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Transatlantic Security, Terrorism, and the Middle East

Transatlantic Security, Terrorism, and the Middle East

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This policy brief says that Western countries should make it their priority to promote stability in the Middle East.
This policy brief says that Western countries should make it their priority to promote stability in the Middle East.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Oct 14, 2013
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By mid-2011, U.S.
ofcials were condent thatthey had nally turned the tideagainst al-Qaeda. Two yearslater, the optimism has faded.Contrary to the hopes andexpectations of many ofcials,the uprisings of early 2011 havefailed to transform Arab dictator
ships into liberal democracies.Cynics might argue that theturmoil that has resulted fromthe Arab Spring is good newsfor the West. For the rst time indecades, the “Muslim world” ispreoccupied with itself, having turned toward domestic powerstruggles rather than seeking toblame “Zionists and Crusaders.”Western countries shouldmake it their priority to promotestability and support whateverinstitutions are most likely to bereliable sources of authority.
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brie 
 Transatlantic Security, Terrorism,and the Middle East 
by Peter R. Neumann
German Marshall Fund o theUnited States-Paris71 Boulevard Raspail75006 Paris: +33 1 47 23 47 18E:inoparis@gmus.org
October 2013
By mid-2011, U.S. ocials werecondent that they had nally turnedthe tide against al-Qaeda. Fourmonths beore the tenth anniversary o the September 11 attacks, whichmade al-Qaeda a household nameand launched the “Global War onerror,” a special orces operationkilled Osama Bin Laden, the group’senigmatic leader, in his hideout inPakistan. For Dan Benjamin, theU.S. Department o State’s counter-terrorism ambassador, the killingo Bin Laden was “the most impor-tant milestone” in the ght againstal-Qaeda. Yet, like other ocials, hewas quick to add that this hadn’t beenthe administration’s only success.
 According to Deense Secretary LeonPanetta, or example, U.S. dronestrikes and special operations hadeliminated “around 10 to 20 key leaders” in the months beore theBin Laden raid, including many o its most active planners and opera-tors.
Tough some o al-Qaeda’saliates remained dangerous, Panettaconcluded that “we are within reacho strategically deeating al-Qaeda.
1 Daniel Benjamin, “Al-Qaida after Bin Laden,” remarksat the Jamestown Conference at the National Press Club,Washington DC, December 8, 2011,http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/rm/2011/178499.htm
2 “U.S. ‘within reach of strategic defeat of al-Qaeda’,”BBC News, July 9, 2011.3 Panetta, quoted in Ibid.
Tere was another reason or thepolicymakers’ condence and enthu-siasm — albeit one that they had nodirect role in bringing about. Tenear-destruction o al-Qaedas inra-structure in Pakistan coincided withthe uprisings in the Arab world thatbecame known as the Arab Spring. By mid-2011, peaceul demonstrationsin unisia and Egypt had broughtdown authoritarian governments andinspired similar and (at that point)equally peaceul mass movements inYemen, Bahrain, and Syria. Only inLibya had anti-government proteststriggered armed conict, promptingan international military interventionon behal o the opposition.From a counterterrorism perspective,all this was good news: it removedautocratic and oppressive govern-ments — the supposed root cause o extremism in the Muslim world —and also challenged the most impor-tant tenet o al-Qaeda’s ideology,namely that doing so required violentmeans. According to Benjamin:
 Millions of people are pushing their nations to move away fromrepression that has long fuelled resentment which underscoresextremism… Should these revoltsresult, as we hope, in durable,democratically elected, non-auto-cratic governments, [al-Qaeda’s]
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brief 
Dictatorships have been replacedby weak governments thathave failed to satisfy people’saspirations and that can nolonger control all of their nationalterritories.
single-minded focus on terrorism as an instrument of  political change would be severely and irretrievably delegitimized. Tis would indeed be a genuinely strategicblow.
Te administration’s new counterterrorism strategy — published in June 2011 — reected this consensus.
 Presenting the document in Washington, DC, JohnBrennan, the presidents counterterrorism advisor, told hisaudience: “It will take time, but make no mistake, al-Qaedais in its decline.”
Consequences of the Arab Spring
wo years later, the optimism has aded. Contrary to thehopes and expectations o many ocials, the uprisings o early 2011 have ailed to transorm Arab dictatorships intoliberal democracies. In Libya, the new government hasailed to establish any meaningul authority, leaving largeparts o the country in the hands o militias that pursuetheir own agendas and spread weapons and conict acrossthe region. In Egypt, the downall o President HosniMubarak was ollowed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s riseand — most recently — a military coup, which was causedand accompanied by instability and increasing socialpolarization. Even in unisia, initially hailed as the mostpromising candidate or transition toward democracy, theconstitutional process has stalled and extremist movementshave gained support. In all cases, dictatorships have beenreplaced by weak governments that have ailed to satisy people’s aspirations and that can no longer control all o their national territories.Rather than undermining terrorism, this dangerouscocktail o state collapse, lacking institutional legitimacy,ungoverned spaces, and prolierating weapons has createdopportunities or al-Qaeda to return to places in whichthe group had long been beaten. In Libya, or example,supporters o al-Qaeda attacked a U.S. consulate, killing theambassador and three other U.S. citizens. Libyan weaponshave shown up in the Sinai and Syria, uelled the Islamistinsurgency in northern Mali, and strengthened Algeriasal-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
In the Sinai,
4 Benjamin, op. cit.5 “National Strategy for Counterterrorism,”
White House,
6 Brennan, quoted in Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, “Obama Adviser Outlines Plans toDefeat Al-Qaeda,”
New York Times,
June 29, 2011.7 See Shiraz Maher, “Shiraz Maher: The Jihadist Eruption in Africa,”
Wall Street Journal,
January 18, 2013.
 jihadists are recruiting among the Bedouin, setting upcamps and structures that threaten Egypt, Israel, and thepeace treaty between the two countries.
More broadly,the recent military coup in Egypt seems to have atally undermined the narrative o peaceul transition, insteadproving al-Qaeda’s point that even comparatively moderateIslamists will never be tolerated in power and that armedrevolution is the only way to implement sharia.
 But nowhere have Western hopes been shattered soprooundly as in Syria. Similar to Egypt and unisia, Syria’suprising started o peaceully and remained so or severalmonths. But unlike Mubarak and unisia’s Zine el AbidineBen Ali, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad reused to givein, responding — instead — with brute orce, the beatingand killing o protesters, random arrests, and torture. By mid-2011, the situation in Syria had become a poweruland shocking reutation o the idea that peaceul protestalone could bring down a dictator. Far rom disquali-ying and “de-legitimizing” violence as an “instrument o political change,” as Benjamin had predicted, this part o the Arab Spring appeared to send the opposite message:that violence — even terrorism — may be the only choicewhen aced with someone as determined, brutal, and ruth-less as Assad. Indeed, ideological jihadists — consistingo the al-Qaeda linked al Nusra ront as well as the groupsthat are united under the umbrella o the Syrian IslamicFront — are now leading the armed opposition, havingmarginalized other, more nationalist and/or Islamist orcesthat appeared to be leading the revolution at rst. As aconsequence, the conict has become highly sectarian,prompting clashes between Sunni rebels and the Lebanese
8 See Tamim Elyan, “Insight: Mimicking al-Qaeda, militant threat grows in Sinai,”
August 13, 2012.9 Yassin Musharbash, “Dieser Putschw wird al-Kaida stärken,”
Die Zeit,
July 4, 2013.

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