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Sahil Kapur Headshot

Why al-Qaeda Will Miss Bush

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I sigh and shake my head every time I see the bumper sticker that reads: 10 out of 10 terrorists agree: Anybody But Bush. Earlier this year, Republican Congressman Steve King warned that al-Qaeda will be "dancing in the streets" if Obama is elected president. A little bit of inspection reveals just how absurd and mistaken these sentiments are.

George W. Bush, despite his noble intention to defeat terrorism, has been al-Qaeda's dream-come-true: An ugly American cowboy who has inflamed Islamic extremism by engaging in deceit and manipulation to enhance U.S. control over the Middle East. One who boasts about human rights while authorizing the torture of innocent Muslims.

Bush ignored the 9/11 warnings and after the attack, immediately turned his attention to Iraq. In doing so, he allowed al-Qaeda to regroup and plan their next move. Bush even said just six months after 9/11 that he "doesn't spend that much time on [bin Laden]" anymore.

The consequences are hardly surprising. Experts and spy agencies concluded in 2007 that al-Qaeda was "more dangerous than ever" and former intelligence officer Bruce Riedel attributes this "in large part to the president's decision to invade Iraq" rather than to go after the terrorists themselves.

The bloodshed among innocent Iraqis in the aftermath of the invasion ignited anti-American sentiments, which have since morphed moderate Muslims into radicals. Imagine how a man might react when someone knocks on his door and offers him the chance to avenge his wife and children against the government that killed them and wrote them off as collateral damage.

The wastage of trillions on this war has led to a weakening dollar, which has undermined the United States' ability to rescue its institutions from the current economic crisis. Maintaining a strong economy is a clear prerequisite to remaining a superpower. September 11, 2001 resulted not only in the loss of American lives but also in U.S. policies that were further destructive to American strength and security.

In February of 2008, the Rand Corporation concluded that the Bush administration's efforts at fighting terror have been "at best inadequate, at worst counter-productive, and, on the whole, infeasible." Bush very recently lamented the path he chose, admitting that he was "unprepared for war" and he "wish[es] the intelligence had been different" on Iraq.

The anti-terror strategy looking forward must be more thorough and thoughtful. To effectively combat radicalism will require the audacity to analyze cause and effect; to objectively study history and to right the wrongs of the past. The culture war approaches adopted by Bush and his party indicate their inability to grasp this highly complex conflict. In order to achieve global security, the United States must first regain the moral high ground, attain solidarity with its allies and win over the trust of the Muslim community.

President-elect Barack Obama, unlike Bush, is al-Qaeda's greatest fear: an upstanding American who has earned the world's respect with his strong moral convictions, thirst for global unity and promise of diplomacy. A black man with a Muslim name, Obama disrupts the terrorist narrative that the United States is a boorish colonial power on a crusade against Islam.

Obama doesn't share Bush's conceit, disregard for international law and unabashed ignorance regarding the Middle East. His intentions to shut down Guantanamo Bay and end the use of torture are crucial steps toward rebuilding the world's trust in American leadership. Obama has been a critic of the Iraq war since before it was carried out, and has consistently rebuked his predecessor's misadventures. Upon assuming the presidency, he has pledged to keep his eyes firmly on the real enemy. Military force won't be off the table, but it will be used with tact and only when necessary.

As Obama rebukes his predecessor's irresponsibility and implements a more stalwart strategy, al-Qaeda's ideological support and organizational strength will diminish. Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's second-in-command, has chimed in on Obama's victory, slighting him with racial epithets and warning him of his government's "legacy of failures and crimes." Underneath this callous display, al-Zawahiri and his cohorts dread an Obama presidency because they know Obama is sharp enough to understand what policies will fan the flames of their extremist agenda and what policies will extinguish them.

Al-Qaeda should dance in the streets while they still have time, because come January 20, they'll be facing their greatest enemy.