By WILLIAM MAYER
June 23, 2014 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org – In the relatively short time span of two weeks, President Obama – once again startled by critical developments in foreign affairs - has been forced to confront the presence of a large jihadist force - the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham [ISIS] - which has infiltrated across the Syrian border into Iraq and is now controlling the major cities of Mosul [Iraq's second most populous] Tikrit and Fallujah.
The legacy media In what appears to be an effort to limit Mr. Obama's exposure as being labeled either naïve or a charlatan when he declared al-Qaeda to be moribund, has portrayed ISIS as being a renegade group of jihadists [please refer to, Mark Tran, Who are Isis? A terror group too extreme even for al-Qaida, UK Guardian] who were dismissed by al-Qaeda Central's emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri because it was unnecessarily brutality.
The press isn't alone.
Some scholars also contend that al-Qaeda is no longer a serious threat, arguing that the group has been decimated.
"…Al Qaeda is no longer seen as an existential threat to the West in a clash of civilizations, and it is no longer believed to have deeply penetrated societies…While the hysteria over a global conspiracy against the West has faded.." [source, Marc Sageman, The Stagnation of Research on Terrorism, Chronicles in Higher Education]
This viewpoint was notably criticized by Bruce Hoffman, A Georgetown, PhD, in Foreign Policy magazine. [see for example, Elaine Sciolino and Eric Schmitt, A Not Very Private Feud Over Terrorism, New York Times]
Though it's undeniable that ISIS' reputation for brutality is well-deserved, claiming that it's excessive as judged by the normative standards of jihad is without basis. Moreover that doesn't seem to be the reason why al-Qaeda main and ISIS went their separate ways.
As noted in the Rand Corporation's recently published monologue [Seth G. Jones, A Persistent Threat: The Evolution of al Qa'ida and Other Salafi Jihadists ] what led to the expulsion of ISIS from al-Qaeda was a matter of internal politics, an organizational/jurisdictional dispute between ISIS, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi [also 'Abu Du'a] and Jabhat al-Nusrah, whose emir is Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani.
After a long period of patient mediation by Zawahiri, al-Baghdadi ultimately refused to accept al-Jawlani's movement as being separate, but equal to his in the sense that both would report directly to al-Qaeda. With al-Nusrah rapidly gaining fighters [the group was founded in Syria just two years ago] and al-Baghdadi being obstinate, Zawahiri made the decision to expel ISIS as an official al-Qaeda franchisee.
Therefore it's incorrect try to draw a contrast between al-Qaeda and ISIS using the relative nature of their use of violence as a metric.
As referenced above, the new Rand analysis is so comprehensive that it deserves to have some of its main points teased out [the entire document is a must read] one of which is to get some sense of whether the Islamic jihad has been in ascension, remains at relative stasis or has declined during the presidency of Barack Obama.
Because it would be difficult to deal with the modern phenomenon of jihad in any work of reasonable length, Rand devotes its attention only to terrorism being conducted by Salafist Islamic groups as opposed to that carried out by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist factions [please note clarification below].
Strictly speaking Salafism is a violent brand of Sunni Islam which emphasizes the importance of returning to the "authentic" Islam of long ago, "that of the Salaf, the pious ancestors." [Jones, op. cit. p. 21]
"Salafists maintain that the purest form of Islam was that practiced by Mohammed and those which followed in the next few generations. These people are believed to be most "rightly guided." One of the reasons why not shaving the face and growing a beard in a precise way is to follow one of Mohammed edicts. The vanguard (of Islam) — the first of those who forsook (their homes) and of those who gave them aid, and (also) those who follow them in (all) good deeds, — well-pleased is Allah with them, as are they with Him: for them hath He prepared gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein for ever: that is the supreme felicity" ( Sura 9:100 )." [source, Mark Durie, Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood; What is the difference?, Middle East Forum]
Generally Salafis don't mix with non-Muslims or those practicing a less fundamentalist form of Islam. They view democratic forms, elections and participatory government as evidence of modernism which they view as being un-Islamic. [Ibid]
While the Rand study looks at Salafist jihad, it must be remembered that Whabbism, the state religion of Saudi Arabia, is also Salafist, its adherents being desirous of returning to Islam's roots. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood have declared themselves Salafists. They differ from their coreligionist Sunni brethren in that they actively engage in politics [as directed by their theorist Sayyed Qutb] using every facet of modernity to implement their program including the electoral process. This is the basis of the Ikhwan's long range game plan of subverting the Western democracies, using the rights inherent in citizenship against the state. [Please take this link to read the Muslim Brotherhood's, General Strategic Plan for the Group in North America. The first half is written in Arabic, the second half translated into English. The document was entered as a government exhibit in U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation for Development, the largest successful prosecution of HAMAS funding in U.S. history]
Regardless, Salafists maintain that both are deviational, despite the apparent similarity.
