the Middle East.

As the Bush doctrine came into being, the United States announced that it would be less accommodating towards Arab despotisms. Though the policy was short-lived, it landed like an axe in the ice. All of a sudden, speaking openly of political reform in the Arab world was no longer taboo.

10 years ago, the image of the U.S. in the Middle East was defined not by liberty and respect for human dignity, but the actions of Arab dictators who supported U.S. interests there. Whatever the merits of U.S. policy in the region, Arabs increasingly began to see their rulers as American puppets. As they did, paradoxically, it was no longer in Washington’s interest to support its old allies.

George W. Bush understood this. In 2003, he declared that “60 years of western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence, ready for export.”

During the Cold War, the United States had no choice but to support undemocratic regimes as a bulwark against communist expansionism. Yet even after the Cold War came to an end, Arab dictators stoked Western fears of radical Islamism as a pretext to hold power indefinitely.

From 2003 to around 2006, democracy promotion was the stated U.S. policy towards the Arab world. The U.S. administration began openly criticizing Arab regimes for their lack of reforms, encouraging even allies like Egypt to move toward more democratic rule. Washington’s barbs were at times sharp enough to threaten its alliances, as in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s speech in Cairo in June 2005.

As a result, Arab reformers began demonstrating for greater freedom. Most Arab regimes greeted these democratic overtures with a combination of oppression and cosmetic reforms. Egypt allowed its first-ever multi-candidate presidential elections. Saudi Arabia introduced partial elections of local councils. Yemen’s president promised not to run again. But elections were generally rigged, anyway, and Yemen’s president eventually ran again for another term.

In late 2005 and early 2006, Washington lost momentum in its pursuit of Arab democracy. Legislative elections in Egypt, Iraq and the Palestinian territories saw substantial gains by Islamist parties. Egypt, where the regime had historically been quite adept in rigging elections, allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to win 20 percent of the seats in parliament. In the Palestinian territories, Hamas won the elections, largely as a response to the corruption of the ruling Fatah party.

Finally, in Iraq’s first elections since the U.S. had removed Saddam Hussein, a coalition of Islamist parties won, raising concerns about the future of U.S.-Iraqi relations. Meanwhile, Iraq’s security situation had hit rock bottom, and many Arabs blamed President George W. Bush for failing to build a stable, democratic regime.

Some U.S. policy makers and pundits called on the administration to weaken its democracy agenda, and to return to the “realism” that more often governed its actions during the Cold War. This meant a return to doing business with dictators, and it dealt a blow to Arabs who had bravely demonstrated in support of democratic reforms.

But Washington nonetheless established programs, such as the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), to spread democratic values. The International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and other American non-profits did the same, providing training, networking and other services to Arab reformers.

When a perfect storm of economic collapse, widespread electronic communication and popular outrage coalesced into the Arab Spring earlier this year, it took many people by surprise. But it was the culmination of a process that began nearly a decade earlier.

The near-term results of these Arab uprisings may not be pretty, for Washington or the people who’ve led them. But this transformation will eventually make Arab leaders accountable to their people as never before. One way or another, the de-radicalization of the Arab world has begun.

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Khairi Abaza is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a former senior official in Egypt’s secular liberal Wafd party.


We Can’t Go On Meeting Like This
Pakistan’s public rejection of Washington could ultimately benefit the United States
By C. Christine Fair

Since September 11th, the United States and Pakistan have struggled to sustain fraught military and intelligence cooperation. Their efforts have long strained under diverging priorities, unmet expectations and conflicting strategic interests. After the unilateral U.S. military raid that resulted in Osama bin Laden’s death, in May 2011, Pakistan has arrested this cooperation indefinitely.

Contrary to popular apprehensions in Washington, that might be a good thing.

Washington’s khaki addiction has undermined its own interests. As military and intelligence cooperation have dominated relations with Pakistan, Pakistan’s civilian institutions continue to languish. Civilian control of Pakistan’s armed forces seems ever more elusive. With Pakistan’s help, the United States has made significant advances against al-Qaeda, but they have come at a high cost, as Pakistani rage against American policies intensifies.

