October 29th, 2012
11:31 AM ET

Why failed terror attack in Jordan matters to U.S.

By Jonathan Schanzer, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a former terror finance analyst at the U.S. Department of Treasury. He tweets at @JSchanzer. The views expressed are his own.

Jordan disrupted a major terrorist attack in Amman this month, and security services reportedly arrested 11 jihadis who intended to attack multiple targets – including the U.S. embassy and popular shopping areas – with heavy weaponry including car bombs and machine guns.

That the attack was thwarted comes as good news for this American ally, where King Abdullah’s rule has come under increasing pressure amid the Arab Spring. But the failed operation was also, in many respects, a witch’s brew of America's most vexing policy challenges, raising questions about the path ahead.

For one, the failed attack raised additional fears about our diplomatic security. After all, American diplomats and diplomatic installations were among the targets. In light of the recent debacles in Benghazi and Cairo on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the plot raises the question: was the United States sufficiently staffed and prepared at the Amman embassy?  If you’ve ever seen the fortress we call an embassy in Amman, the answer is probably “yes.” But the bigger question is: how do we address this apparent surge in attempts to harm American diplomats in the region?

Then there is the issue of Syria. Jordanian Information Minister Samih Maayatah announced that the suspects had entered Jordan from neighboring Syria. And as a Jordanian security source told Reuters, “Their plans included getting explosives and mortars from Syria.”

These revelations underscore the cost of American indecision. The U.S. has stood on the sidelines while Syria descended into civil war. Washington ignored the death toll as it climbed over 30,000, and the refugee count as it neared a quarter million, insisting that intervention on any level would only attract more radical jihadi types into an already complex situation. A year and half later, in addition to what can only be deemed a sectarian mess, the jihadis have arrived, anyway. The debate continues about whether the fighters are affiliated with al Qaeda or not, but it doesn’t matter. There is a jihadi component to the Syria war, and it’s now spilling over into Jordan, where Washington has a stake in the survival of the regime.

The Iraq angle is equally troubling. The Jordan Times cited Jordanian press sources as noting that the disrupted cell “gathered intelligence and consulted with the Iraqi branch of al Qaeda via the internet.”

The resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq, a franchise of the al Qaeda core once thought to be largely defeated, is now undeniable. A recent spike in attacks inside the country undermines what the U.S. achieved during an admittedly controversial war. And while there is little doubt among Americans today that leaving Iraq was a wise policy, it may be equally wise to revisit the military infrastructure that remains in Iraq to neutralize terrorist threats.  AQI’s stubborn presence in Iraq is testament to this. The Obama administration’s equally stubborn insistence that al Qaeda is “on its heels” or “decimated,” makes the return of the previously weakened terrorist affiliate all the more important to address.

This is by no means to imply that we should return to Iraq with boots on the ground. But one gets the sense that measures may be needed to shore up security in a country where America has invested too much blood and treasure to let these recent developments go unchecked.

Then there is the supremely messy question of how to handle the question of Jordan's security. Jordan’s General Intelligence Department is now likely to conduct a sweep of the country, and to wrap up the rest of this terror network, not to mention other individuals who may pose a threat. But doing so in the current environment will be exceedingly difficult.

Jordan is under great political strain, and recent protests have threatened the stability of the fragile monarchy to the point that some analysts are warning of collapse. What began with protests by the Islamic Action Front, Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood branch, has given way to broader unrest led by tribal factions known as al-Hirak (the movement), which demands an end to corruption and calls for a new era of political reform in Jordan in which Islamists are almost sure to dominate.

In this highly politicized environment, it will be difficult for King Abdullah to justify a broad security crackdown. The IAF remains the largest and most cohesive group among those challenging the kingdom, and the line between the Brotherhood and Salafis is blurry, at best. If Brotherhood members are caught in the dragnet, we can expect additional unrest.

Abdullah's own choices, along with having been dealt a bad hand, have led him to this political crisis. But we cannot forget that he is still an ally. As it has been the case with many other Arab Spring challenges, we have offered little help to shore up the regime in the face of unprecedented challenges.  But in this case, Washington cannot stand again on the sidelines. Stability in Jordan is key to maintaining stability in Israel, the West Bank, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and even a future free Syria.

Fortunately, there may still be time to help the King. The right steps include pushing him to enact meaningful reforms and to combat the corruption that plagues his regime, while also ensuring that international donor funds continue to flow, all the while providing security guarantees that he will not go the way of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

This will require an important shift in Washington. Amidst all of the other pressing foreign policy challenges in the Middle East, some of the focus must now turn to Jordan.

But as the failed attack in Amman demonstrated, other regional challenges will continue to impact Jordan's security, too.

Post by:
Topics: Middle East • Terrorism

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Quigley

    Was there truly a "terrorist plot" in Jordan or was it just another C.I.A. ploy to make King Abdullah look good? This King Abdullah is a very good stooge for the right-wing thugs in Washington as he collaborates with them to the fullest! It's quite hard to say these days.

    October 29, 2012 at 11:51 am | Reply
    • Siverado

      @Quigley - Why would the right wing try to do that? That would make Obama look good who is a left winger. Sounds like you are unhappy that 11 of your Jihadi friends were caught!! Aren't you one of those guys who likes to say "Dirka, Dirka, Mohammed Jihad"?

      October 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
    • berman

      *sigh* Do you have the slightest shred of proof or are you just making things up as you go along?

