Byline: Fareed Zakaria
Last week George Tenet warned us that Al Qaeda is armed and dangerous. He pointed to the series of threats and attacks around the world--from Kuwait to Yemen to Bali--as evidence that the organization is rejuvenated and in the "execution phase." One has to take Tenet's warning very seriously, and yet the recent episodes of terrorism can be interpreted differently. Consider the two major "successes," the bombing of a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen and the explosions in Bali. In both cases Al Qaeda--or groups inspired by it--went after non-American targets, and relatively easy-to-hit ones at that. For the past decade Al Qaeda's chief objective has been to attack major symbols of American power--military, political and economic. It bombed embassies, naval vessels and, of course, the World Trade Center. But since 9-11, with the exception of the recent killing of a soldier in Kuwait, it has not been able to hit America. Also, look at where it struck. In Yemen, Al Qaeda has deep connections; in Indonesia, it is exploiting a weak and unstable country and government.
The terror attacks in Yemen and Indonesia will also result in much greater antiterror vigilance and cooperation from France, Australia and Indonesia. Osama bin Laden's strategy should have been to divide America from its allies in the war on terror. His past rhetoric and actions have recognized this. But this latest series of scattered attacks is forging a more united coalition. It's always dangerous to make claims about Al Qaeda. It is certainly trying to do America harm--and it will certainly strike again. But before September 11 Al Qaeda was doing what it wanted to; now it is doing what it can.
The war on terror has had an effect. The destruction of Al Qaeda's base camps in Afghanistan, the detention of suspects across the world, the scrutiny of bank accounts--all this has made mass terror more difficult. But while the administration has a coherent military strategy in place, it does not have a similar political one. And on that crucial front, the war on terror is failing.
Two weeks ago Pakistan held national elections, and Muslim fundamentalists did well. This event did not get the attention it deserved. Islamic politics is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. Voters have gotten used to listening to fiery fundamentalists promising purity and delivering nothing. …