The election of Barack Obama has filled the cable networks with images of Kenyans dancing in the street and Australians breaking down into tears of joy. But there's one group of foreigners whose reactions haven't received much attention: the ones that seek our destruction.
It's hard to figure out exactly what al Qaeda believes about the president elect--it's not easy to score terrorist-on-the-street interviews to figure out what the average suicide bomber thinks. But there are websites--many of which exist behind password protections--that provide some clues.
Jihadists are hardly united around a single take on Obama. There is, however, a strong Yes We Can contingent that seems to be firing their guns in the air this week. According to the SITE intelligence group, which monitors these sites, an important Salafi sheik who goes by Hamid al-Ali published a message on November 5, titled "We Want Change," congratulating Obama on defeating the "right wing Zionist gang, the scum of the neo-conservatives," whose reign "became the darkest period in the history of the United States of America." On the password protected al-Hesbah web forum, some jihadists speculated whether the new American president would accept bin Laden's 2004 peace offer. (A month after the March 11 Madrid train bombings, bin Laden offered a truce with Europe if European armies "stopped attacking Muslims" and remove troops from Iraq.) In the same Islamist vein, both Hamas and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad professed enthusiasm for the election results. The Syrians have already taken to calling Barack Obama "Abu Hussein."
But there are others in these orbits who aren't so sanguine about the prospects of an Obama administration. The Middle East Media Research Institute published a more skeptical take from the emir of al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq, which was a serious threat to Iraq and the region a few years ago, but today is a rump organization. The message didn't foresee any greater sympathy for Islam emanating from the new president. In fact, it urged the new Christian ruler to embrace Islam. Similarly, the emir of the Islamic Army of Iraq, a terrorist group that has at times sided with al Qaeda and whose leadership is now largely in Syria, warned that any American president would be bad news for the Ummah. In a message released on November 4, the SITE intelligence group quotes him saying:
This day, the world awaits a new American president in which a mad elephant fights an ambitious black donkey to reach the destination of America's decision. Most people expect the donkey to win, hoping to change the American policies that struck people with illness, even the American people. However, we should not forget that no president is able to cross the line against American interests; rather, they all have to race to achieve them.
It should be noted that most of the responses predated Obama’s appointment of Rahm Emanuel, a staunch Israel supporter who volunteered for the Israel Defense Forces during the first Gulf War and whose father passed coded messages to Menachem Begin's Zionist militia, the Irgun. The family name, Emanuel, is a tribute to Rahm’s uncle, Emanuel Auerbach, who died in 1933 fighting the Arabs in Jerusalem. "Obviously [Rahm] will influence the president to be pro-Israel,” his father told Ha’aretz last week. “Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House.”
One can imagine that any cautious optimism from the jihadists--who seem almost singularly concerned with Israel--will soon turn to frustration. In their view, the Emanuel appointment will likely signify that the Jews have won yet another American election.
Eli Lake was the national security reporter for the now defunct New York Sun.
By Eli Lake