Perhaps the best thing that ever happened to the relatively small group of people known as al-Qaeda was the rise to power of George W. Bush, whose brutality, stupidity, and mendacity managed to do an enormous amount to discredit American power and to push those already inclined to be skeptical of the United States further in the direction of hostility and radicalism. Just a few months of new leadership haven’t undone all the damage—some of which is probably permanent—but there’s already a new atmosphere clearly in the air and you can see it in the new defensiveness of al-Qaeda about the American president:
Al Qaeda’s second-in-command told Muslims not to be fooled by U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies which, he said on an Islamist website on Monday, are no different to those of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
“America came to us with a new face, with which it is trying to fool us. He is calling for change, but (he aims) to change us so that we abandon our religion and rights,” Ayman al-Zawahri said in an audio recording on the website.
The right-wing insists on viewing all efforts at understanding public opinion dynamics through an absurd caricature. But as you can see here, al-Qaeda’s leaders are intensely worried about these dynamics. As well they should be. A United States that moves beyond torture and arbitrary detention, that engages respectfully with the Muslim world, the produces some meaningful improvements in the situation in Palestine, and that seeks to advance its security interests on fair terms that are broadly compatible with the interests of others will be a much more formidable adversary than the United States of the George W. Bush years.