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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I’m Fareed Zakaria.

But, first, here’s my take. The Obama administration’s warning about a possible al-Qaeda plot against American interests in the Middle East has triggered a volley of attacks back home.

For those who always suspected President Obama was somehow soft in fighting the war on terror, this was vindication. The Weekly Standard, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorialists all piled on, saying the President had claimed that al-Qaeda had been decimated and that the tide of war was receding, but this terror warning proved him wrong.

Now, in part, the Administration has only itself to blame. The State Department issued a global travel alert for the entire month of August and explained that an attack could come anywhere.

Congressmen who were briefed by Administration officials explained that while al-Qaeda targets were cities in the Arab world and in Africa, there could also be attacks in Europe or North America.

Now, if it is a global travel alert, then it isn’t really a travel alert but rather an existence alert.

The public announcement had all the hallmarks of the old color- coded alerts of the Bush era, threatening enough to make people anxious yet vague enough to give them little to do about it. But what about al-Qaeda? Well, al-Qaeda Central, the organization centered n Afghanistan and Pakistan, is, in fact, battered and broke.

But the idea of al-Qaeda remains vibrant in some other places, not, as it turns out, in the great hotbeds of Islamic radicalism, such as Saudi Arabia, but rather in places where the government is so weak, it simply cannot control its own territory, Yemen, Somalia, Mali and northern Nigeria.

So what kind of strategy should the U.S. pursue against these very small groups in very weak states? There are three possible paths.

The first would be a more full-bore counterinsurgency strategy, the kind that General David Petraeus executed in Iraq and, to a lesser degree, in Afghanistan to bring stability to those areas.

But does anyone think that sending tens of thousands of American troops into these countries is a smart idea? And does anyone think keeping more troops in Afghanistan would make terrorists in Mali tremble?

As Michael Hayden, CIA director under George W. Bush, pointed out, many of these groups are really gangs of local thugs using the al-Qaeda name to build their brand.

For Washington to announce a grand campaign against them might exaggerate their importance, Americanize local grievances and create a global threat that didn’t really exist. The terror alerts have probably delighted these small groups for just that reason.

The second strategy would be counterterrorism, using drones, missiles, Special Forces and other kinetic tools to disrupt al-Qaeda- affiliated groups. By anyone’s measure, the Obama Administration has been aggressive on this front.

President Obama has used more drones in each year of his presidency than Bush did in his entire presidency. Ditto on data- gathering, as Mr. Snowden has reminded us.

The third possible approach to the new threat of terrorism is to try to get local governments to fight the terrorists. But the places that these al-Qaeda affiliates have sprung up, like Somalia and Yemen, are, almost by definition, ungovernable.

At the moment, only the U.S. has the technology, missiles and troops to disrupt terrorist plots being hatched in those countries.

So, you throw the posturing and the politics aside and you can see that the U.S. is following a reasonable path among the options. If anything, the best policy, in the long-run, would be to shift the struggle over to locals, who can most effectively win a long war against militants on territory they know better than any outsiders.

It would also shift the ideological struggle over to Muslims, who can most effectively battle al-Qaeda in the realm of ideas.

The U.S. can help by building up the legitimacy and capacity of these governments in various ways by encouraging reform, providing aid and technical know-how.

Of course, this would be the softest of the three strategies and would probably draw the most fire from Obama’s critics were he to actually pursue it more fully.


Posted August 12, 2013 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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