National Security

Victory Over Al-Qaida? Not Yet

Congress reconsiders the Authorization for Military Force, while Obama argues al-Qaida is defeated.

May 23, 2014
U.S. troops in Afghanistan

As American troops continue to exit from the Islamist theater, Congress is beginning to question whether the authorization first passed in the wake of 9/11 has run its course. Critics contend it was never meant to be a blank check or an excuse to hunt down terrorists with drones. Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s outlook on al-Qaida has been and continues to be dangerous. Reestablishing our objectives wouldn’t be a bad idea.

“Congress never intended to authorize a war without end, and the 2001 authorization no longer properly encompasses the scope of military action that we are taking in the ongoing fight against terrorism,” wrote Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in a letter to fellow congressmen. Last year Schiff sponsored a measure to sunset the original authorization and tailor a new one to current conditions, which was defeated despite bipartisan support from 30 Republicans. Similar sentiments are found in the Senate, where Republicans Bob Corker (TN) and John McCain (AZ) argue that recent operations exceed the scope of the original authorization.

Corker sees the problem as two-fold: “These incidents [in Benghazi and Syria] seem to suggest that the September 2001 Authorization on the Use of Military Force (AUMF) is too narrow and that the president is hamstrung by stale semantic distinctions. But there are also legitimate reasons to believe it is too broad. Both the Obama and Bush administrations have stretched the resolution’s authority well beyond its words to go after groups that have little to no connection to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”

Yet all this is taking place in the long shadow of Benghazi, an incident which would have revealed the true strength of al-Qaida had the administration – and a predictably incurious press – not covered up the incident by blaming it on an obscure video. To do otherwise would have punctured the “al-Qaida is on the run” narrative repeated by Obama to talk up his foreign policy prowess during the 2012 campaign.

Moreover, as the deadline for Afghan withdrawal inches closer, those in the intelligence community wonder what will happen when our troops leave. If Iraq is any indication, the results will harm our interests. Seemingly all that was gained in the first seven years of our conflict has been handed back in the last six. “Al-Qaida has a presence all over Afghanistan today,” said a senior U.S. intelligence official. Added FBI Director James Comey, “I didn’t have anywhere near the appreciation I got after I came into this job just how virulent those [al-Qaida] affiliates had become. There are both many more than I appreciated, and they are stronger than I appreciated.”

Unfortunately, giving our commander in chief such latitude in the Long War was made under the assumption that we wouldn’t elect a president who simultaneously cozied up to our Islamist foes while pushing away valuable allies like Israel and Great Britain. America could have taught the nations that supported al-Qaida a humiliating military lesson. Instead, we restrained ourselves on humanitarian grounds, up to and including restrictive rules of engagement that our enemies use against us. Meanwhile, our solidarity in the days after 9/11 quickly dissolved into partisan bickering. That made it easier for enemies like the Taliban and various adherents of al-Qaida to know with certainty they need only wait us out a little longer before the Islamic crescent is once again their playground for planning mayhem.

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