      October 29, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Jordan is highly significant because of its strategic location at the crossroads of what most Christians, Jews and Muslims call the Holy Land. It is a key ally of the US and, together with Egypt, one of only two Arab nations to have made peace with Israel. The King is quite reasonable and he might agree to reform his country.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        Most of the population in Jordan is made up of Palestinian immigrants. The country's peace agreement with Israel and its close ties with the US are unpopular with many Jordanians. The economy depends largely on services, tourism and foreign aid, for which the US is the main provider. The country faces social and economic challenges.

        October 30, 2012 at 4:50 am |
  2. Pat

    CNN, why no coverage of Benghazi? I guess it would not be in line with your agenda. My god, the coverage this would get from you if it occured during W's watch!

    The Fourth Estate is failing America

    October 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
    • Rebecca

      I can't believe that there is no reporting on the Benghazi attack and why they American Defense Forces did not go to help the Americans and others who were under attack- for 7 hours! Where is your coverage, CNN?

      October 29, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
    • John Walker

      Are you serious Pat? One of the reasons Benghazi ended up being big news was because of CNN's reporting – and they have broken a few angles related to Libya that have been very awkward for the administration – the ambassador's diary for a start. And the calls for more security. Please go back to your laughable "fair and balanced" Fox News if you are interested in propaganda.

      October 29, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Reply
      • scott

        So to summarize, The ambassador knew he was in danger, requested more security and was denied. After the attack started, the WH knew aout it, Denied requests for help, and tried to blame a US citizen who is still in jail?

        Am i twisitng facts here or is this a major scandal? Help me understand john....

        October 30, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  3. globalsocietyincontext

    Reblogged this on globalsocietyincontext.

    October 29, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  4. Towel Heads

    Towel Heads is what Towel Heads do.

    October 29, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  5. Coach21

    WHY, FAREED, YOU ARE NOT COVERING BENGHAZI SO INTENSELY??? YOU COME ON AND TRY TO REPORT TO THE PUBLIC ON THINGS THAT OBAMA HAS TRIED TO SALE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE! WIND, SOLAR, NATURAL GAS... JUST DO YOUR JOB AND GIVE US FACTS ABOUT WHAT WE WANT TO WATCH AND YOUR AUDIENCE WILL GROW. FOX NEWS DOMINATES BECAUSE THERE ARE ABOUT 2 REGISTERED REPUB AND THE REST ARE INDEPENDENT OR IN THE MIDDLE. YOU CAN CALL THEM REPUB BUT THEY REPORT ON TRUTH MORE THAN CNN. YALL BOTH MISLEAD SOMETIMES BUT CNN MORE OFTEN. ALL WEEKEND YALL TALKED ABOUT THE STORM, ITS IMPORTANT, BUT 4 FELLOW AMERICANS DYING AND IT POSSIBLY HAVE BEEN SEEN BY YOUR GUY OBAMA, AND PASSED BLAME ON VIDEO'S, THATS NEWS THAT YOU SHOULD BE COVERING, EVEN IF YOU DONT HAVE ALL THE FACTS. yOU DONT HAVE ALL THE FACTS ON MOST OF YOUR STORIES ANYWAY, ALOT OF PREDICTING AND SPECULATING, SO SPECULATE ON THAT(BENGHAZI) I ALSO SEE SOME WORRIED FACE, WHAT WILL CNN DO WHEN MITT WINS AND ACTUALLY STARTS TO CHANGE THINGS LIKE A PRESIDENT SHOULD FOR THE BETTER, WHAT WILL YOU SAY THEN. LOL, AND SO YOU KNOW, I WATCH BOTH CNN AND FOX EVERY NIGHT SINCE THE CAMPAIGN HAS STARTED AND YOUR REPORTS HAVE NOT BEEN FOR US, THE PEOPLE, ITS BEEN FOR YOU AND CNN AND OBAMA AND GOD IS LETTING THE COUNTRY KNOW , HE HAS THE CONTROL OF ALL THINGS EVERY SECOND SINCE CREATION , AND HE SEES ALL THINGS, SO THATS WHO YOU SHOULD BE TRYING TO REPORT TO AND IMPRESS. HE IS YOUR BOSS!!!!!

    October 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Reply
    • John Walker

      Coah21 – there has been extensive coverage of Benghazi on CNN. Please do not compare CNN to Fox. Whenever they do current affairs quizzes, guess which news station viewers know the least facts about the news? Fox viewers.

      October 29, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  6. joe anon 1

    schanzer is a jew and FDD is neocon/jewcon propaganda office for israel and whatever is israel's, jewry's interest.

    October 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
    • Siverado

      And Quigley is a muzzie (read his comment above). So, what's your point?

      October 29, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      joe anon is a bigot and a racist... Did you disagree with something in the article above, Einstein?

      October 30, 2012 at 10:11 am | Reply
  7. joe anon 1

    propaganda/deception from schanzer is my point and what i disagree with.

    both of you will get better cubicles at FDD.

    October 30, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      There was no "propaganda/deception from schanzer" in the article above, genius. If it was there you would SHOW IT TO US, would not you? As you've said you "disagree" with YOUR "point" only.

      October 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Reply
  8. joe anon 1

    one of many. well, the entire article.

    "These revelations underscore the cost of American indecision. The U.S. has stood on the sidelines while Syria descended into civil war. Washington ignored the death toll as it climbed over 30,000, and the refugee count as it neared a quarter million, insisting that intervention on any level would only attract more radical jihadi types into an already complex situation"

    the u.s. is not on the sidelines. its proxies and its mouth and weapons are all over the aggressive, terror war. not civil war.

    schanzer is a propangandist and you defend him – twice.

    you will get a warmer to go in your new, larger cubicle.

    October 31, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  9. For Your Eyes Only

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    October 31, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Reply

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