Kidnappings, coerced conversions to Islam, rapes, and sales of young girls in Nigeria highlight more than just the savagery of the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram. This situation showcases poor judgment on the part of Obama administration officials who have defined America’s counterterrorism posture with their tunnel-vision-like focus on al Qaeda, to the neglect of many other Islamic terrorist groups that are part of the global jihad movement.
Indeed, events in Nigeria expose the need for the president to demonstrate true leadership by targeting the larger global jihad movement, which is the chief propagator of Salifiya Jihadiya — a radical ideology guiding terrorists’ activities ranging from intimidations of non-Muslim communities in “historically Muslim lands” to al Qaeda’s attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Regardless of whether al Qaeda’s leaders endorse Boko Haram’s tactics, al Qaeda operatives have helped Boko Haram develop the capabilities to execute such despicable plots. The case is the same with numerous of other militant Islamist groups that receive little attention from the White House and the State Department. They needn’t conduct terrorist operations beyond the borders of their home countries to function as agents of global jihad. Al Qaeda’s agenda has always been “global.”
Indeed, since its inception, al Qaeda’s leaders have made it a priority to help groups such as Boko Haram threaten communities and governments that do not share their beliefs. These terrorists are especially concerned with communities and governments whose values resemble America’s, which are inclined to promote women’s rights, freedom of religion, even the freedom not to practice religion, or the freedom to adopt systems of governance at odds with extremists’ interpretations of Shariah.
It is also important for the public to understand al Qaeda’s network almost certainly consists of more entities than official al Qaeda “affiliates” such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). As noted by al Qaeda’s current leader several years ago, “Many groups have joined al Qaeda, some of which have been announced and others have not.”
National security managers must do a better job of educating the public about these realities. Unvarnished reporting on adversarial elements committed to destroying our way of life is the mother’s milk of public support for policies that empower our government to effectively counter threats to America and our allies posed by them. Among the threats are members of Jabhat al Nusrah, Ansar al Shariah, AQAP, and the Shiite thugs in Tehran receiving help with their nuclear-weapons program from Cold War relics such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Although secrecy is vital to the success of many counterterrorism activities, federal officials must become more transparent about the impacts of the Salafi-jihadist ideology on the global security environment even if Islamist activists and their pals in the media decry much-needed public discourse regarding radical Islam as xenophobic sensationalism.
After spending $1 trillion on efforts to deny al Qaeda operability, it is unacceptable that the terrorist organization today poses no less a threat than it did a decade ago. The public deserves to know why. This means the administration must acknowledge a failure to devise an effective counterterrorism strategy shaped by sound assessments of ways that changes occurring during the Arab Spring could — and did — yield tremendous growth opportunities for al Qaeda and the larger global jihad movement.
Results of failed features of the administration’s counterterrorism strategy must be made as visible as highly publicized intentions of President Obama and his advisers to make partners out of Salafists, especially those who accommodated al Qaeda’s resurgence. The public also deserves an explanation of how advocates for such Salafist elements who served as advisers to the president — “experts” on extremism such as Quintan Wiktorowicz, a member of the Obama National Security Council — influenced policies that have made it easy for al Qaeda to operate in places like Libya. Mr. Wiktorowicz was copied in emails exchanged by officials who portrayed terrorist attacks in Benghazi as a protest turned violent versus what they were; namely, examples of jihadis exploiting the Obama administration’s enigmatic Mideast policies and killing Americans.
Like the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the array of threats posed to the United States and our allies by the manifestations of the ideology of al Qaeda demonstrate that, for radical Islamists, Islam is more so the stuff of orthopraxy than orthodoxy. Their allies in Syria, “lone wolf” terrorists such as the Fort Hood shooter and the Boston Marathon bombers all show that action — jihad — is their raison d’etre. Not until the president shows a similar will to act can defense, intelligence and law enforcement communities be allowed to do everything necessary to defend Americans from threats posed by radical Islamists, whom we must not make our partners — no matter how much his advisers might want to.
Indeed, not until counterterrorism policies are recalibrated to accommodate the targeting of the broader global jihad movement and its facilitators will we defeat al Qaeda. The 25-year-old terrorist enterprise, according to its leader Ayman al-Zawahri in April 2014, is more concerned with promoting an ideology than simply growing an organization.
Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, is a recipient of the Medal of Honor. Michael S. Smith II is a national security and terrorism analyst.