Many Pakistanis see their army as a “rental army.” They believe the Pakistani Taliban insurgency results from their army’s cooperation with the United States, rather than from decades of employing Islamist militants to secure Pakistani interests in India and Afghanistan.

In some measure, this is true. Pakistan’s support to the U.S. global war on terror has motivated some of Pakistan’s erstwhile proxies to rebel against the state, under the banner of the Pakistani Taliban. And ironically, Pakistan’s military alliance with Washington has dissuaded it from acting against these Pakistani militants due to the perception that it is “fighting America’s war.”

It ultimately remains in Pakistan’s interest to provide covert cooperation with the United States, even as it drifts apart from Washington in public. And Pakistan is likely to work with the United States when their enemies are common.

The Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation introduced in 2009 aimed to rebalance U.S. engagement with Pakistan towards civilian institutions, but appears moribund. Congressmen view Pakistan with increasing suspicion, and are unlikely to fund the program in part or in full.

Yet in unflinchingly supporting Pakistan’s military, Washington has buttressed authoritarianism and left civilian institutions less able to fend for themselves against the military’s praetorian tendencies. Washington should engage Pakistan’s military, but it should normalize military relations to high-level exchanges, consultation on issues like the war in Afghanistan, continued training, and foreign military sales -- preferably channeled toward supporting Pakistan’s ability to counter terrorism and insurgency.

America should also increasingly engage Pakistan’s emerging civilian centers of power. Washington should work to fortify Pakistan’s institutions of rule of law by providing assistance to its provincial assemblies and national parliament, and coherent police training assistance.

It should help Pakistanis build the forensics capabilities that enable police to build robust cases based on hard evidence, rather than the testimony of people who are subject to coercion. In addition, judges are too few in number, too poorly paid, and too vulnerable to those who would kill them for issuing convictions in cases involving organized crime or terrorism.

The most successful investment the United States has ever made in Pakistan is Lahore’s University of Management Sciences (LUMS), the country’s premier institution of higher learning. It offers scholarships to poorer students, ensuring that is not only a school for the country’s elites. Pakistan needs more of these institutions.

Finally, Pakistan also needs trade, not aid, to generate job growth for its people. U.S. lobbies resist allowing Pakistan access to the American textile market, but building the Pakistani economy is an urgent U.S. national security interest, and it should trump more parochial concerns.

U.S.-Pakistan relations are adrift. Hopefully Washington will see this development as an opportunity to improve its relations with Pakistan and its people. The United States must keep its eye on the real prize: a Pakistan that is genuinely democratic, at peace with itself, and at peace with its neighbors.

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C. Christine Fair is an assistant professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. This article previously appeared in the Huffington Post.


Al-Qaeda Is Still a Serious Threat
In an asymmetric war, bombs that don’t explode can still harm the United States
By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

The 9/11 Commission Report concluded that terrorist groups require physical sanctuaries to execute catastrophic attacks. These sanctuaries give militants “time, space, and ability to perform competent planning and staff work,” as well as “opportunities and space to recruit, train, and select operatives with the needed skills and dedication.”

Al-Qaeda enjoyed one sanctuary on September 11, 2001, in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Today, al-Qaeda affiliates enjoy four: in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and northern Mali. The U.S. has no clear strategy for dislodging the group from these areas, a fact that in itself suggests that it is far too early to declare victory.

But beyond the threat of a catastrophic attack, al-Qaeda’s overarching strategy is working fairly well. The group sees the economy as the United States’ key vulnerability, and the collapse of the financial sector in September 2008 made America seem mortal. As a result, jihadis underwent an adaptation to something they call the “strategy of a thousand cuts.”

The gist of this strategy is to perpetrate smaller, more frequent attacks, some of which are designed to drive up security costs for Western countries. Al-Qaeda operatives have placed three bombs on passenger planes in the past 21 months: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s underpants bomb in December 2009, and two bombs hidden in ink cartridges in October 2010.

