“If a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Barack Obama told the New Yorker when asked whether al-Qaeda still represents a threat to the US. While Obama’s remarks on marijuana and his own falling poll numbers in this interview have commanded most of the attention from the media, Wolf Blitzer argues that this should get much more scrutiny than it has received. He asks former House Intelligence member Jane Harman whether Obama is too glib about the threat al-Qaeda poses. Harman clearly thinks so, although she tries to let him off the hook with a distinction between “core” AQ and the “horizontally-affiliated” networks:
New Yorker reporter David Remick considered this “an uncharacteristically flip analogy,” which is a bit of an understatement. Here’s the entire quote:
“I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.
“Let’s just keep in mind, Falluja is a profoundly conservative Sunni city in a country that, independent of anything we do, is deeply divided along sectarian lines. And how we think about terrorism has to be defined and specific enough that it doesn’t lead us to think that any horrible actions that take place around the world that are motivated in part by an extremist Islamic ideology are a direct threat to us or something that we have to wade into.”
The problem with this construct is that it offers false distinctions. Even so-called core AQ engaged in “various local power struggles.” They did so in Afghanistan, and they certainly sponsored and helped recruit for the Iraqi insurgency — many of those recruits coming from eastern Libya, where they also conducted “local power struggles.” In Yemen, where AQ had its beginnings in the Yemeni-Saudi conflict, AQ has tried for years to overthrow the government. And so on. The distinction for Yemen becomes even more false when one remembers that we are conducting drone attacks there, as part of the original 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda, a drone campaign that Obama clearly endorses as part of that effort.
The point about eastern Libya should also remind us that we allowed AQ and its affiliates to metastasize there. Obama led a NATO effort to decapitate Moammar Qaddafi’s regime, even though it put a lot of pressure on AQ in the region, keeping it from spreading across North Africa. After that NATO disaster, AQ and its affiliates and allies nearly sacked Mali, and has expanded widely. It was that power vacuum — and the attitude that AQ was nothing more than a “jayvee” team — that allowed al-Qaeda and its allies the opportunity to drive the West out of Benghazi, culminating in the destruction of our consulate and the loss of four Americans on the anniversary of 9/11.
By the way, how many of this “jayvee” responsible for Benghazi have been caught by the Obama administration varsity? Sixteen months later, the answer is still zero.
Maybe this administration needs to take the threat a lot more seriously than Obama does at present. Harman and Blitzer can hardly believe Obama’s words, but that’s been the message from this administration all along, and Benghazi is the result.