For years now, liberals have had to put up with basic points about the value of not doing stuff that’s hugely unpopular around the world caricatured as the idea that if we just act nicer, al-Qaeda leaders will lay down their arms. The reality, as Joby Warrick reports for The Washington Post is that when American leadership is popular and respect, al-Qaeda keeps on keeping on. But they have a much harder time getting anyone to follow them:
The torrent of hateful words is part of what terrorism experts now believe is a deliberate, even desperate, propaganda campaign against a president who appears to have gotten under al-Qaeda’s skin. The departure of George W. Bush deprived al-Qaeda of a polarizing American leader who reliably drove recruits and donations to the terrorist group.
With Obama, al-Qaeda faces an entirely new challenge, experts say: a U.S. president who campaigned to end the Iraq war and to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and who polls show is well liked throughout the Muslim world.
The post quotes Paul Pillar, formerly a CIA counterterrorism analyst, as saying that “For al-Qaeda, as a matter of image and tone, George W. Bush had been a near-perfect foil.” With Obama, things are different. Or, more to the point, with Obama we get a chance to make things different. Absent the right policies, Obama’s appeal will fade. But moving back toward the rule of law, and appointing George Mitchell were steps in the right direction. Moving forward with plans to take our troops out of Iraq will do more.