Abdulmutallab’s detonator failed, and authorities found the ink cartridge bombs before their timers were set to explode, but al-Qaeda doesn’t necessarily view those attacks as failures. Radical Yemeni-American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki explained that the ink cartridge plot confronted al-Qaeda’s foes with a dilemma. “You either spend billions of dollars to inspect each and every package,” he wrote, “or you do nothing and we keep trying.”

Our current levels of security spending are unsustainable, while our defenses remain inefficient. We are moving into an age of austerity, and simply slashing security expenditures will make successful attacks more likely if our officials cannot find ways to do more with less.

The Obama administration now speaks of al-Qaeda being on its death bed—”the brink of collapse,” as the Washington Post put it. Yet there is no reason to think this is any more true than it was in 2003, when President Bush boasted that two-thirds of the group’s known leadership had been captured or killed. Or in 2006, when the intelligence community held that the global jihadi movement was “decentralized, lacks a coherent strategy, and is becoming more diffuse.”

Al-Qaeda had in fact been weakened by losing its Afghanistan sanctuary, but the key question was if its setbacks were permanent, or if the group could recover. Ultimately, President Bush and the U.S. intelligence community underestimated the group’s resiliency. As the U.S. shifted resources away from Afghanistan-Pakistan and toward the Iraq theater, due in part to the belief that victory had been attained over the group, al-Qaeda went about carving out a safe sphere for itself in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

By July 2007, official assessments of the group had shifted radically. The new National Intelligence Estimate released that month concluded that al-Qaeda had “protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability.” Current assurances that al-Qaeda is on its last legs may similarly give too little weight to the organization’s resiliency.

Nor have the anti-regime uprisings of the Arab Spring killed al-Qaeda. Though these revolutions have not been fundamentalist in nature, al-Qaeda likely expects them to result in a more fertile recruiting environment. After all, the Arab Spring is not just about a desire for democracy, but a demand for an answer to unemployment and skyrocketing food prices. Unemployment in Egypt has risen since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, and Arab states’ economies will probably worsen. Historically, when sky-high expectations go unfulfilled — which may yet be the case for the Arab Spring — extreme ideologies can fill in the void.

To conclude that al-Qaeda no longer poses a threat to the United States is, at best, hubris. If put into action, such an operating assumption could leave us in even greater danger.

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Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization, and author of Bin Laden’s Legacy (Wiley, 2011).


Follow The Money
10 years after 9/11, America’s terror finance teams are victims of their own success
By Jonathan Schanzer

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, the U.S. Treasury immediately went to work finding al-Qaeda’s funding. On September 23, President George W. Bush issued an executive order designating a list of terrorist entities that were on America’s hit list. Targeted financial sanctions became an incredibly powerful tool for capturing terrorist funds. The 9/11 Commission report, released in 2004, gave our government’s efforts in this area high marks. We had reportedly captured tens of millions of dollars in terrorist funds, and perhaps more.

But by the time the 9/11 Report came out, al-Qaeda and its affiliates were acutely aware that we were hunting their assets in the formal banking sector, and this drove the jihadi network’s financial system underground. Al-Qaeda now relies almost entirely on bulk cash smuggling, wherein couriers deliver suitcases full of cash to jihadi masterminds.

As a result, the United States rarely gets to freeze assets anymore. The work of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA) at the U.S. Treasury is now more about deterrence, rather than capturing funds.

This is not to say that OIA’s role is not important. The office continues to uncover key nodes of the al-Qaeda network, and then declassifies that information for all the world to see. An important case in point was the recent designation, on July 28, of an al-Qaeda financial network operating in Iran.

Did the U.S. freeze any of those assets in Iran? The odds that any of those funds were within the jurisdiction of the American banking system are infinitesimal. But at the same time, it made it clear to al-Qaeda’s financiers that the U.S. has eyes and ears around the world. Those financial facilitators will undoubtedly be watching their backs now, especially after American Special Forces demonstrated their ability to drop in unexpectedly earlier this year in Abbottabad.

