Knowing Our Enemies, And What They Want

One of the starkest differences between the Obama administration’s new National Security Strategy (pdf) and the Bush administration’s (pdf) is its tighter focus on Al Qaeda and affiliated extremists, and its recognition that responding to Al Qaeda with fear and overreaction is playing right into Al Qaeda’s hands.

Where Bush’s 2006 NSS stated the goal of “defeating global terrorism,” Obama’s is very specific, stating “The United States is waging a global campaign against al-Qa’ida and its terrorist affiliates.” The new NSS also makes very clear what this effort is not:

We will always seek to delegitimize the use of terrorism and to isolate those who carry it out. Yet this is not a global war against a tactic — terrorism or a religion — Islam. We are at war with a specific network, al-Qa’ida, and its terrorist affiliates who support efforts to attack the United States, our allies, and partners.

Here’s the section that Liz Cheney should read:

The goal of those who perpetrate terrorist attacks is in part to sow fear. If we respond with fear, we allow violent extremists to succeed far beyond the initial impact of their attacks, or attempted attacks — altering our society and enlarging the standing of al-Qa’ida and its terrorist affiliates far beyond its actual reach. Similarly, overreacting in a way that creates fissures between America and certain regions or religions will undercut our leadership and make us less safe.

There’s also a welcome assault on Al Qaeda’s religious legitimacy:

Finally, we reject the notion that al-Qa’ida represents any religious authority. They are not religious leaders, they are killers; and neither Islam nor any other religion condones the slaughter of innocents.

As Malcolm Nance writes in his new book An End To Al Qaeda, challenging Al Qaeda in the realm of ideology is a hugely important and thus far neglected aspect of the effort to diminish and defeat them. On the other side, you have people like Frank Gaffney who argue that Islam is inherently violent, and that therefore Osama bin Laden and his allies are the true Muslims, which is a clever way of effectively ceding the entire ideological debate to our enemies. Fortunately, the new NSS seems to recognize the foolishness of that idea.