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After Charlie Hebdo: U.S. Terrorism Strategy Questioned

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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security

After the brutal terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week (for which Al-Qaeda in Yemen claimed responsibility Wednesday) many have questioned the United States’ terrorism strategy. Far too often, the U.S. has given conflicting statements with regard to international terrorism and how we will confront this crisis.

Before the horrific event in Paris, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi delivered a controversial speech before Al-Azhar University in Cario on News Years Day, where he called for a “religious revolution”, admonishing clerics to rethink the direction Islam has recently taken.

“I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move … because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost — and it is being lost by our own hands.”

Since this profound announcement by an Arab leader, one in which the U.S. has been clamoring for decades, it has shed a brighter light on US/Egyptian relationships, which have been tense since 2013, when the military intervened in the mass protest which engulfed the country’ and overthrew the legitimately elected president, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi.

The Washington Institute reported that while many Egyptians viewed Morsi as an autocrat, who sought to impose the Brotherhood’s theocratic agenda on them, Washington responded coldly to the undemocratic nature of his ouster and insisted that Cairo reintegrate the Brotherhood into the political process.

Prior to this event, when the “Arab Spring” erupted in 2011, the U.S. badly mishandled this strategic opportunity it was given. The revolution swept through the Arab world, was driven not by Islamic fundamentalism, but merely by disenfranchised people wanting a new direction.

The lack of strategic vison to understand this changing dynamic throughout the Middle East had the U.S. in a “leading from behind” strategy, which only fueled resentment in the Arab world. Beginning with the Libyan conflict, which eventually led to the overthrow of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, the U.S. repeated the mistake of the Iraq conflict by not having a viable strategy for its aftermath.

This lack of strategic direction replicated itself in Egypt with the overthrow of longtime Egyptian strongman Honsi Mubarak. The U.S. gave conflicting and confusing strategic direction, which alienated all segments of Egyptian society. Then they further unnerved the region by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, until its leader Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the Egyptian military, led by General Sisi.

Still today the U.S. has a strained relationship with Sisi, even after his speech on New Year’s Day. The U.S. so far has failed to embrace this approach of having an Arab leader challenge Islamic clerics over the direction and interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence as it relates to the Koran.

Speaking at the National Defense University in May of 2013, President Obama stated, “Today, Osama bin Laden is dead, and so are most of his top lieutenants. There have been no large-scale attacks on the United States, and our homeland is more secure. Fewer of our troops are in harm’s way, and over the next 19 months they will continue to come home. Our alliances are strong, and so is our standing in the world. In sum, we are safer because of our efforts.”

This overconfidence had a chilling effect, as the U.S.’ short sided policy of not fully engaging itself in Iraq allowed the conditions for the emergence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

The president continued his remarks “like all wars, must end,” but the war on terror is a different kind of conflict, requiring a different kind of strategy. Wars do not necessarily end on our time table, and by failing to engage in the aftermath of the “Arab spring, especially as it relates to Syria, set the stage for a breeding ground on which terror organizations now thrive.

The U.S. again failed to understand the axiom articulated by Sun Tzu, that is to know your enemy, as President Obama stated in an interview in January 2014, calling the emergence of ISIL as the JV team. This would continue to haunt the president as the U.S. and the west are still grappling with this terror organization; because as most understand, the JV team always eventually replaces the varsity team.

Even last September, while addressing the nation on attacking ISIL in Syria the president stated, “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

Again, this is confusing our allies, as Yemen is embroiled in a civil war, with reports that the Paris Islamic militants traveled to the country and received terror and financial support.

Terrorism has emerged throughout the Middle East, and missing in coverage was the reports of the Nigerian Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram, who killed hundreds in the northeastern town of Baga. – The question again, what is the U.S. terrorism strategy?

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