Katherine Zimmerman of AEI, whose work we have highlighted before, wrote an op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Post about the need to formulate a reasonable definition of al Qaeda. The whole column is worth reading, but I was struck most by her explanation of why the military won’t take action against the perpetrators of the Benghazi attack:
Here’s the problem: According to recently declassified testimony of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before the House Armed Services Committee in October, the U.S. military regards itself as legally barred from going after the perpetrators of the Benghazi attacks (and, presumably, others who attack Americans) unless they are affiliated with al-Qaeda. The Obama administration’s parsing of words to deny al-Qaeda’s direct involvement effectively precludes a military response in these situations.
In other words, because President Obama, for political reasons, is locked into the story that al Qaeda wasn’t directly involved in the Benghazi attack, the military is powerless to strike back. This despite Obama’s promises during the 2012 presidential campaign to bring justice to the perpetrators.
Zimmerman shows that the Obama administration employs a ridiculously crabbed definition of al Qaeda. It focuses on terrorists known to be currently targeting the United States, a small subset of the overall al Qaeda movement. And in the course of trying to read Benghazi attackers out of al Qaeda, the administration limits this small subset further by requiring that terrorists be directed by “core” al Qaeda. That core is considered to be the small group keeping company with Ayman al-Zawahiri in Pakistan and/or veteran al Qaeda operatives who were active before September 11, 2001.
This definition ignores not only al Qaeda’s evolution but also bin Laden’s original vision. As Zimmerman explains:
Al-Qaeda today is the realization of bin Laden’s broader vision. He did not limit himself only to the founding and running of al-Qaeda but imagined a network uniting like-minded groups extending far beyond state borders.
Did bin Laden’s vision include an American president unwilling to go after such groups in order to maintain the fiction that al Qaeda is on the run? I doubt it. That’s a bonus for the terrorists.