President Obama has maintained that the efforts of the United States have kept al-Qeada on the run. These efforts included beefing up drone strikes after the announcement of a drawdown in Afghanistan, covert action carried out by Special Forces, and the killing of al-Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden. Recently, these claims have been undermined by an energized and resurgent al-Qaeda. It has been reported that al-Qaeda is developing a new stronghold in the center of the Middle East. This is especially disastrous because they are directly involved in the fighting in Syria, sectarian violence in Iraq, and are better mobilized to carry out attacks in other regions due to this centralized location.
They are gathering on the boarder of Syria and Iraq and have two separate factions: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or the Islamic state of Iraq and al Shams which means greater Syria) (ISIS) and al Nusra. While each faction seems to be conflicted internally as to who reigns supreme in the region, they have collaborated on many operations. This new development has a two-pronged foreign policy concern for the United States and its global coalition against terrorism.
First, and most immediate, did the United States make a mistake in not taking greater action in Syria? While President Obama has noted that we are not the world's police and he wants to enforce international laws against certain weapons of mass destruction, the ongoing civil war is a breeding ground for terror activity. Should President Obama have taken a greater stand against President Bashar al-Assad? President Obama has already annoyed nations in the Middle East with his overreach of state sovereignty but is this situation different?
This leads into the second concern: did we pull out of Iraq too soon and are we pulling out of Afghanistan too soon? History demonstrates that these terror cells thrive in regions where governance is low such as Afghanistan. Before US involvement, war lords and the Taliban ruled villages and towns with an iron fist and an AK-47. This is also true of post-Gaddafi Libya where a lack of stable government has given rise to terror groups. Iraq currently has seen an increase in sectarian violence. Their leader, Nuri al-Maliki, has asked the US for aid - not in troops but in arms. It appears a large force of Sunnis have ushered a stem of violence into the region against the Maliki Shia government. Al-Qeada has forced certain Shia loyalists out of areas such as Fallujah after American troops left the country.
For the Obama Administration, keeping these two new factions separate could be a useful strategy. Much like the ongoing war within the Republican moderates and Tea Partiers, a divided al-Qeada could buy the US time and allow the organization to self-destruct from within. While this is a far-fetched strategy, it's clear the Administration is recently down on its luck when it comes to the War on Terror. With the attacks from human rights groups surfacing, the drone program has faced stark criticism.
Despite President Obama's claim that al-Qaeda is on the run, they seem to continue to rebound. No matter how many leaders we seem to destroy through the drone program, al-Qeada remains resilient. Rather than take a militaristic stance, it may be optimal to focus on a more humanitarian effort to stabilize the Middle East. With stable governments, terror factions are lessened. This will be difficult given the corrupt nature of many governments in the Middle East and Africa who are in bed with terrorists and war lords. One thing is certain though - al-Qeada is certainly not on the run and the US must develop more effective strategies to quell their efforts.