The poor timing of Obama administration declarations continues today. Last night, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to bolster confidence in Barack Obama’s ISIS strategy by drawing a parallel to the fight against al-Qaeda and ask for just a little more patience. Kerry declared that the US had “neutralized them as an effective force,” and that the US was on track to do the same to ISIS even more quickly:
We’re confident that if we stay steady, and our heads in thinking creatively but also being strog and committed to our fundamental value, we’re going to defeat Daesh. We began our fight against al-Qaeda in 2001 and it took us quite a few years before we were able to eliminate Osama bin Laden and their leasership and neutralize them as an effective force. So hopefully we will be able to do Daesh much faster than that.
There’s a problem with this analysis, which is that ISIS in fact was part of al-Qaeda, and only its declaration of a caliphate ended that connection. Prior to 2011, the group called itself Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and publicly aligned with bin Laden and Zawahiri. Its original leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, launched the group (then called Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad) under the auspices of bin Laden in 1999, when the AQ leader was still operating out of Afghanistan. (More on that history can be found here.) The Bush administration had all but neutralized this AQ subsidiary with the Anbar Awakening and the surge in 2007-8, but the Obama administration’s decision to leave Iraq — after declaring victory and an end to the war — provided AQI with the room to expand and declare an Islamic caliphate.
And actually, there’s another problem with this analysis, which is that ISIS isn’t the only al-Qaeda affiliate to not be “neutralized.” One took credit for today’s attack in Mali — making Kerry’s declaration obviously false:
#Bamako Al Mourabitoun claims responsibility on Twitter for Radisson hostage siege – it's a group from N Mali affiliated to Al Qaeda
— Debora Patta (@Debora_Patta) November 20, 2015
It’s stunning that Kerry would claim this. It was just a couple of years ago that AQIM nearly sacked Mali; it took a French military intervention to defeat them. Both ISIS and al-Qaeda now operate openly in Libya, where Ansar al-Sharia — the group that claimed credit for the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi — operates as AQ’s arm. The same goes for Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, one of the factions on the ground in the civil war. The connecting thread between all three states: they all failed under the Obama administration’s foreign policy within the last four years.
On CBS News this morning, a former FBI counterterrorism expert told viewers that it was likely that the operation was almost certainly an AQ operation. “The state of al-Qaeda is strong,” Ali Soufan said, and that he worries equally about AQ and ISIS:
“ISIS is a symptom of the disease,” Soufan says. “Al-Qaeda is the disease.” Don’t tell the White House, though; it disturbs the fantasy they’re spinning about victory.