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The Jihadi Bench Warmers

A New York Times article misses the obvious.

3:10 PM, Aug 10, 2004 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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LESS THAN A MONTH AGO, Vice President Cheney said that "many of al Qaeda's known leaders have been captured or killed. Those still at large are on the run, and we are going to hunt them down--one by one." The vice president's assessment is backed by a considerable amount of evidence. Many of al Qaeda's seasoned leaders have been killed or captured since September 11, while other elements of the terrorist network are being pressured on multiple fronts as daily media reports indicate. But today's New York Times piece, "New Leaders Are Emerging For al Qaeda," by David Johnston and David Sanger, suggests otherwise. Starting with the headline, the underlying message of the piece is that the U.S. war on terror isn't making much headway because al Qaeda simply replaces its killed or captured leaders with other al Qaeda members.

In the piece, Johnston and Sanger write that "for the past several months, the president has claimed that much of al Qaeda's leadership has been killed or captured; the new evidence suggest that the organization is regenerating and bringing in new blood." They cite intelligence analysts who "say they are finding al Qaeda's upper ranks are being filled by lower-ranking members and more recent recruits." But, in fact, other than this quote, there is no evidence that al Qaeda's leadership ranks are being substantially replenished by "new blood." To the contrary, recent arrests suggest, as one intelligence official told the Times, that al Qaeda is filling these ranks by "reaching for their bench."

Yet if al Qaeda is in fact reaching down to its second-string and other jihadi bench-warmers to fill the void at the top, isn't this evidence that the administration's actions are paying off?

Indeed, has there ever been a conflict where our enemies haven't sought to replace their killed or captured leaders during hostilities? And it is doubtful whether any Bush official would seriously challenge Johnston and Sanger's statement that "al Qaeda is more resilient than was previously understood and has sought to find replacements for operational commanders like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Walid Muhammad Salih bin Attash, known as Khallad, all of whom have been captured." Again, when the enemy is an implacable one, it should be no surprise that they know--as we should--that it's a fight to death. There will be no conditional surrender when it comes to bin Laden's troops. Why? Because there is no political solution tolerable to them or us.

Michael Goldfarb is a staff assistant at The Weekly Standard.