The Magazine

Rumors of al Qaeda’s Demise

Feb 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 21 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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If Harf believes it defies logic to argue that she thinks Zawahiri is the only core al Qaeda fighter left, she might have done more to explain why she said that Zawahiri is the only core Al Qaeda fighter left.

As the Long War Journal points out, in trying to explain what she meant by her claim that Zawahiri was the “only one left” of “core al Qaeda,” Harf offers several different definitions of that group. There’s senior leadership from “the group that planned 9/11” and “core al Qaeda as we’ve known it” and even new “al Qaeda core leadership” that includes those who replace the ones who have died.

It may seem unfair to pick on Harf. Perhaps she just misspoke in making her claim about Zawahiri. But she’s hardly unqualified to speak on these issues, and there’s no question that her views are representative of Barack Obama’s national security leadership. As Harf pointed out herself, she has “spent six years at the CIA—including three as our spokesperson talking about exactly these issues.” And indeed, the problem isn’t the messenger, it’s the message.

From the earliest days of the Obama presidency, the administration has downplayed threats posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates. On his first day in office, Obama pledged again to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Three days after the attempted bombing of an airplane over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009, the president claimed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was an “isolated extremist,” despite the fact that the bomber had already detailed for authorities his ties to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. When Faisal Shahzad attempted to detonate an SUV packed with explosives in Times Square six months later, Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, dismissed it as a “one-off” attempt and prematurely dismissed suggestions that the bomber, who was trained and funded by the Pakistani Taliban, had ties to international terrorists. And for two weeks, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, the fatal attacks in Benghazi were misleadingly portrayed as the result of an angry mob spun up by a YouTube video. When the New York Times tried unsuccessfully to resurrect that discredited line last month, Obama administration officials quietly whispered their approval to reporters who asked about the story.

If they’re just trying to deceive us, that’s offensive. If they’re deceiving themselves, it’s dangerous.

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