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How We Enabled Al Qaeda

By Riedel, Bruce | Newsweek, September 12, 2011 | Go to article overview

How We Enabled Al Qaeda


Riedel, Bruce, Newsweek


Byline: Bruce Riedel

The U.S. made tactical, strategic, even geographical mistakes. Now is the moment to right the wrongs.

This was the war that should have ended years ago.The 9/11 attacks revealed a ruthless and agile enemy, one demanding unrelenting focus and smarts. Instead, we made major errors.

Some were tactical, such as the CIA failure to raise the alarm about the two operatives of Al Qaeda living in the U.S. before the attacks. For reasons still unclear, they avoided serious attention until airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Other mistakes were strategic. The biggest was to ignore Al Qaeda in Pakistan to invade Iraq, which, at that point, posed no serious threat. The Bush administration under-estimated Osama bin Laden's resilience, trusted the generals of Pakistan, and focused on the wrong battlefield. Bin Laden recognized our misstep early, and set a trap in Iraq, urging jihadists to travel to this latest front, even before the invasion. Trusting Pervez Musharraf, then Pakistan's president, to fight on our side against bin Laden and the Taliban was another strategic failure. "Our man" in Islamabad turned out to be helping the Taliban regroup while bin Laden hid out in his front yard, living in plain sight of Pakistan's most elite military academy for years. And when Musharraf faltered, we still tried to prop him up. Our desperate attempt to save Musharraf failed to keep the dictator in power, further alienated the Pakistani people, and, tragically, ended with Al Qaeda's assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and Pakistan's best hope.

But Al Qaeda also made its share of mistakes. The terror group's lack of a vision is an existential lapse. By offering only violence and death, it denies Muslims what they yearn for, such as democracy and a just peace settlement for the Palestinians.

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