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WILLIAMS: The rebirth of al Qaeda

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I must be mistaken. I was told that al Qaeda was basically wiped out; for all intents and purposes it was dead.

Nope, that was Detroit.

Al Qaeda is very much alive as evidenced by the closing of embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East and Islamic world.

Wait, I must be confused again. The election of Barack Obama promised to usher in a new age of love from the Muslim sphere.

Nope, somehow the words "love" got mixed up with "revulsion."

The drone attacks in Yemen signal a possible ramp up in the "kinetic action" against al Qaeda.

Hold on now. The administration promised no more war and pledged to try to withdraw all the military from areas of conflict. Oh, I see. Because drones are robots piloted from simulators in Utah, they're OK and not actual boots-on-the-ground.

The hard reality is this: the current al Qaeda in the Middle East has arisen like a phoenix from the ashes of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). It has helped plunge Iraq back into a civil war, is fighting against the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria, operating in Libya, and training in Yemen.

The Arab Spring gave al Qaeda the perfect opportunity to move into the chaos that ensued. We absconded the field and hung any allies out to dry. We still have troops scattered throughout the Middle East, but none are in a position to start fighting a hot war in a faraway nation (except Afghanistan that is).

Yes, the Bush administration is responsible for creating AQI by invading Iraq. Just like the U.S. helped create what would become the Taliban during the Afghan war against the Soviets.

Whether or not you believe we should have ever been in Iraq in the first place, there is a strong argument that history should have taught us better than to leave a mess behind. Without our troops to continue to harass and kill AQI, Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki was unable to smother the embers.

I am on record as calling for the withdrawal of troops: from Afghanistan to Iraq to Japan. Let other countries be responsible policing themselves, carry out their own revolutions, and only risk lives and treasure in retaliation, not nation building. However, even I must admit that it is better to err on the side of stationing some forces to ensure terrorists can be eliminated rather than suffer greater consequences and casualties later.

But our commander in chief does not agree. He has made promise after promise throughout the Islamic world and kept none. The result is that Mr. Obama is more hated than George W. Bush, and America's reputation has only declined.

Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama has excelled in killing and throwing resources at foiling terrorists. And like his predecessor, Mr. Obama has failed miserably in addressing grievances and reducing motivations for potential radicals to join outfits like al Qaeda.

I will give Mr. Obama credit: He learned from Benghazi and made the right decision to close down the U.S. missions. But the failure lies in needing to do so and on such a massive scale.

As long as al Qaeda is focused on the Middle East and North Africa, our "betters" in Washington seem to think we are generally safe, and most Americans seem to agree. But what happens when these very war-hardened and well-funded terrorist turn their eyes back to the U.S. mainland? Another 9/11 is not outside the realm of possibility — in fact, it is likely.

Will Mr. Obama be like Bill Clinton, lamenting that he let al Qaeda grow when he had the chance to continue to step on its throat? Can we trust whoever will be president then to not act like Mr. Bush and overstep their bounds in war and personal liberties?

We can avoid these speculations by finally admitting that the only way the U.S. can stop creating new terrorists is to quit giving them reasons and a target. For too long we conceded the propaganda war in the Middle East to the Soviets and Russians. This accounts for the suspicion many Arabs harbor toward the West and America. But then again, we have done ourselves no favors.

To combat this distrust, we must actually engage the citizens of North Africa and the Middle East. Diplomats should be encouraged to make as many personal connections as possible rather than be constantly confined to the embassy. We also must re-examine our actual policies toward these countries and their people. No amount of communication can overcome bad policy.

When force is needed, it must be precise. Drones are great for limiting our own casualties, but time after time we have seen them hit civilians rather than terrorists. Weddings and birthday parties blown up, falsely marked as insurgent kills, do not engender good will. In this case I do advocate using troops; not a large army division, but rather special operations forces. Eyes on the ground can distinguish harmless citizens from real targets.

If this sounds familiar, it should. It is called smart power. The Washington knitting circles on foreign policy talk about it to no end, but we continually fail to put in practice. Instead we get half-hearted attempts at soft power and heavy-handed thrusts with hard power.

Al Qaeda is on the move again. Rather than deny and obfuscate, the president needs to come clean to the American people about the threat. He then must make it a point to stop making false promises and start using smart power. If he fails us in this, I truly fear something worse than 9/11 is on the horizon.

Armstrong Williams is the author of the book "Reawakening Virtues." Join him from 4 to 5 a.m. and 6 to 7 p.m. daily on Sirius/XM Power 128. Become a fan on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

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