Treasury’s designations have also had a chilling effect on the jihadi philanthropists (for lack of a better term). Wealthy donors to al-Qaeda know they are being watched, which has made them all the more careful.

A decade after the 9/11 attacks, the hard-working terror finance analysts at the Treasury and other arms of the intelligence community have, in many ways, become victims of their own success. They have denied terrorists the use of the formal banking sector. But the days of electronically capturing funds that would otherwise be used for terror attacks may be behind us, and cash leaves a hard trail to follow.

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Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a former terrorism finance analyst at the United States Department of the Treasury.


Disoriented
The state of too many Western leaders 10 years after 9/11
By Clifford D. May

‘What went wrong?” That was the title of Bernard Lewis’s landmark book on Islam’s thousand years of global dominance followed by the decline of the caliphate between the 17th century, when Muslim armies were halted at the Gates of Vienna, and the early 20th century, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. This fall from grace left deep scars — grievances expressed most lethally on Sept. 11, 2001, soon after Professor Lewis’s book was completed.

Ten years later, the question we might be asking is “What has gone wrong with us?” The atrocities of 9/11 were said to be a new Pearl Harbor that would once again “awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

Instead, many, if not most, of our political leaders fight fitfully and without conviction, uncertain about both the nature and the gravity of the threat. One example: Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, Britain’s storied intelligence service, last week called the 9/11 attacks “a crime, not an act of war.” She did not explain why she thought using hijacked planes as missiles to destroy the political, military, and financial centers of the free world was akin to a bank robbery. She did not cite other instances in which common criminals seek no monetary benefit, kill themselves during the commission of their crimes, and call that “martyrdom.” She did not say whether she thought Osama bin Laden, as a criminal suspect, should have been entitled to a presumption of innocence rather than bullets through the chest and head.

She did, however, note what she imagines to be “the causes and roots” of the many acts of terrorism carried out by Muslim militants in the name of Islam, including, as usual, “the plight of Palestinians” and the belief that the West is “exploiting their oil and supporting dictators.” According to the Guardian newspaper, she added that terrorist campaigns could not be solved militarily, so she “hoped there were those — she implied in Western governments — who were considering having ‘talks with al-Qaida.’”

A second example: National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said in a recent speech that he and President Obama know what the Iranians are against but “what are they for?” Have Donilon and Obama read nothing that Iran’s revolutionaries have written? Have they heard nothing that Ayatollah Ali Khameini and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have said? Let me boil it down: They are for restoring to Islam the power and glory it enjoyed a millennium ago. They are for the defeat of the Great Satan and the Little Satan and anyone else who defies Allah’s will as they interpret it.

Manningham-Buller, Donilon, Obama, and so many others — they are smart people. So, again, what has gone wrong? I think they have become disoriented. I use the word advisedly.

The “Orient” is the East. Not so long ago, the study of the Middle East and Islam was a discipline called Orientalism. The greatest modern Orientalist was — and for my money, remains — Professor Lewis, now 95 years old and still sharp as a scimitar.

In more than three dozen books, he has detailed the history and cultures of the great Islamic empire founded by fierce and determined conquerors who, starting in the 7th century, pushed west to Spain and east to the Philippines, defeating, among others, Christians and occupying their lands including, in 1453, the Byzantine capital of Constantinople (now called Istanbul).

These forces marched north into the European heartland as well, but their ambitions were frustrated in two historic battles. The first was the Battle of Tours in 732 when Charles Martel, leading the Franks, stopped the powerful forces of the Umayyad Caliphate from overrunning what is now France as well as other Western European territories.

