Obama’s Win a Nightmare for al Qaeda

November 4 was a day in which two organizations, which have a lot in common, both lost big: the Republican Party and al Qaeda. Both organizations support restrictions on individual liberty and imposing fundamentalist religious views on others. Both depended upon each other. The Republicans would have been thrown out of office a few years earlier if not for capitalizing on fear of terrorism, and al Qaeda would be in far worse shape if not for the foreign policies of George Bush. The Republicans cared far more about using fear of terrorism for political benefit and to pursue their foreign policy goals than to actually do anything about terrorism. Bush enabled al Qaeda to accomplish one of their major goals–to see the end of one of the secular governments in the region–along with greatly assisting al Qaeda with recruitment. In attacking the wrong country after the 9/11 attacks, Bush also enabled al Qaeda to survive in Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda had a great deal going with George Bush in office. They hoped to continue this under their preferred candidate, John McCain. They have made their displeasure over Obama’s victory clear. Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution has discussed the importance of Obama’s victory in fighting al Qaeda in a column entitled Obama’s win a nightmare for al-Qaida:

While it’s a bit irritating to have an atavistic mass murderer presume to dictate appropriate politics for a black American, Zawahiri’s diatribe is good news. In fact, it may be the best news we’ve gotten in the struggle against al-Qaida since the so-called Sunni awakening in Iraq. Zawahiri and his fellow jihadists are clearly worried both about the symbolic power of an Obama presidency and about the smarter strategy against terrorism that Obama has laid out.

The hamfisted tactics favored by George W. Bush, including his ill-fated invasion of Iraq, were a gift to al-Qaida and its recruiting efforts. They allowed bin Laden and Zawahiri to paint the U.S. government as an imperial power bent on a 21st-century crusade against Islam.

However, that’s a more difficult argument to make when the Oval Office is occupied by a black man whose Kenyan grandfather was Muslim and who played with Muslim friends during his childhood years in Indonesia.

“Obama’s election has taken the wind out of al-Qaida’s sails in much of the Islamic world because it demonstrates America’s renewed commitment to multiculturalism, human rights and international law,” former National Security Council staffer Richard Clarke said. “It also proves to many that democracy can work and overcome ethnic, sectarian or racial barriers.”

The president-elect has also promised to restore the nation’s moral authority by returning to its fundamental values, starting with shutting the prison at Guantanamo Bay. That facility was never necessary for national security; the U.S. has prisons on continental soil that can secure dangerous suspects. But the Bush administration wanted an off-shore location where it could employ hideous methods of interrogation and isolation away from the prying eyes of the media and human rights officials.

We Americans believe ourselves to be a force for good in the world, but the Bush administration’s wholesale detentions and widespread use of torture badly tarnished our reputation. That matters in the fight against jihadists, who win converts by convincing alienated young Muslim men (and, increasingly, women) that America is their enemy. The toppling of Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with Sept. 11; the abuses at Abu Ghraib; the quest for permanent bases in Iraq — all those gave credence to al-Qaida’s claims.

Obama is far from naive about the threat represented by Islamist terrorists. The president-elect has promised to step up efforts to hunt down bin Laden and his Taliban sympathizers, the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. He also understands that we’ve wasted several years — not to mention billions in resources and the nation’s good name — in a diversion from that war.

During the campaign, several of John McCain’s supporters — including the recently forgiven Joe Lieberman — tried to argue that an Obama win would be a victory for terrorists. The neocons hyperventilated over Obama’s promise to draw down troops from Iraq, to talk to our enemies, to restore the rule of law. Even Obama’s correct pronunciation of Pakistan (Pah-kis-tahn) became something to snicker about, as if it were a sign of weakness.

Al-Qaida’s cheap taunts, on the other hand, suggest its minions see something to fear in the new president. They know he’ll fight both the propaganda war and the shooting war a lot better than Bush ever did.

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