The tension between these distinctive "brands" of Salafism was made clear when Zawahiri admonished the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for becoming so involved in politics:
"In 2013, Zawahiri argued that the most important mistake by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was its attempt to take power through democracy. "What happened is the biggest proof for the failure of taking the way of democracy,"
Zawahiri chided Muslim Brotherhood leaders:
"In the beginning, we have to recognize that legitimacy isn't in elections and democracy, but legitimacy is the shar'ia, since who is outside the shar'ia is out of the legitimacy, and the subordinate to the rulings of the shar'ia is obedient and concordant with the legitimacy." Since religious law is preeminent, Salafi jihadists argue, democracy and other political forms of government are anathema. [Jones, op. cit., p. 13-14]
Zawahiri, like his predecessor bin-Laden envisions the establishment of a huge caliphate - territory operating under the shari'a – stretching from North West and Northern Africa, through the Middle East, Indo-Pakistan, much of South East Asia and the South Pacific, including Malaysia, Indonesia and the Western half of New-Guinea.Looking at the threat posed by Salafist jihadism alone one can gain some sense of how the West is fairing in the general conflict, the nature of which this White House refuses to define.
Over time these acts of violence have become less centrally directed. This is due to a number of factors; core al-Qaeda has taken a pounding since 2001; the franchisees are now more numerous in number and often have the resources to carry out operations on their own without being closely directed; some groups no longer feel it necessary or desirable [for example because of doctrinal disputes] to ally with the al-Qaeda Central based in Pakistan and are thus free to operate according to an internal directive and finally, the number of "lone wolf" operations [small cells or a single individuals] have increased.
"The report makes several arguments. First, and most important, the United States faces a serious and growing Salafi-jihadist challenge overseas. Beginning in 2010, there was a rise in the number of Salafi jihadist groups and fighters, particularly in Syria and North Africa. There was also an increase in the number of attacks perpetrated by al-Qa'ida and its affiliates. Several data points illustrate these trends:
1. There was a 58-percent increase in the number of Salafi-jihadist groups from 2010 to 2013. Libya represents the most active sanctuary for Salafi-jihadist groups in North Africa, and Syria the most significant safe haven for groups in the Levant.2. The number of Salafi jihadists more than doubled from 2010 to 2013, according to both our low and high estimates.
3.There was a significant increase in attacks by al Qa'ida–affiliated groups between 2007 and 2013, with most of the violence in 2013 perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (43 percent), which eventually left al Qa'ida; al Shabaab (25 percent); Jabhat al-Nusrah (21 percent); and al Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (ten percent)." [Jones, op. cit., p. 13]
Thus the Obama administration is faced with a paradox, though in paraphrasing the President, al-Qaeda has been "decimated" the size, strength and resourcefulness of the jihadist movement in general has only grown, "Using the state of core al Qa'ida in Pakistan as a gauge of the movement's strengths (or weaknesses) is increasingly anachronistic for such a heterogeneous mixture of groups."
