Are We Going to Become Allies With Al Qaeda? When the War on Terror Gets Confusing


There’s so much to worry about in the world these days, if you get all your news from the U.S. mass media. New dangers pile on top of old ones all the time. Who knows what we’ll have to worry about next?

Then there’s that most fearsome of old threats, Al Qaeda, which just won’t go away. The other day the Washington Posttold me they are coming back in Iraq: "'What we’re now seeing is al-Qaeda in Iraq’s revival, not only as a movement in that country but as a regional movement,' said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA counterterrorism expert."

Hey, I thought we surged those Al Qaeda guys out of Iraq when Bush was president. Didn’t we buy off a whole bunch of Shi’ites to stamp out the Sunni AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq)? Apparently not.

And it’s not just Iraq we have to worry about. AQ is now a “regional movement.” It seems to be springing up in new places all the time: “The reemergence of AQI comes at a time when U.S. officials and analysts are expressing growing concern about other al-Qaeda affiliates, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which operates in Yemen, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in North Africa.”

Africa? Yes! And not just the northern part. On the very same day the New York Timesadvised me to get my adrenalin pumping about AQ in Mali, of all places. And then, “from a haven in Mali, Al Qaeda can aid Nigerian extremists and recruit in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, a top American commander said.”

Once I got out my map and figured out where Mali is, I could see what the “top commander” meant, and why I ought to be afraid. Suddenly the whole chilling picture came into view: An Al Qaeda arc of terror from Iraq to Nigeria, spreading its tentacles north into Europe!

Wait, it gets worse. You’re already worried about what’s going to happen in Syria, right? Well take this nugget from the WaPo article and throw it into your anxiety hopper: “From its base in the Sunni provinces west of Baghdad, AQI appears to be attempting to rebuild old networks into Syria and Jordan ‘at an alarming rate,’ Riedel said.”

Then I turned to the McClatchy News Web site and found out Riedel doesn’t know (or won’t reveal) the half of it. AQ isn’t just attempting. It's succeeding: “Jabhat al Nusra, which U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaida, has become essential to the frontline operations of the rebels fighting to topple Assad. … They’ve proved to be critical to the rebels’ military advance. In battle after battle across the country, Nusra and similar groups do the heaviest frontline fighting.”

Now my fears were growing “at an alarming rate.” The old worry about Al Qaeda was right in the thick of the new worry about Syria. But stick with me here, because there’s more about Syria. We’re just getting to the really, really scary part.

On that same day, all the stuff about Al Qaeda, which usually would have made screaming headlines, got buried by an even more frightening story: The White House says there’s growing evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad is preparing to use chemical weapons against his own people.

Of course “administration officials offered no public evidence justifying their heightened fears,” as McClatchy reported. Their evidence is all in “classified intelligence,” so they can’t talk about it. But "this is not just analytic conjecture. It is firm information," a senior U.S. official insisted. “We’re wary about indications we’ve seen that the Syrian regime may be in the midst of preparing chemical weapons for possible use."

So here’s the “firm information” our spies have gathered: Secret “indications” that the Syrian government “may” be preparing for “possible” use of chemical weapons. They can’t give us any real evidence. But this is about as close to absolute proof as we’ll ever get.

At least it’s good enough for President Obama, who publicly warned Assad not to use those chemical weapons. He was really strident about it. In fact (again quoting McClatchy) the warning “was his most strident since he drew a ‘red line’ in August that the movement of chemical or biological weapons out of their secure sites, or their use, would bring U.S. military intervention in the country’s vicious civil war.”

So the Syrians don’t actually have to use chemical weapons, I thought. They just have to move them, and bingo! Our boys will have their boots on the ground in the Middle East again. Nobody’s ever going to call this president weak on national security.

But suddenly a light went on inside my brain and I saw the dots connected in a brand-new pattern, much more terrifying than ever before. There was Al Qaeda’s terror arc, sweeping right through Syria. There were U.S. troops fighting in Syria to protect our national security. And -- uh oh! -- our boys and AQ were fighting alongside each other, against the same enemy, Bashar Assad.

Wouldn’t that make us -- are you ready for this? -- allies with Al Qaeda? The president of the United States is telling us this is a real possibility, and we’d better get ready for it.

But how do I get ready to protect our national security by allying with the world’s most evil evildoers? If the Al Qaeda fighters become our friends, am I still supposed to be terrified of them? Or do they lose their “evildoer” label? In fact, since we’re always the good guys fighting against the bad guys, aren’t our allies automatically good guys, too? Then Al Qaeda would become not just our friends, but good guys too, right?

Hey, that can’t be. Or can it?

By now I had something brand-new to worry about: I was afraid my head would explode. So I ran to my wife, explained it all to her, and asked with a quavering voice: “Who are we supposed to be afraid of now?”

“Everyone!” she answered, without hesitating. (This is a true story.) Oh, I feel so much better. My wife is always right.

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