After Osama...

Osama bin Laden, while the face of al-Qaeda to the world, was in recent years more of a figurehead than the man behind the curtain manipulating the levers of terrorism.  In fact al-Qaeda, as it was constituted in the 1990 and 2000's, has been so eroded by the policies of the Bush Administration that it is no more than a mere shell of its former self.

However, justice has been served by the death of bin Laden at the hands of the US military and the culmination of nearly ten years of dedication by the intelligence services.  The only negative aspect is that someone who so loathed and railed against the tactics, people and policies that eventuated in bin Laden's death was president when it occurred. 

As one of my associates in London pointed out, what American President, regardless of ideology, faced with the reality of having a confirmed opportunity to get Bin Laden and in the midst of a re-election bid would not go forward.  Another friend (a veteran of 30 years in the intelligence field) chimed in to say that that Obama's hand was forced.  His hypothesis:  after all the hard work and sacrifice of thousands of people in the intelligence community if Obama had not made the proper decision,  a very angry someone in one of the intelligence agencies would have leaked the information that the US had bin Laden in the crosshairs and Obama blinked; thus he could not take that chance.  Perhaps, but that theory does reflect the overwhelming amount of cynicism now directed towards Barack Obama.

But more importantly: who will now assume the role of titular head of global jihad as directed against the United States?  Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric now in Yemen, a country in the throes of a potential takeover by radical jihadists, is a possible immediate successor.  In recent years he has been associated with and behind many of the most high-profile terror plots.  He also is very familiar with American society and its strengths and weaknesses.  A society he has pledged to destroy.

Per the Financial Times:

Mr. Awlaki, a leading figure in the group known as al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula [AQAP], was the mastermind behind the attempted bombing of an aircraft over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.  He also organized the dispatch of parcel bombs concealed in cargo aircraft bound from Yemen to Chicago in October 2010.

Airline bombs are not his only stock in trade, however.  He has become a highly effective internet preacher, grooming people in western countries to carry out attacks. [Among them Major Hassan at Fort Hood and many others in the US]

The death of bin Laden is unlikely to create much sadness among AQAP followers. "There is little in the way of direct communication between the organization in Yemen and the one in Pakistan." Says Dr. Murad al-Azzany, who studies Islamist groups Sana's University [Yemen].  bin Laden's personality didn't motivate them to carry out their activities."

However, bin Laden's death will still be a positive development for AQAP.  The absence of an overall al-Qaeda leader might increase the importance of the organization's Yemeni wing by opening space for AQAP to exert further influence over the global movement-especially if that influence comes in the form of authorizing a big attack.

Al  Awlaki will also have the advantage of operating in a country that is almost certain to be controlled by a government hostile to US interests after the current President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, finally steps down.  Further, as the Obama administration has greatly eroded the nation's intelligence capabilities since assuming office, the structure that has achieved so much in keeping America safe over the past ten years may not be able to achieve another coup as they did with the assassination of bin Laden.

The Middle East of today is a far more volatile area than two years ago.  Egypt, the largest country in the region, is about to be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, Yemen is near a takeover by al-Qaeda sympathizers, Libya is in the throes of a stalemate or quasi civil war with rebel forces that include a high percentage of radical elements, and Iran is determined to undermine Iraq and control Lebanon and Syria as the hegemonic power in the region.  All the above countries will be determined to eventually destroy Israel. The Middle East has become a tinderbox akin to the Balkans in 1914.

So, while America rejoices in the death of a truly evil man, we should understand the potential consequences and ask ourselves: do we have the leadership at the helm that can successfully navigate the violent seas upon which the country finds itself?  Will this action together with the word situation made worse by America's feckless foreign policy and degradation of intelligence assets result in the uncontrolled slide into open warfare and conflict?  The future, with Obama in the Oval Office, has become more filled with the dark clouds of uncertainty.
Osama bin Laden, while the face of al-Qaeda to the world, was in recent years more of a figurehead than the man behind the curtain manipulating the levers of terrorism.  In fact al-Qaeda, as it was constituted in the 1990 and 2000's, has been so eroded by the policies of the Bush Administration that it is no more than a mere shell of its former self.

However, justice has been served by the death of bin Laden at the hands of the US military and the culmination of nearly ten years of dedication by the intelligence services.  The only negative aspect is that someone who so loathed and railed against the tactics, people and policies that eventuated in bin Laden's death was president when it occurred. 

As one of my associates in London pointed out, what American President, regardless of ideology, faced with the reality of having a confirmed opportunity to get Bin Laden and in the midst of a re-election bid would not go forward.  Another friend (a veteran of 30 years in the intelligence field) chimed in to say that that Obama's hand was forced.  His hypothesis:  after all the hard work and sacrifice of thousands of people in the intelligence community if Obama had not made the proper decision,  a very angry someone in one of the intelligence agencies would have leaked the information that the US had bin Laden in the crosshairs and Obama blinked; thus he could not take that chance.  Perhaps, but that theory does reflect the overwhelming amount of cynicism now directed towards Barack Obama.

But more importantly: who will now assume the role of titular head of global jihad as directed against the United States?  Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric now in Yemen, a country in the throes of a potential takeover by radical jihadists, is a possible immediate successor.  In recent years he has been associated with and behind many of the most high-profile terror plots.  He also is very familiar with American society and its strengths and weaknesses.  A society he has pledged to destroy.

Per the Financial Times:

Mr. Awlaki, a leading figure in the group known as al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula [AQAP], was the mastermind behind the attempted bombing of an aircraft over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.  He also organized the dispatch of parcel bombs concealed in cargo aircraft bound from Yemen to Chicago in October 2010.

Airline bombs are not his only stock in trade, however.  He has become a highly effective internet preacher, grooming people in western countries to carry out attacks. [Among them Major Hassan at Fort Hood and many others in the US]

The death of bin Laden is unlikely to create much sadness among AQAP followers. "There is little in the way of direct communication between the organization in Yemen and the one in Pakistan." Says Dr. Murad al-Azzany, who studies Islamist groups Sana's University [Yemen].  bin Laden's personality didn't motivate them to carry out their activities."

However, bin Laden's death will still be a positive development for AQAP.  The absence of an overall al-Qaeda leader might increase the importance of the organization's Yemeni wing by opening space for AQAP to exert further influence over the global movement-especially if that influence comes in the form of authorizing a big attack.

Al  Awlaki will also have the advantage of operating in a country that is almost certain to be controlled by a government hostile to US interests after the current President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, finally steps down.  Further, as the Obama administration has greatly eroded the nation's intelligence capabilities since assuming office, the structure that has achieved so much in keeping America safe over the past ten years may not be able to achieve another coup as they did with the assassination of bin Laden.

The Middle East of today is a far more volatile area than two years ago.  Egypt, the largest country in the region, is about to be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, Yemen is near a takeover by al-Qaeda sympathizers, Libya is in the throes of a stalemate or quasi civil war with rebel forces that include a high percentage of radical elements, and Iran is determined to undermine Iraq and control Lebanon and Syria as the hegemonic power in the region.  All the above countries will be determined to eventually destroy Israel. The Middle East has become a tinderbox akin to the Balkans in 1914.

So, while America rejoices in the death of a truly evil man, we should understand the potential consequences and ask ourselves: do we have the leadership at the helm that can successfully navigate the violent seas upon which the country finds itself?  Will this action together with the word situation made worse by America's feckless foreign policy and degradation of intelligence assets result in the uncontrolled slide into open warfare and conflict?  The future, with Obama in the Oval Office, has become more filled with the dark clouds of uncertainty.

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