Juan Cole: Bush's incompetence gives al-Qaida new life

Roundup: Historians' Take

In the past week, worrying signs of a resurgence of al-Qaida surfaced in cyberspace, in Pakistan and in Washington, D.C. The Pakistani military's invasion of a major mosque and seminary complex in the country's capital set off an unprecedented, violent wave of protests and car bombings in the north of the country. A new National Intelligence Estimate warned that al-Qaida was reconstituting itself in those very areas of northern Pakistan. A U.S. threat to send Special Forces into Pakistan in search of al-Qaida roiled relations with the weakened Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. And a new videotape of Osama bin Laden surfaced.

In a videotape that CNN characterized as having been "intercepted," excerpts of which appeared on an anti-terrorist Web site last week, a grayer bin Laden appears in fatigues against a mountainous backdrop, arguing that the Prophet Mohammed himself wished for martyrdom. In reality, though the Prophet had been prepared to sacrifice his life to defend the early Muslim community, he forbade suicide. Before the 1980s, there had never been a suicide bombing in the Muslim world; the technique was pioneered by the Marxist (and largely Hindu) Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Bin Laden's little sermon was intended to hijack the Prophet and Islam for the purposes of al-Qaida.

But the very fact that bin Laden could still deliver his poisonous message to the Muslim world six years after his attack on New York and Washington killed some 3,000 people is first and foremost a remarkable testament to the incompetence and fecklessness of the Bush administration. The tape, the new NIE and events in Pakistan and Afghanistan all suggest that, shockingly, al-Qaida is more deadly now than at any time during the past half-decade.

The new National Intelligence Estimate, released early last week, said that al-Qaida "has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability" inasmuch as it had once again set up a safe haven in northern Pakistan and was reassembling its top leadership. The Iraq war and the success of Salafi jihadis in fighting the U.S. there have, moreover, allowed bin Laden's organization "to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks."

Meanwhile, events in Pakistan show a pro-American dictatorship shaken by demonstrations of fundamentalist Islamic power. President Musharraf has long been a linchpin of the Bush administration's "war on terror."...

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