Editorial: The Bush Factor

Editorial: The Bush Factor
3 June 2008 – Arab news

The head of the CIA, Michael Hayden, says that Al-Qaeda has essentially been defeated in Iraq and here in the Kingdom and that it is on retreat elsewhere, in particular on the Pakistan-Afghan border where Osama Bin Laden and his senior cohorts are thought to be hiding.

Ever since 9/11, it has been difficult to accept with any conviction anything the CIA says about Al-Qaeda. Commentators and politicians in the US certainly are unwilling to accept this thoroughly upbeat assessment, seeing it as a deliberately political attempt to give credit to the Bush administration as it comes to the end of its eight-year period in office. No less than the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller has challenged the assessment, saying that it is not consistent with intelligence assessments provided to his committee during the past year.

Given its past record, there are obviously good grounds for questioning the CIA’s conclusions. Such skepticism is reinforced by the fact that the CIA evidently sees Al-Qaeda as a single structured entity when in fact it is more a network of sympathizers and fellow travelers. Nonetheless, although the organization’s understanding of the nature of Al-Qaeda is suspect, there is some considerable truth in its assessment. There is no doubt that the forces of extremism are in retreat. The analysis may be flawed but the conclusion is in large part correct. It is certainly the case that Al-Qaeda’s network in the Kingdom has been defeated and its web of sympathizers left disillusioned and crushed, as various ministers here have pointed out. It is also the case in Iraq where the Sunnis were revolted by the local Al-Qaeda network’s butchery, and turned against it. That destroyed its ability to operate.

This change is not thanks to the US military; the “war against terrorism” has not been won on the field of battle. Good intelligence here and elsewhere has certainly been of immense importance in the turnaround but there is another major reason that Hayden did not point out and perhaps does not understand. It is the Bush factor. Just as sympathy for Al-Qaeda gained some sympathizers in parts of the Muslim world because of resentment and despair at the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East and its perceived anti-Muslim bias, so too now there is an awareness that the Bush term is coming to an end and that change is on the way. That has altered attitudes, spurring hopes that a new US administration, especially one headed by Barak Obama, will quit Iraq and generally pursue fairer and more balanced policies toward the Middle East and the Muslim world.

The sense that things will be different is allied to a revulsion for the militants’ tactics and an understanding that militancy achieves nothing other than bloodshed. That the CIA is unable to link the retreat of the militants to the coming departure of the Bush administration suggests that it still does not understand the political undercurrents flowing in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.

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