Opinion

The Great Debate

from Bernd Debusmann:

Egypt, America and a blow to al Qaeda

These must be difficult times for Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The uprising that swept away Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of huge demonstrations, none in the name of Islam, does not fit their ideology. In the war of ideas, al Qaeda suffered a major defeat.

Its leaders preach that the way to remove "apostate" rulers -- and Mubarak was high on the list -- is through violence. Al Qaeda's ideology does not embrace the kind of people power that brought down the Berlin wall, forced Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines into exile, and filled Cairo's Tahrir Square with tens of thousands of peaceful protesters day after day.

They waved the red-white-and-black flags of Egypt, not the green banners of Islam, in peaceful demonstrations that amounted to "a huge defeat in a country of central importance to its image," in the words of Noman Benotman, the former leader of a Libyan group often aligned with al Qaeda. "We are witnessing Osama bin Laden's nightmare," wrote Shibley Telhami, an Arab scholar at the University of Maryland.

Long before al Qaeda struck against what it calls "the far enemy" on Sept. 11, 2001, its leaders exhorted Arabs to take on the "near enemy" -- Arab regimes that failed to run their countries under sharia law -- with bloody attacks against its leaders and institutions. Violent jihad was the only way. First Tunisia, then Egypt, showed that the argument was flawed.

Which is probably the reason al Qaeda, an organization of considerable Internet savvy and communications skills, has been largely silent on the unrest that first flared in Tunisia, rolled over to Egypt and now keeps rulers awake at night from Algeria to Saudi Arabia, Syria and Bahrain.

Torching U.S. power

The following is guest post by Andrew Hammond, a director at ReputationInc, an international strategic communications firm, was formerly a special adviser to the Home Secretary in the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair and a geopolitics consultant at Oxford Analytica. The opinions expressed are his own.

The ninth anniversary of September 11 is being overshadowed by the news of Pastor Terry Jones and his now-suspended plan to burn copies of the Koran at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Even if the bonfire does not take place, the news of it is tragic for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, although President Barack Obama and other US officials have rightly condemned the pastor’s previously intended actions, the episode has exacerbated anti-American sentiment, especially in the Muslim world. This comes at a sensitive period at the end of Ramadan, when debate is also still raging about an Islamic group’s plan to build a community center, which includes a mosque, near Ground Zero in New York City.

9/11 and the nine year war

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The following is a condensed version of George Friedman’s geopolitical column for STRATFOR, a global intelligence company where Friedman is chief executive officer.

It has now been nine years since al Qaeda attacked the United States. And it has been nine years of America primarily focusing on the Islamic world. Over this period of time, the United States has engaged in two multi-year, multi-divisional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, inserted forces in other countries in smaller operations and conducted a global covert campaign against al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups.

In order to understand the last nine years, we must understand the first 24 hours of the war — and recall our own feelings in those 24 hours. First, the audacious nature of the attack was both shocking and frightening. Second, we did not know what was coming next.

American nightmare: Al Qaeda at home

berndforblog- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

It has been a recurring nightmare of American counter-terrorist officials for years — growing numbers of home-grown al Qaeda recruits drawn from the Muslim-American community, plus blue-eyed, blond-haired would-be suicide bombers travelling on American passports.

That notion clashes with the widely-held belief that Muslims in the United States are not nearly as prone to being seduced by Al Qaeda propaganda as their co-religionists in Europe. But a series of recent terrorism cases involving American citizens have challenged old assumptions and thrown question marks over a host of surveys meant to show the American Muslim communities’ resistance to radicalization.

Incidents spiked in 2009 and included the arrest of five U.S. citizens in Pakistan, where they allegedly tried to link up with extremists, and the arrest of Daniel Boyd, a white convert to Islam who was accused of plotting to attack soldiers at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. Early in the year, Bryant Vinas, a Hispanic American convert, pleaded guilty to having trained with al Qaeda in Pakistan.

War and Peace, by Barack Obama

Bernd Debusmann– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

It is a timeline rich in irony. On Dec. 10, Barack Obama will star at a glittering ceremony in Oslo to receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. That’s just nine days after he ordered 30,000 additional American troops into a war many of his fellow citizens think the U.S. can neither win nor afford.

Whether the sharp escalation of the war in Afghanistan he ordered on December 1 will achieve its stated aim – disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan – remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: more troops equals more fighting equals more deaths — of soldiers, insurgents and the hapless civilians caught in the middle. Not exactly a scenario of peace.

America’s perennial Vietnam syndrome

cfcd208495d565ef66e7dff9f98764da.jpg –  Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

Prophetic words they were not. “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all…The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula.”

Thus spoke a euphoric President George H.W.Bush early in March, 1991, shortly after the 100-hour ground war that chased Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, the oil-rich U.S. ally they had invaded and occupied in the summer of 1990.

from Afghan Journal:

Growing beards to tame the Afghan insurgency

AFGHANISTAN

If you were on the U.S-led coalition base in Bagram in Afghanistan soon after the 2001 invasion, you couldn't help noticing soldiers with long, Taliban-style beards and dressed in light brown shalwar kamaeez down to the sandals.

They kept to themselves. They weren't the friendly sort and before long you figured out these were the Special Forces who had fought along side the Northern Alliance in small teams to overthrow the Taliban and were then hunting its remnants and members of al Qaeda. The men grew beards to blend in during difficult and isolated missions in the Afghan countryside.

Close up, on the base some people thought looked like a little bit of America with its mountains of food, gym, and the easy banter of men and women soldiers, the Western men with the flowing beards stood out.

Should torture be part of the U.S.’s counterterrorism approach?

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The following piece was co-written by Matthew Alexander, Joe Navarro and Lieutenant General Robert Gard (USA-Ret.) They are pictured from left to right.

Matthew Alexander led an interrogations team assigned to a special operations task force in Iraq in 2006. He is the author of “How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq.” He is writing under a pseudonym for security reasons.

Joe Navarro, a former FBI counterintelligence and counterterrorism expert, is an adjunct faculty member at the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.

Obama must redefine success in Afghanistan

Paul Taylor Great Debate– Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Barack Obama says he will make Afghanistan the central front in his fight against terrorism but the incoming U.S. president will have to scale back the war aims he inherits from George W. Bush and redefine success.

Bush ordered the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 to oust a Taliban government that was harboring al Qaeda militants blamed for the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

A credible counterterror strategy needed

brahmachellaney– Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research, New Delhi. The views expressed are his own. –

The brazen Mumbai terrorist assaults are just the latest example of how the world’s largest democracy is increasingly coming under siege from the forces of terror.

The attacks, which bear the hallmark of al Qaeda, are also a reminder to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama that even as he seeks to deal with the financial meltdown, the global war on terror stands derailed, with the scourge of terrorism having spread deeper and wider.

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