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On the Tenth Anniversary of the Cole Attack

Three thoughts concerning al Qaeda's attack on the USS Cole and the events that followed.

2:22 PM, Oct 12, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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There is no better recruitment tool for al Qaeda than success. Much of the recent debate here in the U.S. has focused on how al Qaeda and like-minded extremists are supposedly capitalizing on American policies. We keep hearing that Guantanamo, etc. are major recruitment tools for our enemies, even though there is little empirical evidence to support this proposition. (You can read my take on this argument here and here.)

The truth is that successful attacks by al Qaeda are a far more effective tool for recruitment than U.S. policies, which are often portrayed in a distorted light. Indeed, to the extent that al Qaeda even uses Gitmo or any other American policies in its recruitment drives, the terror organization relies on a warped perception of these policies.

For instance, the 9/11 Commission noted that al Qaeda’s propaganda tape featuring the Cole attack also “highlighted Muslim suffering in Palestine, Kashmir, Indonesia, and Chechnya.” At least three of the four have little to do with American policy. The source of the conflict is something altogether beyond America’s direct control. America’s role in the fourth (Palestine), has been become the subject of much mythology as well.

Indeed, al Qaeda portrays all of America’s policies, and the world in general, through a conspiratorial lens. Al Qaeda’s leaders claim that the U.S. is part of a “Zionist-Crusader” conspiracy against Muslims. This is absurd, but it sells. The Cole attack, then, was portrayed as al Qaeda’s successful counterattack to this imagined conspiracy.

We should be thankful that men such as Nashiri were captured and prevented from launching another similar attack, thereby killing more Americans and creating another victory for al Qaeda to celebrate in its propaganda.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.  

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