The second was the Battle of Vienna in 1683 when Jan Sobieski, king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, seeing the Turks close to breaching the walls of the city, led his outnumbered troops in a daring counterattack. The date was September 12. Pope Innocent XI hailed Sobieski as the “savior of Vienna and Western European civilization.” The Ottoman commander, Kara Mustafa Pasha, was strangled with a silk cord by order of the commander of the Janissaries, the home guard of the Sultan.

In the Occident, Lewis has noted, the phrase “That’s history” has come to imply irrelevance. Not so in the Orient, where the past weighs heavily on the present. “The Muslim peoples,” Lewis wrote, “like everyone else in the world, are shaped by their history, but, unlike some others, they are keenly aware of it.”

If many of our leaders fail to comprehend all or any of this, part of the explanation may be that the intellectual waters have been muddied. In 1978, Edward Said, a Columbia University professor of comparative literature with no background in history, political science, or anthropology, published a book entitled Orientalism, an assault on Lewis and other Western scholars. Said’s contention was that Europeans and Americans were not competent to understand Muslims and their civilization — and that their attempts to do so should be dismissed as a manifestation of neo-colonialism.

Those concerned with the rise of militant movements within the Islamic world, Said charged, were racists, reactionaries, and hysterics. His views were quickly embraced on the left and came to dominate the Middle East–studies departments of American and European universities. Small wonder that the attacks of 9/11 were not anticipated by most academic experts or the diplomats and intelligence analysts who had studied under them.

It should not go unmentioned here: As much as Lewis has been denigrated by Islamists and their apologists, he also has been roundly criticized by some on the right who see no hope for a reformed Islam — an Islam as distant from Khomeinism, Wahhabism, and bin Ladenism as 21st-century Christianity is from the Inquisition.

But few Muslims are likely to fight for such reform until and unless Islamic militancy is decisively defeated. And that cannot happen so long as the West’s leaders fail to recognize 9/11 for the act of war it was, so long as they think they can sweet-talk self-proclaimed jihadis into being reasonable, so long as they remain persuaded that the global conflict now under way is a crime or a mystery and has nothing to do with the powerful currents of history and faith.

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Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Standing Up
On 9/11, al-Qaeda threw the first punch, but Americans immediately leapt to their feet
By Claudia Rosett

What I most remember was the determination of small-town America that this attack on our country must be avenged. It was a distant aspect on that day of horror and heroism in New York, at the Pentagon, and in the skies over Pennsylvania. But it was the part I witnessed firsthand.

On September 11, 2001, I was hundreds of miles from Manhattan, in a small town in upstate New York — though my office at the time was across the street from the Twin Towers. I had a column due, so I reported what I could. I grabbed a notebook and headed for Main Street, to find out what the local folks had to say.

They had all grasped instantly what the fancier circles of American politics went on to debate for years, and some are debating still. They understood that this was war. They were certain that America had to strike back. They wanted to help, whether by giving blood or picking up their guns.

At a donut shop, watching the broadcasts on a TV propped atop a refrigerator, the customers at the counter called it worse than Pearl Harbor. Their proposal for thwarting plane hijackers was not to frisk three-year-olds, but to issue everyone on the plane a six-shooter or, as the shop owner suggested, a Louisville Slugger baseball bat.

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Claudia Rosett is a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and heads its Investigative Reporting Project.


We Started Weak. Will We Finish Strong?
A decade after 9/11, the Islamists still have the upper hand
By George Jonas

As we reach the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, terrorists seem to have the upper hand. They make us practice defensive stripping at airports from Brussels to Seattle. Far from retreating, the Islamists are boldly developing nuclear capability in Iran, a country they own, while maneuvering to take over countries that already have nuclear weapons, such as Pakistan, or strong military traditions, such as Turkey.

If this isn’t enough of a witch’s brew, add a dash of the unfathomable “Arab Spring” that may yet result in the replacement of nasty tyrants with even nastier ones who despise us in addition to despising their own people; then throw in a feeble democracy flopping about like a fish on dry land in Iraq, and that’s what the West has to show for 10 years of continuous warfare, thousands of casualties and a ballast of billions about to capsize the world’s economy.

