Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili addressed the 63rd Session of the United Nations last week. Georgia, Saakashvili told heads of government and ambassadors of the 192 member nations, was “invaded by our neighbor.” Rather than dwell on the war, however, the Georgian President set out two challenges for the peace.
Today marks the birth of the U.S. Africa Command, “the culmination of a 10-year thought process within the Department of Defense (DoD) acknowledging the emerging strategic importance of Africa, and recognizing that peace and stability on the continent impacts not only Africans, but the interests of the U.S. and international community as well.”
Michael J. Totten takes exception to the frequently expressed view that "the war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there."
If Afghanistan were miraculously transformed into the Switzerland of Central Asia, every last one of the Middle East’s rogues gallery of terrorist groups would still exist. The ideology that spawned them would endure. Their grievances, such as they are, would not be salved. The political culture that produced them, and continues to produce more just like them, would hardly be scathed. Al Qaedism is the most radical wing of an extreme movement which was born in the Middle East and exists now in many parts of the world. Afghanistan is not the root or the source.
Quite so. As Jayshree Bajoria points out in an excellent CFR Backgrounder, the leadership of al Qaeda is drawn almost entirely from the Arab Middle East, mostly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and has "autonomous underground cells in some 100 countries, including the United States." While the group has its origins in the 1979 fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan -- ironically funded by the United States, funneled through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency -- it was formed as a wider organization by loosely networking a dozen-odd existing Islamist militant groups, mostly directed against Arab governments.
The "base," which is the rough English translation for the group's name, has moved its headquarters from Afghanistan to Sudan back to Afghanistan to Pakistan over the years. Its home has simply been wherever Osama bin Laden can find sanctuary.
More importantly, al Qaeda has moved well beyond the point where it can be said to be based anywhere. As we saw in Iraq, where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi renamed his Group of Monotheism and Jihad as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the so-called "al Qaeda 2.0" is a brand name rather than a monolithic terrorist organization. If U.S. Special Forces were to stumble on Osama bin Laden and his senior leadership today, very little would change.
Beyond that, as Totten details in his larger post, the problem with Islamist terrorism is not limited to groups operating under the al Qaeda brand. Bin Laden persuaded existing terrorist outfits that their interests would be served by directing their energies against the West but his lessons and techniques will continue long after his ability to directly plan and direct attacks has ended.
This doesn't, of course, make success in Afghanistan any less necessary. Defeating the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies there and in neighboring Pakistan is vital to regional security and failure would have serious repurcussions for NATO and its member states. Sadly, however, there will be other fights.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. Photo credit: CNN.
In a metaphor that the traditionally nomadic Somalis would undoubtedly appreciate, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Last Thursday, Somali pirates seized the Ukrainian-owned, Belizean-registered freighter Faina as it neared the Kenyan port of Mombasa. It was at least the sixtieth such attack for ransom this year in the waters surrounding the Horn of Africa and the pirates currently hold more than 200 hostages and approximately a dozen ships, mainly around Eyl, on the Gulf of Aden.
Since Russia’s August invasion and occupation of Georgia, the short and long term implications have been much debated. Is Russia reasserting itself in an attempt to become the global power that its predecessor the USSR was? What’s going on inside Putin’s head? Is Russia a “rational actor?” What should NATO do about Ukraine?
John McCain and Barack Obama are expected to talk this evening about foreign policy and national security in the first of three Presidential debates scheduled in the run-up to the election. In a 90-minute segment broadcast to tens of millions of people, the two candidates will each deliver a vision for the future of U.S. foreign policy and its ramifications for the rest of the world. With recent polls suggesting that the race for the White House is extremely close, the debate on foreign policy will prove to be one of the major deciding factors for the American electorate.
French and EU President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a call from the floor of the UN yesterday to expand the Security Council and G8. Declaring that, "The 21st century world cannot be governed with the institutions of the 20th century," he argued that inclusion of today's emerging powers is not just "a matter fairness" but a necessary condition for "being able to act effectively." "We cannot wait any longer to enlarge the Security Council. We cannot wait any longer to turn the G8 into the G13 or G14 and to bring in China, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil," said Sarkozy.