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What Zawahiri's Message Says About Obama and Al Qaeda

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Today, Al Qaeda's number 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released his first message since the election.  As the AP reported he

used a racial epithet to insult Barack Obama in a message posted Wednesday, describing the president-elect in demeaning terms that imply he does the bidding of whites.

Zawahiri also challenged Obama's policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan saying

Be aware that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them

The press is reporting this as Al Qaeda's first direct challenge to Obama.  But what does it actually say about Al Qaeda?  More than anything it demonstrates that Al Qaeda is genuinely concerned about an Obama presidency and views it as a strategic threat to its existence.

First and foremost, Al Qaeda is an organization that thrives on propaganda.  It paints the United States as an evil empire that oppresses its own minorities and has little regard for the rest of the world.  Al Qaeda uses these types of narratives to raise funds and recruit.  The Bush administration played right into this trap.  Its "with us or against us" mentality and  invasion of Iraq damaged America's image around the world and reinforced Al Qaeda's narrative. 

But Al Qaeda's narrative is now under siege and it's clearly uncertain about how to react.  The election of the first African American President, one with a Muslim father, flies in the face of this narrative.  It shows America as an open and tolerant society - not the oppressive empire Al Qaeda would like to portray.  In fact, the overwhelmingly positive international reaction to Obama's election is proof of the the threat Al Qaeda faces. As a 29 year old at a Bangkok Starbucks explained,

What an inspiration. He is the first truly global US president the world has ever had. He had an Asian childhood, African parentage and has a Middle Eastern name. He is a truly global president.

Thus, it's not surprising that Zawahiri has resorted to calling Obama a "house negro" to try and paint him as just another American President.  But this is clearly more a defensive and weak message than effective propaganda that might actually work.

Moreover, Zawahiri's message about Afghanistan and Pakistan portrays a certain level of nervousness over an administration that is actually going to go after the real terrorist haven on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  Al Qaeda viewed the invasion of Iraq as a positive creating a recruiting and training ground for terrorists. As a 2006 National Intelligence Estimate explained (PDF)

The Iraq conflict has become the "cause celebre" for
jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim
world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.

Now, the U.S. is once again focused on the area of the world that the Intelligence Community agrees represents the most the direct threat to the homeland.  It is the area of the world, which was the source of the 9/11 attacks and has been the source of just about every other major plot against a Western target over the past few years. This should raise some serious concerns for Al Qaeda's central leadership - especially since most of them are in fact believed to be hiding in the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands. 

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