With this track record, far from being able to export our institutions, our previously exported institutions are losing their grip. As the American commentator Clifford D. May has observed, the Islamists of ostensibly Westernized Turkey are “positioning Turkey as a contender for leadership of the Muslim world, making it both an ally and a rival of Arabs and Persians eager for the same role.”

Ten years of war after 9/11 has made us sponsors of a competition among would-be Caliphs. As impresarios of resurgent Islam, we’re doing a great job.

But then again, things looked grim in 1951 as well. Oriental despotism, bottled up in Japan, was towering like an evil genie over Korea and China. The year 1951 in which president Harry S. Truman declared the official end of the war with Germany, was also the year in which the forces of Kim Il Sung and Mao Zedong captured Seoul for the second time, until General Douglas MacArthur pushed them out again a few months later. (MacArthur might have nuked them, too, had president Truman not relieved him of his Far Eastern Command.) Hydra’s Fascist and Nazi heads were gone, but the monster had replaced them with equally revolting Communist heads. Fifth columns flourished. 1951 was the year Ethel and Julius Rosenberg received the death sentence for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

Tyrannies are strong starters. They often lead on the backstretch and fade only after the clubhouse turn. Democracies are strong finishers. As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, that’s something to remember. Don’t tear up your tickets yet.

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George Jonas is a Canadian journalist, born in Hungary. This article first appeared in the National Post, and is reproduced here with permission of the author.


Success, But Not Victory
In the past 10 years, we’ve built a new security framework that has kept us safe and can win the war
By John Hannah

I was working at the White House that awful Tuesday a decade ago. I distinctly remember trying to make it home on foot, together with thousands of other stunned commuters. Many cell phone networks had crashed. Black smoke billowed from the Pentagon. National Guardsmen toting machine guns manned street corners, while F-16s patrolled the skies above.

The scene was remarkably calm and orderly. But the unmistakable whiff of panic hung in the air, a stark reminder of the thin line that ultimately separates civilization from chaos and barbarism.

The days and weeks that followed brought no solace. We knew alarmingly little about the enemy that had attacked us. The extent of our national vulnerabilities was astounding. Decapitation of the federal government had been within al-Qaeda’s grasp. So, too, the disabling of the financial world’s central nervous system.

America’s critical infrastructure, transportation system, and food supply were all frighteningly susceptible to terrorist attack. There seemed an endless number of high-risk industrial targets lacking sufficient protection -- pipelines, petro-chemical plants, nuclear reactors, refineries. Equally alarming was the sheer scale of soft targets available to Islamists wishing to perpetrate mass murder, from shopping malls to the corner Starbucks.

All of my colleagues expected a follow-on attack -- or two or three or four. The deluge of threats that filled overnight briefing books was overwhelming, including al-Qaeda’s interest in detonating a weapon of mass destruction. The appearance of the deadly anthrax letters within a week of 9/11 seemed but a harbinger of much worse to come.

With that as my vantage point, U.S. policy since 9/11 looks remarkably successful. At the time, averting a follow-on mass casualty attack by al-Qaeda seemed unimaginable. But 10 years? I would have said impossible.

Dozens of plots have been foiled. Al-Qaeda’s leadership has been decimated. Thousands of its foot soldiers have been killed. Bin Laden himself sleeps with the fishes, apparently fretting to the end that his movement’s brand had been irreversibly tarnished in the eyes of the ummah.

Perhaps most importantly, the battle against the ideology that fuels jihadism has slowly been joined. Witness the Arab uprisings of 2011. Millions of young Muslims -- al-Qaeda’s target audience -- demanding societal transformation not in the name of “Death to America” and the resurrection of some 8th-century Salafist imperium, but on behalf of a set of values most closely associated with the West: accountable government, the rule of law, and the dignity of the individual.

Of course, success should not be mistaken for perfection. Waste and blunders are the tragic incidents of war. The war on Islamist terror has been no exception.

