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Clutching at Straws: The So-Called "Weakness" of Al Qaeda (Plus a Postscript)

Jon Chait did me a good deed in rebutting Matthew Yglesias' canard calling me a racist. But the blogoleft has been so deprived of facts that it is left to fight its battles by resorting to epithets, of which "racist" is the most common. So let me link here to the Spine which Yglesias misrepresented and ask you whether my case isn't simply that there is actually a civil war within Islam which the heretic hunters may now be winning.

In his very popular and vibrant new blog, my valued colleague Jon also praised my ex-colleague Peter Beinart for arguing in TIME Magazine that Al Qaeda is pathetically weak. I'm afraid that Peter is a feel-good thinker. And, yes, I suppose that the failure of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to bring down the Northwest flight can be extrapolated into cosmic weakness of the terror internationale. Let's put on the opposite side of the ledger the colossal weakness of intelligence agencies from one allied country to another in this episode, and see how confident that leaves us.

But this column of his seems to have been written before (or in deliberate oblivion of) the stunning success of Al Qaeda mole Dr. Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi in murdering seven actually essential CIA operatives and his Jordanian supervisor deep within an American intelligence base in Afghanistan. Balawi was a triple agent, which means he deserved a medal of valor from the enemy. He will go to heaven instead, with or without the 72 virgins. Indeed, Al Qaeda should be enormously proud of its man. And proud also of the new troubles (Beinart treats them as if they're all old hat) their men are bringing to Yemen, about which even President Obama has begun to panic.

There is an instinct among many liberals and lefties to deny that the U.S. faces real peril from Al Qaeda. Some of this derives from anxiety that the whole restrictive edifice of Miranda rights and other judicial restraints on the executive might be endangered if people felt threatened. A while back, there was a common journalistic theme (argued at least once in TNR) that America was essentially free of Muslim extremists. I don't think you can make that claim now.

Which brings me back to Yglesias. There needs to be American solidarity with those American Muslims for whom Islam is a faith, a culture, a sensibility. It cannot be an armed doctrine, and it should not make war against the Judeo-Christian ethic which is the very foundation of the nation. And just to make it crystal clear: Proselytizing is not, in my mind, making war.

P.S. The evidence that Al Qaeda has deepened its capacities is, in fact, getting more overwhelming every day. Reuel Marc Gerecht, a scholarly man with important operational intelligence experience in the field, believes that this Muslim terrorist international is outsmarting and outmaneuvering the CIA on almost every germane front. You can take Beinart's views on faith, which is how he takes his own anyway. Or you should at least confront Gerecht's argument before you plant yourself in la-la land. His article was published in Friday's Wall Street Journal.