The Herald of Everett, Washington
HeraldNet on Facebook HeraldNet on Twitter HeraldNet RSS feeds HeraldNet Pinterest HeraldNet Google Plus HeraldNet Youtube
HeraldNet Newsletters  Newsletters: Sign up | Manage  Green editions icon Green editions

Calendar


HeraldNet Headlines
HeraldNet Newsletter Delivered to your inbox each week.
Published: Monday, June 16, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Are attacks on America coming?

WASHINGTON — As al-Qaida splits and morphs into different affiliates and offshoots, U.S. counterterrorism officials worry about what one calls a “potential competitive dynamic” in which different factions — including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, now sowing civil war in Iraq — seek to bolster their credibility by attacking the United States. This new danger of attacks on the U.S. homeland is what concerns the Obama administration most about the splintering process that has created ISIS, a group so extreme that it has been denounced by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the nominal leader of the core al-Qaida group.
President Obama said Friday the U.S. will not send troops back into Iraq, but he will consider a range of “other options that could help Iraq's security forces.”
ISIS has seized control of the Sunni areas of western and northern Iraq in recent weeks — and this success has fueled its rivalry with Zawahiri. The two groups are, in effect, competing for recruits among militant young Muslims. Because of its recent, brutal success, ISIS now looks like the more potent organization — which may enhance its appeal and accelerate the cycle of violence. A senior administration official sums up the rivalry this way: “Who can make the biggest attack? Who signs up for Team Zawahiri? Who signs up for Team ISIS?” The competition, ultimately, is about who will succeed Osama bin Laden as the world's leading terrorist.
Zawahiri, although a deadly adversary of the U.S., appears to have followed the logic of his mentor bin Laden, who concluded in his final years that al-Qaeda in Iraq and its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had grown so toxic with their wanton killing of Muslims (especially Iraqi Shiites) that they had lost their appeal for many Muslims. “Zawahiri has learned the lessons that bin Laden tried to impart,” says the senior administration official, and in that sense is seen as less extremist than some of the offshoots. ISIS and other ultra-violent splinter groups have not tempered their attacks. They follow Zarqawi's super-militant path. They still see violent attacks, especially on the U.S., as their best recruiting card — which pressures Zawahiri to keep pace.
In framing its counterterrorism policy, the official said, the administration has tried to focus on this broad jihadist struggle, and the potential threat to the U.S. homeland, rather than the dynamics inside each group. The U.S. strategy is premised on creating partnerships that help individual countries — such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Lebanon — cope with the extremists inside their borders. The U.S. also wants to work more closely with its traditional allies, such as France and Britain, to bolster the global counterterror partnership.
This comprehensive approach isn't a quick fix, the senior official stressed, noting that “it will take a long time to train up” potential partners. The situation is further complicated by internal political turmoil in nearly all the countries that surround war-torn Syria and Iraq, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.
The ISIS surge in Iraq appears to have concentrated the administration's focus. It's been coming for months. Derek Harvey, an Iraq specialist who teaches at the University of South Florida and advises CENTCOM, says that ISIS had effectively taken control of Mosul two months ago. What happened this past week, as ISIS completed its capture of the city and drove south, was “pushing over a dead tree,” he says.
The administration's short-term priority is stopping ISIS before it takes Baghdad, the senior official said. This means working with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, even though he's seen by Sunnis as a proxy controlled by Iran. There was no indication from the official whether the U.S. might consider direct or indirect counterterrorism liaison with Iran — which shares America's interest in curbing violent Sunni extremism.
There is a risk if Sunnis perceive the U.S. as acting in tandem with Iran in helping Maliki. One key former U.S. official remarked bluntly in an email message Friday: “American air cover operations for Quds Force (an Iranian special forces unit) in Iraq? It seems so.”
President Obama's political problem is that this renewed challenge of violent extremism comes at a time when, by most accounts, he is weak at home and abroad. The bitter partisan bickering of U.S. politics is a daily fact of life. And abroad, Obama's America is seen as both arrogant (as in the scandals surrounding the National Security Agency) and as a weakened nation in retreat after a decade of unsuccessful wars in Muslim countries. It's a dangerous combination at a time when the American homeland may be threatened anew.
David Ignatius is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.


Share your comments: Log in using your HeraldNet account or your Facebook, Twitter or Disqus profile. Comments that violate the rules are subject to removal. Please see our terms of use. Please note that you must verify your email address for your comments to appear.

You are logged in using your HeraldNet ID. Click here to update your profile. | Log out.

Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.

comments powered by Disqus
digital subscription promo

Subscribe now

Unlimited digital access starting at 99 cents, or included with any print subscription.

loading...

Herald Editorial Board

Jon Bauer, Opinion Editor: jbauer@heraldnet.com

Carol MacPherson, Editorial Writer: cmacpherson@heraldnet.com

Neal Pattison, Executive Editor: npattison@heraldnet.com

Josh O'Connor, Publisher: joconnor@heraldnet.com

Have your say

Feel strongly about something? Share it with the community by writing a letter to the editor. Send letters by e-mail to letters@heraldnet.com, by fax to 425-339-3458 or mail to The Herald - Letters, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We'll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 250 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it. If your letter is published, please wait 30 days before submitting another. Have a question about letters? Contact Carol MacPherson at cmacpherson@heraldnet.com or 425-339-3472.