Nor does success equate with victory. Though much diminished, small bands of determined Islamists remain dedicated to attacking America, including with weapons of mass destruction. This year’s Arab revolutions could still go badly wrong.

Rather than quitting the playing field and taking false comfort from our undeniable achievements since 9/11, the United States needs now to sustain its sense of national resolve and vigilance. From a standing start, we have in the past 10 years established a set of policies and institutions that puts eventual victory against Islamist terrorism within our grasp. It is only by building on our successes, learning from our mistakes, and remaining committed to finishing the job, that victory can be secured.

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John Hannah is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and served as national security advisor to Vice President Richard B. Cheney.


Fighting Smarter
The war on terror has revolutionized how the U.S. military confronts 21st-Century threats
By Andrew Exum

One of the most important ways in which the United States has made progress in the war against violent extremist groups over the past decade is by breaking down the walls that had previously existed between the conventional and special operations forces within the U.S. military, and those between the special operations forces and our nation’s intelligence services.

When I led a platoon of U.S. Army Rangers as a captain in Iraq in 2003, my unit operated with very little coordination with the “battle space owner” -- the conventional ground forces commander. As a result, we often worked at cross purposes. By 2007, however, conventional and special forces were both talking to one another and coordinating their operations.

For al-Qaeda in Iraq, the results of this cooperation were devastating. We are only just beginning to learn of the role General Stanley McChrystal and his task force played during the Iraq Surge, but when the story is fully declassified, its operations -- executed in coordination with conventional forces -- will be more greatly appreciated. In Afghanistan, a similarly high level of cooperation is taking a toll on the ranks of the Taliban insurgents.

In May, U.S. Navy SEALs operating under the command of the Director of Central Intelligence provided the most dramatic demonstration of our progress in this regard, when they executed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. A decade ago, U.S. military units operating under the direct command and control of our intelligence services would have been unthinkable.

Today, our greatest weaknesses in the fight against violent non-state actors are the barriers that remain between our military and our intelligence services. As departments and agencies scramble to protect their budgets in an age of austerity, these barriers will most likely become more difficult to break down.

But the past decade has offered plenty of evidence of the destruction we can mete out to our enemies when our institutions prioritize national interests over parochial ones.

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Andrew Exum is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. A native of Tennessee, educated in Philadelphia, Beirut and London, Exum led U.S. Army light infantry and Ranger units in both Afghanistan and Iraq.


America vs. Jihadism
States can and will support al-Qaeda, unless they continue to fear an American response
By Reuel Marc Gerecht

Has the United States been successful in its war against terrorism? Undoubtedly. Although Islamic militancy remains a potent force, especially in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, Washington’s relentless pursuit of armed jihadists has severely damaged the capacity of Sunni radical groups to strike the United States, at home and abroad.

Al-Qaeda chose to make Iraq the mother of all battles against America. Its decisive defeat in that war—the astonishing spectacle of seeing Sunni Iraqis, who’d once welcomed al-Qaeda to wage a guerre à outrance against the Iraqi Shi’a and the Western coalition, damn its holy warriors on Al-Jazeera for their savagery—has probably permanently changed the conception of jihadists in the Arab world.

The Great Arab Revolt, the most momentous liberation movement in the region since the coming of the Prophet Muhammad, has also fundamentally changed the environment that helped to birth jihadism after World War II. Waging war against illegitimate governments—and against the “far enemy” that maintained these dictatorships—has been an integral part of the jihadist argument. If democracy can put down roots in the region, the Middle East’s “crisis of legitimacy” will be solved. With Islamists participating in elected government, it will be vastly more difficult for jihadists to advance arguments against popularly-elected governments and the Western powers with which these governments deal.

An enormously powerful strain of thought within Sunni Islam holds that the Muslim politic, as a body, is incapable of error. As Muslims start voting, as Muslims start debating the big questions about Man and God and parliament, jihadism will likely be pushed far from the mainstream of Islamic thought. Arab jihadists will no doubt linger and search out like-minded souls elsewhere, but they will be fighting a losing war on their home turf. In Islamic history, radicals have repeatedly lost once the faithful have clearly denounced them.