The below graphs plot both the number of Salfist jihadist groups and the total number of Salafist terrorists within these groups [Jones, op. cit., p. 27-28]
The data shows that jihadist activity exploded in 2011 and has maintained that rate ever since. it should come as no shock that the enemy surge has tracked rather smoothly against the President's rhetoric during this period of time, much of which was devoted to reminding the public that America's role in both Iraq and Afghanistan was coming to an end. It's hardly surprising that a committed jihadist enemy would be emboldened by such talk and start moving in to fill the vacuum created by the absence of American military strength.
At this point we would like to disabuse our readers from assuming that maybe the above information, alarming as it is, was nonetheless produced by am obscure academic group, designed for limited circulation within a small cadre of counter-terror/national security/foreign policy researchers and thus understandably escaped scrutiny by the President. Nothing could be further from the truth. This study was produced specifically for the DOD and relied on public documents including written communication between the jihadist leadership and intensive interviews and data checking with defense and national security professionals within the Obama administration.
"The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community"
Though this study was only recently published, the information contained within it was common knowledge within the defense establishment well before then, though not codified in this format. Given the close working nature between RAND and DOD it's inconceivable that draft reports and summaries weren't circulated within the department far in advance of the document being finalized.
Thus we absolutely know Mr. Obama was aware of this information [or should have been] through the President's Daily Briefing process, though we must note the President has opted out of more than half of these intelligence summaries.
This writer recently explored this matter.
"Doing a search of the official White House Schedule, randomly selecting February, 2 through June 14 of this year, out of approximately 60 possible briefings, the President received this vital intelligence information less than 1/3 of the time. During these four months he never exceeding being given the report 3 times in a single week, during 6 weeks he only took it once and during 2 weeks he abstained from the briefing entirely. [source, White House Schedule]
- Week: F-2-8: 3
- Week: M-18-24: 1
- Week: M-9-15: 3
- Week: M-16-22: 0
- Week: M-23-29: 0
- Week: A-20-26: 1
- Week: A-27-M-3: 2
- Week: M-4-10: 3
- Week: M-18-24: 1
- Week: M-25-31: 1
- Week: J-1-7: 1
- Week: J-8-14: 3"
[source, William Mayer, Disaster: Obama Ignored Signs Iraq Was Unraveling, PipeLineNews.org]
There are multiple published accounts which indicate that the U.S. defense establishment was in despair about having its advice - that a catastrophe would ensue should Mr. Obama precipitously withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan - dismissed despite the President having had absolutely no military or security experience.
Below, from Bob Woodward, certainly no "right-wing extremist."
"Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," investigative journalist Bob Woodward said he should have been more diligent when reporting on President Barack Obama's withdraw from Iraq because he said "the experts, the generals were saying -- I mean they were almost on their knees, 'Keep some troops here,' and we left zero." [source, Breitbart, Woodward: Generals Were on their Knees Begging Obama to Keep Some Troops in Iraq]Indicating that RAND and the generals were on the same page:
"A complete withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan by 2016 could seriously jeopardize U.S. security interests because of the continuing presence of Salafi-jihadist and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A growing civil war or successful Taliban- led insurgency would likely allow al Qa'ida and other terrorist groups—such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Haqqani network, and Lashkar-e-Taiba—to increase their presence in Afghanistan. Al Qa'ida and associated movements would likely view an American exit from Afghanistan—if it were to happen—as their most important victory since the departure of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989."
One can easily substitute, Iraq for Afghanistan in this paragraph because the same logic holds. So responding to the now thread-bare query, "what did the president know and when did he know it," Mr. Obama was aware of all of this information [actually quite a bit more, since the RAND study is a declassified document intended for public distribution] and he knew it in real time, which means at the earliest instant it became available.
In conclusion, we aren't prescient and can't pretend to know exactly what motivated the President to disregard what his top military advisors were telling him about Iraq and Afghanistan, but now with the ISIS Salafis bearing down on Baghdad, Mr. Obama can no longer escape the consequences of his unbelievably reckless behavior.
©2014 PipeLineNews.org LLC, William Mayer. All rights reserved.