Michael Hirsh, writing in the National Journal, in the course of a discussion of the Obama administration’s new Middle East policy quotes an unnamed State Department official as declaring that “the war on terror is over.”
The Obama administration is taking a new view of Islamist radicalism. The president realizes he has no choice but to cultivate the Muslim Brotherhood and other relatively “moderate” Islamist groups emerging as lead political players out of the Arab Spring in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere. The Muslim Brotherhood officially renounced violence decades ago, leading then-dissident radicals such as Ayman al-Zawahiri to join al Qaida.
It is no longer the case, in other words, that every Islamist is seen as a potential accessory to terrorists. “The war on terror is over,” one senior State Department official who works on Mideast issues told me. “Now that we have killed most of al Qaida, now that people have come to see legitimate means of expression, people who once might have gone into al Qaida see an opportunity for a legitimate Islamism.” In a Tuesday night update to this post, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor clarified that while the “war on terror” concept has been dropped, “we absolutely have never said our war against al Qaida is over. We are prosecuting that war at an unprecedented pace.”
The new approach is made possible by the double impact of the Arab Spring, which supplies a new means of empowerment to young Arabs other than violent jihad, and Obama’s savagely successful military drone campaign against the worst of the violent jihadists, al Qaida.
Some of the smarter hardliners on the Right, like Reuel Marc Gerecht, are coming to realize that the Arab world may find another route to democracy–through Islamism. The question is, how will this play politically at a time when Obama’s GOP rival, Mitt Romney, is painting the president as a weak accommodationist?
Thus, the end of the war on terrorism does not mean that we can have a big celebration in Times Square, much less that we can stop getting strip searched at airports. It means that the administration wants to cozy up to at least some jihadists, without considering them our enemies.
Wise or unwise?