From today's U.K. Guardian comes this utterly predictable account of Al Qaida's "resurgence." According to the paper, the terrorist organization has revived, spread and is again capable of staging another "spectacular" attack on the scale of 9-11.
The Guardian story is based on the annual assessment of world affairs by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which released its report yesterday. While the IISS is highly respected, it is also decidedly liberal in its outlook--no wonder the Guardian considers it to be the "Holy Grail." If you need proof of their bias, consider one of the "other" findings from yesterday's report:
"...if climate change is allowed to continue unchecked, its affects will be catastrophic "on the level of nuclear war".
Never mind that the entire "climate change" argument is based on scientific "consensus," rather than irrefutable data. Since that version of climatological events fits the IISS narrative, the think tank is quite willing to accept it as the Holy Grail. And, it's a trend that's evident in other IISS assessments as well. Consider its "doom-and-gloom" view on the state of Al Qaida and the larger issue of radical Islam:
There is increasing evidence "that 'core' al-Qaida is proving adaptable and resilient, and has retained an ability to plan and coordinate large-scale attacks in the western world despite the attrition it has suffered", said the IISS. "The threat from Islamist terrorism remains as high as ever, and looks set to get worse," it added.
"The US and its allies have failed to deal a death blow to al-Qaida; the organisation's ideology appears to have taken root to such a degree that it will require decades to eradicate," it continued.
There is little doubt that Al Qaida has a high degree of resiliency--it's a common trait among terrorist organizations. The IRA fought the British military and intelligence services for almost 30 years; in South America, FARC rebels have been battling the Colombian government since the late 1940s. And the Tamil Tigers have waged a murderous campaign on Sri Lanka since the mid-1970s. In that sense, Al Qaida's resiliency merely follows a well-established pattern.
It's also quite clear that the terrorist group has benefited from the disastrous Waziristan Accords, which allowed them to reestablish safe havens in Pakistan's western tribal lands. With little to fear from the Pakistani government, Al Qaida and its Taliban allies have rebuilt training camps and logistics stockpiles, allowing them to prepare more jihadists for the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
But that begs an obvious question--one which the IISS conveniently avoids. If Al Qaida has regained the strength it enjoyed on 9-11, why hasn't the group been able to mount a new "spectacular?" The IISS report cites recently-foiled terror plots in Germany and Denmark as proof of Al Qaida's global reach.
Yet, a closer examination of those incidents reveals little in common with the 9-11, except that all were "inspired" by Al Qaida. Unlike the 9-11 attacks (which were planned and directed by the group's operations chief, Khalid Sheik Mohammed), the failed plots in Germany and Denmark were the work of affiliated groups, operating largely on their own. In both cases, most of the suspects were "home grown" including two German nationals who had converted to Islam. The thwarted attacks follow the "de-centralized" operational model that Al Qaida has been forced to adopt since 9-11, with local affiliates assuming the lead role in selecting targets and planning strikes.
The IISS analysis also fails to note that not everything is going Al Qaida's way. Earlier this year, the group's Somali "franchise" suffered a stunning setback when the Ethiopian Army (with U.S. air and naval support) crushed the Islamic Courts movement, derailing Al Qaida's plans to reestablish a major operational base in east Africa.
Then, there's the matter of Iraq. While analysts at the British think tank describe the situation as a "strategic hole" for the United States, the conflict is also a major drain on Al Qaida personnel and resources. In a recent conversation with talk radio hosts at the White House, President Bush disclosed that "thousands" of terrorists have been killed in Iraq since the start of the troop surge earlier this year. Presumably, many of those were Al Qaida fighters. Had they not been recruited for the Iraqi front, we can only imagine how many of those terrorists would be assigned to western targets.
Iraq also challenges the notion that Al Qadia's fundamentalist ideology is gaining hearts and minds in the Islamic notion. The population of Al-Anbar Province is part of Iraq's Sunni majority, and presumably, a target audience for Al Qaida. And, for a while, the terrorists found refuge in that region until their brutal tactics drove local Sunnis to the U.S. side. Now, the Anbar "awakening" seems to be spreading to other parts of Iraq. Indeed, most of our tactical "gains" on the ground have come directly at the expense of Al Qaida. The IISS believes that the U.S. position in Iraq is bleak, but the situation is far worse for Al Qaida and its allies, who should be benefiting from the strategic morass.
Not surprisingly, the IISS staff includes its share of former British spooks, including Nigel Inkster, who was once a candidate for the top job at MI6. It's nice to know that the U.K. annuitants (like their American counterparts) can retire to the comfort of think tank, while still offering their particularly skewed view of global threats.
That's not to say the entire IISS report is flawed. Their "worst case" prediction that Iran could gain its first nuclear weapon by 2009-2010 jibes with other assessments in that area. And the institute is correct in noting the increased radicalization of Europe's Muslim population, though it fails to note the role played by European governments in creating that problem.
Still, such kernels of unvarnished truth seem to be relatively few and far between in the IISS assessment. Consider their "take" on the impact of climate change, as reported by the Guardian:
The report said the effects of the predicted rise in global temperatures due to the burning of fossil fuels would cause a host of problems including rising sea levels, forced migration, freak storms, droughts, floods, extinctions, wildfires, disease epidemics, crop failures and famine.
Somewhere on his private jet, Al Gore must be very proud, indeed. That's why the IISS report should be read with a healthy degree of skepticism.