The West will still have to deal with Islamic militancy in South Asia. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the new intellectual and physical homes of al-Qaeda. Many of the subcontinent’s most radical Islamic groups have essentially merged with al-Qaeda, absorbing its global aspirations and anger. Given the large expatriate Pakistani populations in Europe, the importance of European foreign, and especially domestic, intelligence services in the fight against subcontinent-spawned Islamic militancy cannot be overstated. Britain’s MI-5 really is America’s first line of defense against South Asian terrorism.

The war in Afghanistan -- whether American withdraws and the country returns to civil war -- will also likely have a major impact on the appeal of religious militancy in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. If Islamic radicalism in Pakistan grows more vigorous and influential, the volatility of Indo-Pakistani relations will no doubt increase substantially. That can’t be good for the United States.

It’s entirely possible that the eruption of the Green Movement in the summer of 2009 could return, especially as Iran readies itself for parliamentary and presidential elections. It’s not at all unlikely that Iran will try to strengthen its ties with its allies and fortify its ecumenical outreach to Sunni radical groups that agree on the most fundamental principle of the Islamic Republic: Hatred of the United States.

Since 9/11, Washington has focused on the threat from “non-governmental” terrorist groups. Both the Bush and the Obama administrations executed this mission admirably. But al-Qaeda has never been a completely independent actor, given the aid it has received from Saudi royals, the Sudanese, the Iranians, the Pakistanis, and Mullah Omar. We should watch Iranian-al-Qaeda ties carefully. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps don’t have many moral objections to al-Qaeda’s mission and tactics against the United States. The main obstacle to a broad, energetic anti-American alliance has probably always been fear of American power unleashed. If that fear diminishes, we may be in considerable trouble.

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Reuel Marc Gerecht is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former operative for the Central Intelligence Agency.


With Iran, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
We consider Iran’s terrorist enemies our enemies, too. It’s not mutual
By Alex Vatanka

10 years after the September 11th attacks, the United States and most world powers share a general definition of terrorism with most other world powers: the use of violence by non-state actors for political purposes, and often against civilian populations. But perhaps no two countries quibble as much over it as the United States and Iran.

Iranian elites claim that their country has been the largest victim of terrorism in the world. Mojtaba Zolnour, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s deputy representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, recently said terrorism had cost 17,000 Iranian lives, apparently referring to casualties sustained in the regime’s fight against internal rivals since 1979.

On the other hand, the U.S. State Department’s list of 48 terrorist organizations includes a sizeable number of groups that are intimately tied to Tehran, including Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iraq’s Kata’ib Hezbollah.

But while the United States has made its policy plain, the Iranian regime has engaged in a policy of aiding what it sees as “good terrorism” by its proxy forces, while paying lip service to anti-terrorism efforts elsewhere.

In contrast, U.S. policy is evident from first glance at State’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, which includes three groups — Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), Jundollah, and the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) — that have historically been among the biggest thorns in the side of the Iranian regime.

These groups are on State Department’s list for the simple reason that their activities meet the U.S. government’s legal standards on what constitutes terrorism. The U.S. has not sought to justify these groups’ actions, even when most of Jundollah and PJAK’s targets have been the odious security forces of the Iranian regime. It’s a simple case of defining acts of terrorism and condemning them, even when they’re aimed at your adversaries.

Tehran has little to gain by providing safe housing for al-Qaeda and other anti-American terrorists, only perpetual ill will in Washington. And Tehran has little to lose by cooperating with the United States and its allies in combating terrorism — not least among Sunni groups like the Taliban, which will once again become a problem for it following a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

And perhaps that’s what’s most galling about the Iranians’ revanchist behavior: as frustrating as it is to us, it’s not even in their own best interests.

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Alex Vatanka, who was born in Iran, was a Foundation for Defense of Democracies National Security Fellow in 2011. 

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