From the Editor’s Desk: Remember al Qaeda?

 

We know what you’re thinking. “Is al Qaeda the world’s most dangerous terrorist group or is ISIS?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement we kinda lost track ourselves.

Report: Syria’s al-Nusra ‘more dangerous’ than ISIS.

Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, is a greater threat to the United States in the long term than is ISIS, making the United States’ current single-minded focus on the latter group misguided, a new report is charging.

Al-Nusra is “much more dangerous to the U.S. than the ISIS model in the long run,” according to the authors of a report labeling both groups “existential” threats. The report was released last week by the Institute for the Study of War and American Enterprise Institute.

The report criticizes the administration’s ISIS-centric strategy, saying, “Any strategy that leaves Jabhat al-Nusra in place will fail to secure the American homeland.”

However, the chief of staff of the U.S. Army, Gen. Mark Milley, in a speech Wednesday said that only Russia constituted a potential “existential” threat due to its possession of a large nuclear arsenal capable of striking the U.S.

Glad China’s not on the existential threat of the day list. (But Global Stocks Sink Amid China ‘Doom’ Fears doesn’t sound good, either.)

Your thoughts?

Published in Islamist Terrorism
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  1. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Given that ISIS is just a spin-off of al-Qaeda, and shares the same fundamental goals, is there really any reason to consider them separately?

    • #1
  2. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Tuck:Given that ISIS is just a spin-off of al-Qaeda, and shares the same fundamental goals, is there really any reason to consider them separately?

    Sure: They’re at war with each other. And their philosophies are different. The US view has been, “focus on ISIS, don’t worry so much about Nusra — if Nusra’s killing ISIS, that’s a bonus.” (Nusra’s the Syrian franchise of al Qaeda.)

    • #2
  3. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Tuck:Given that ISIS is just a spin-off of al-Qaeda, and shares the same fundamental goals, is there really any reason to consider them separately?

    Sure: They’re at war with each other. And their philosophies are different.

    How do you think their philosophies are different?  Both seek a world-wide Islamic Caliphate, and are willing to kill everyone who objects to that goal.

    The fact that they’re at war with each other is a feature, not a bug.

    What else do we need to know about them?  The rest is just details, and tactics.

    Just like with Iran and Saddam’s Iraq, they shared enough goals and methods—the number one and number two sponsors of terrorism, depending on which week it was—that they needed to be addressed in the same manner.

    • #3
  4. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    It is difficult to relate to the jihadists. I just wish they would find something else to do. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I mostly feel impatience with these idiots.

    • #4
  5. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    What is this ‘administration’s ISIS-centric strategy’? Willful ignorance?

    • #5
  6. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Ricochet Editor’s Desk:

    Al-Nusra is “much more dangerous to the U.S. than the ISIS model in the long run,” according to the authors of a report labeling both groups “existential” threats. …

    However, the chief of staff of the U.S. Army, Gen. Mark Milley, in a speech Wednesday said that only Russia constituted a potential “existential” threat due to its possession of a large nuclear arsenal capable of striking the U.S.

    Glad China’s not on the existential threat of the day list.

    Seems like nobody can agree on what “existential threat” means.

    • #6
  7. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    BrentB67:What is this ‘administration’s ISIS-centric strategy’? Willful ignorance?

    No, it’s willfully playing them off against each other in the assumption that ISIS is the greater threat. These offshore-balancing strategies can go very much awry if you don’t understand who’s really winning, and I don’t know how good our intelligence about that is, or could be, since we have a sufficiently small number of boots on the ground that we technically have none. (I don’t believe we have none, but do believe it’s a small number.)

    • #7
  8. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: …I don’t know how good our intelligence about that is, or could be, since we have a sufficiently small number of boots on the ground that we technically have none. (I don’t believe we have none, but do believe it’s a small number.)

    Yeah, “we don’t have a clue” is a pretty safe bet.

    • #8
  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Tuck: Yeah, “we don’t have a clue” is a pretty safe bet.

    It needn’t be. You can reach every member of every Syrian militia on Skype, if you feel like it. Give me a few good translators and I’d be able to get a clue pretty fast. I’m not going to prove that to you — I get a little worried that if I start placing calls from France to 1-800-Splodey-dope in Raqaa I’ll attract the kind of attention I don’t need — but in principle, we need not be clueless.

    • #9
  10. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Mark Wilson: Seems like nobody can agree on what “existential threat” means.

    It means, “One that can end our existence now, should it so choose.” Only an advanced nuclear power could do that. I reckon a skilled terrorist organization could take out a city or even several, but not today, and they’d have to get lucky.

    • #10
  11. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: It needn’t be….

    Obviously.  But we’re talking about the incompetent Federal Government here, not Claire on Skype.  I have no doubt that you might make an excellent, OSS-style spy, but that’s mainly because you’re actually willing to go talk to people.

    • #11
  12. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Tuck: Yeah, “we don’t have a clue” is a pretty safe bet.

    It needn’t be. You can reach every member of every Syrian militia on Skype, if you feel like it. Give me a few good translators and I’d be able to get a clue pretty fast. I’m not going to prove that to you — I get a little worried that if I start placing calls from France to 1-800-Splodey-dope in Raqaa I’ll attract the kind of attention I don’t need — but in principle, we need not be clueless.

    Agree. We choose to be clueless.

    • #12
  13. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Tuck:

    Obviously. But we’re talking about the incompetent Federal Government here, not Claire on Skype.

