Bloggers on whether al-Qaida's power is waning.

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
May 29 2008 5:21 PM

Al-Qaida's End?

Bloggers analyze two stories about how al-Qaida may be alienating fellow jihadists. And should Barack Obama tour Iraq with John McCain?

Al-Qaida's end? Lawrence Wright, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, has a lengthy profile in TheNew Yorker of Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, a former al-Qaida strategist and now one of the terror group's fiercest critics. Meanwhile, Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank offer their thoughts in the New Republic on the mounting disaffection for Osama Bin Laden and his crew among Muslims in Europe and Asia. Is this the "beginning of the end" for al-Qaida, the "end of the beginning" of the war on terror at large, or neither?

Cruickshank, the co-author of the New Republic piece, elaborates on Counterterrorism Blog: "[T]he new wave of criticism coming from key figures in the jihadist movement has real extra bite, because it is very difficult for Bin Laden to dismiss the arguments of jihadist leaders who once fought at his side. ... To the degree that this makes radical leaning youngsters from London to Lahore think twice about joining al Qaeda, this could be a watershed moment in the war on terrorism." Merv at Prairie Pundit says: "When two liberal publications both published articles premised on our enemy's falling apart, I see a trend. Of course both see the internal disintegration resulting from something other than the pressure put on them by the US war."

But Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit, dismisses the articles in a guest post at Wired's Danger Room: "The recent spate of articles about the so-called civil war within al-Qaeda are the products of Western- and wishful-thinking. Almost all of the 'critics' of bin Laden and al-Qaeda that have been cited are jihadi-has-beens; men with personal grudges against bin Laden and/or al-Zawahiri; or men who are saying what the Egyptian and Saudi governments tell them to say in order to get a bit less horrendous treatment in the prisons in which they are incarcerated." "Dangerous naivety" is how Melanie Phillips terms the New Republic argument in a trenchant post at the London Spectator blog.

Sonny Bunch at Doublethink Online frames the al-Qaida crackup against broader gains in the war on terror: "[N]ote the decrease in attacks around the world that Fareed writes about in this week's Newsweek. [Article here.] Knock on wood, attacks in Iraq are cratering as well, suggesting that we're doing a pretty good job of killing them over there so we won't have to fight them over here."

John Wohlstetter at war-and-security-focused Letter From the Capitol is optimistic: "If winning Afghanistan was the End of the Beginning, this might be the Beginning of the End.  Only the specter of WMD terror makes even a failing al-Qaeda potentially very dangerous still." Seattle blogger Martian Bracelets at Hex Message concludes tersely: "[Y]ou cannot read the article without realizing that the angry 'Arab Street' of 2002 is now sitting down at a cafe for a serious re-evaluation." Conservative Diplomad credits the West with inflicting "a series of defeats on the jihadists, and influential Muslims are waking up to the fact that following the violent ones will only lead to more defeat and misery for Muslims."

Steven Corman at COMOPS Journal, a blog that focuses on security and diplomacy from a "human communication perspective," finds much to commend but adds: "Notwithstanding their own image problems, the extremists' propaganda punch relies on damning the West with its own actions, showing how it fails to live up to its own values. I would add that we are also playing into the extremist narrative."

Read more about the al-Qaida stories.

Traveling companions: John McCain's been criticizing Barack Obama for his willingness to sit down with America's enemies but his reluctance to talk to Gen. Petraeus or go to Iraq. Obama last toured the country in 2006, and McCain has offered a joint visit during the general-election campaign, which he hopes will change Obama's perceptions of the war. Obama parried the offer as a "stunt" though now he says he plans to visit Mesopotamia solo in the near future.

Domenico Montanaro at MSNBC's First Read sees a few net positives for McCain: "Has McCain boxed Obama in on this issue—because if he does actually go to Iraq, will it look like McCain's idea? There are certainly a few other pros to McCain's line of attack here: It moves the issue terrain to ground on which the Arizona senator is comfortable (Iraq), and it makes McCain look like the knowledgeable and experienced one." (On the other hand, Montanaro points out, we'll probably see more video of McCain's infamous stroll through Baghdad, and Obama could have a "commander in chief moment.")

Conservative Provocateur Mike Volpe says it was unwise of Obama to refuse the invite: "McCain can claim that 1) Barack Obama is making military decisions without seeing the facts on the ground, and 2) he is more willing to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than General David Petraeus and the men and women that are so bravely fighting for our freedom. Like I said, heads I win, tails you lose."

Lefty Ric Caric at Red State Impressions thinks Obama should go: "[I]t would be a tremendous opportunity for Barack Obama to look presidential. People in the U.S. are dying for some authoritative voice on opposition to the war and Obama could be that voice. Specifically, he could publicly inform Gens. Petraueus and Odierno that the American people oppose the war, he opposes the war, and that he would definitely order a withdrawal if he were elected president."

Allahpundit at Hot Air snarks: "Just so we're clear, a 'political stunt' would be letting McCain cow him into a joint trip to Iraq. Letting McCain cow him into a solo trip? Not a stunt. It's amazing how a townhall meeting carried across the dial on cable news can concentrate the mind, I guess."

Noam Scheiber at the New Republic's Stump thinks it's not the safest political bet: "My hunch is that McCain really wants to debate Iraq. … I guess I respect that on some level. And, politically, it does reinforce his truth-teller, 'I'd rather lose an election than lose a war' image. But, assuming Obama is able to establish a minimum level of national security credibility, which I think he will, McCain may be making a strategic mistake."

Read more about McCain's invitation to Obama.

Michael Weiss is the director of communications at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank that promotes democratic geopolitics. He is also the spokesman for Just Journalism, which examines how Israel and the Middle East are portrayed in the U.K. media.