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Friday, May 06, 2011

Reigniting the GWOT

by digby

Here's an interesting perspective that should give the media some pause as they start to sound like Chevy Chase announcing "Francisco Franco is still dead" with this relentless coverage of the bin Laden operation:
As Americans celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden, there is a risk we will exaggerate his importance in death as we did in life.

While bin Laden presided over al-Qaeda's rise in the 1990s and early 2000s, just as important, he presided over its growing irrelevance. In recent years, al-Qaeda, while retaining its ability to wreak havoc, has become an increasingly marginal actor on the Arab stage.

The Arab Spring, particularly the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, discredited the notion that real change could come only through violence. In 18 days of demonstrations, Egypt's protesters were able to do something few had thought possible — peacefully overthrow a repressive, hated regime.

In the early weeks of the uprisings, al-Qaeda remained quiet, seemingly unsure how, or even if, it could spin events to its advantage. The protesters, after all, were not calling for the establishment of an Islamic state, attacks on the United States, or ending the peace treaty with Israel. They were calling for freedom and democracy.

It wasn't always this way. The attacks of 9/11 seemed, at least for a time, an unlikely victory for a group that few Americans had ever heard of before. Al-Qaeda had launched a decisive blow against the world's superpower. In so doing, it established itself as a leader of resistance and rode the wave of Arab anti-Americanism.

In elevating al-Qaeda to a threat to a Western civilization — something it never was — the Bush administration fell into a trap, allowing Middle East extremists to define its policy agenda. The Iraq war, Guantanamo Bay and the U.S. use of torture were all, to varying degrees, justified as necessary to win the war on terror. These distortions in American policy led to distortions in the Arab response. In a time when many Arabs sympathized with bin Laden's aims if not his methods, al-Qaeda managed to gain mainstream credibility and popularity.

According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, in 2003, confidence in Osama bin Laden reached a high of 61% in Jordan, 59% in Indonesia and 72% in the Palestinian territories.

Though al-Qaeda could destroy, however, it could not build. In its unwillingness and inability to offer anything resembling a constructive vision for change, al-Qaeda gradually descended back into irrelevance. Its gruesome attacks in places such as Jordan and Iraq alienated supporters. Meanwhile, the group's operational capabilities suffered under unrelenting U.S. pressure, with many of its leaders captured or killed.

Today, ordinary Arabs are fighting and dying for something — freedom — bin Laden and his followers would take away if they had the chance. For the first time in decades, the future of the Arab world seems to offer genuine promise. By 2011, support for bin Laden plummeted to all-time lows. In Jordan and Palestine, the drop was a striking 43 and 38 percentage points, respectively.

There's more, not all of which I agree with. But it does point up the fact that bin Laden was already a fading figure in the middle east and it probably doesn't do anyone any good to elevate him once again. Certainly, phony demagoguery of Pakistan doesn't seem like a good idea. And this afternoon's drone attack allegedly targeting the American Al-Awlaki for assassination in Yemen and this "hot on the heels of Al-Alawi"looks like a ratcheting up of the GWOT at the time the other revolutionary model is gaining steam. Maybe it doesn't matter, but getting more and more bellicose in the wake of assassinating bin Laden could easily change the dynamic in the wrong direction.

I'm sure we're going to be seeing more of Chris Matthews oogling the SEALs and everyone going on endlessly about America's big comeback as a badass superpower. That's just how Americans roll. But contrary to Palin's view that we need to put the bad guys' head on pikes to prove that we won't be trifled with, this extended, self-congratulatory victory lap and bloviating saber-rattling is "sending a message" that the US is reigniting a war that was already winding down. And it's at a time when the people of the middle east were in the process of dealing with the fundamental problems that spawned it themselves.

They're breathlessly going on about Al Qaeda in Yemen "targeting the homeland" right now on CNN. Looks like we're back in business.