    While usually I’m willing to believe almost any story of Federal government incompetence, I would put a lot of money on the bet that our Federal government does this. I mean, journalists do it. It would be really quite something if it had occurred to no one in any of our many intelligence departments that these days you can just reach out and give these folks a call. After all, on the Internet, no one knows you’re not an impressionable 16-year-old who wants to learn more about how he can join the jihad.

    • #13
  14. dbeck Inactive
    dbeck
    @dbeck

    Seems to me the Obama administration is the biggest threat to our security and financial health. These distant clowns in the desert are minor compared to our home grown twice elected gangstas.

    • #14
  15. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    BrentB67: We choose to be clueless.

    Or we choose to be discreet about our methods of gathering intelligence. I’d prefer to think that.

    • #15
  16. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: While usually I’m willing to believe almost any story of Federal government incompetence, I would put a lot of money on the bet that our Federal government does this. I mean, journalists do it….

    That must be why the White House relies so heavily on journalists for intelligence gathering.

    President Obama said in a private meeting this week that he initially failed to understand the level of national anxiety in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks, in part, because he didn’t watch enough cable news.”

    If they’re not paying attention to social media in the US, why do you think they’re doing it in Syria, where it’s far harder, and evidence of success is far more scarce?

    • #16
  17. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    Islam needs a new covenant.

    • #17
  18. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Mark Wilson: Seems like nobody can agree on what “existential threat” means.

    It means, “One that can end our existence now, should it so choose.” Only an advanced nuclear power could do that. I reckon a skilled terrorist organization could take out a city or even several, but not today, and they’d have to get lucky.

    I think the disagreement remains over the meaning of “our existence”.  If we are all vaporized, that’s easy.  But are any of the following “existential threats”?

    • Our government is decapitated and after a constitutional crisis is replaced with a dictatorship
    • Our energy infrastructure is brought down and we are left freezing and starving in the dark
    • An EMP wipes out our financial and information sectors resulting in economic depression

    My point is that it doesn’t matter whether we label them as “existential” because the debate is merely semantic.  The ambiguity allows the term to be used in a weasely way by politicians, similar to “Take Back America”.

    • #18
  19. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I don’t see how this changes our goals or strategies much. It just means there will be more terrorists to kill when ISIS is annihilated or reduced to scattered gangs.

    If they haven’t attacked us yet, that’s not a problem. Presumably, they are being described in such dangerous terms because they have threatened us by their words. If someone threatens your life, it’s foolish to wait for that person to attack you. Deadly threats do not qualify as free speech. By threatening us, they are telling us they are ready to die.

    • #19
  20. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Aaron Miller: …If someone threatens your life, it’s foolish to wait for that person to attack you. Deadly threats do not qualify as free speech. By threatening us, they are telling us they are ready to die.

    Indeed.  Han shot first, and was well within his rights to do so.

    • #20
  21. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Mark Wilson: But are any of the following “existential threats”?

    Here’s what I think. However we define it, the phrase “existential threat” has become a cliche, and cliches dull thought. So I say, “Dump the phrase.” I’d prefer people specify exactly what they mean in a way that makes the nature of the threat vivid to the imagination: “Al Qaeda has a declared goal of destroying Western civilization and has already succeeded in attacking the US in ways that stunned us, killed Americans by the thousands, and permanently changed the way we live and think. So we should never underestimate their malice or their imagination, and if they get their hands on more advanced weaponry, we should assume they’ll use it.”

    I don’t think it wise at all for the government specifically to enumerate the kinds of weapons they might be able to find if they have the run of Syria, or the effects these weapons might have, but from what we know from open sources, it’s not utterly unimaginable that they could get their hands on “immediate-threat-to-every-American’s life”-level weapons. It does seem to me, however, very unlikely. They’re not going to find nuclear weapons or the means to deliver them in Syria, or at least, they certainly won’t find any that have been tested. The only other thing that could do that job would be biological weapons. Assad is generally not believed to have them.

    If they manage to get their hands on other weapons that have been let loose in Syria, no doubt they could do a lot of damage — Russian SAMs could take down a commercial aircraft, for example, and chemical weapons could be used to terrible effect in an American city — but I still don’t see “existential threat” there, that is, I can’t see how they could irreparably physically destroy the territorial United States.

    If they were to pull off another mass-casualty spectacular like 9/11, or several, we could conceivably become a danger to ourselves by passing vastly more intrusive versions of the Patriot Act — at some point, we could conceivably surrender so many civil liberties that we’d no longer be the same country, in an important sense. But that’s up to us, not them.

    So I don’t see “existential threat” there, but I do see “a big danger not whatsoever to be taken lightly.”

    • #21
  22. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    ISIS is the JV team again?

    • #22
  23. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Mark Wilson: But are any of the following “existential threats”?

    Here’s what I think. However we define it, the phrase “existential threat” has become a cliche, and cliches dull thought. So I say, “Dump the phrase.” I’d prefer people specify exactly what they mean in a way that makes the nature of the threat vivid to the imagination: “Al Qaeda has a declared goal of destroying Western civilization and has already succeeded in attacking the US in ways that stunned us, killed Americans by the thousands, and permanently changed the way we live and think. So we should never underestimate their malice or their imagination, and if they get their hands on more advanced weaponry, we should assume they’ll use it.”

    If they were to pull off another mass-casualty spectacular like 9/11, or several, we could conceivably become a danger to ourselves by passing vastly more intrusive versions of the Patriot Act — at some point, we could conceivably surrender so many civil liberties that we’d no longer be the same country, in an important sense. But that’s up to us, not them.

    We are in full agreement.

    • #23
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