January 7th, 2014
04:51 PM ET

What I'm reading: Don’t create a new al Qaeda

By Fareed Zakaria

“Repression of Islamists in Egypt was an essential stage in the emergence of contemporary jihadism,” write Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon in the New York Times.

“As splinter groups that were significantly more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood formed, Islamists became more violent. In the 1970s, a charismatic former Brotherhood member, Shukri Mustapha, created Takfir wal-Hijra, one of the early forerunners of Al Qaeda. Meanwhile, Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj plotted the ideology of Al Jihad. The latter group eventually assassinated President Anwar Sadat, and later provided much of the leadership for Al Qaeda, including Ayman al-Zawahri, the group’s current leader.

“The situation in Egypt is bound to worsen and the military clearly knows this, though some delude themselves that enough brutality will bring submission. Criminalizing the Brotherhood, which renounced violence in the 1970s and honored that pledge through the inept tenure of President Mohamed Morsi, shows that a line has been crossed, and that the army’s promises of a return to democracy were empty. The turn against the Brothers is a fateful error.”

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“For a model of what post-cold war cooperation with Iran might look like, the U.S. can look to Turkey,” writes Peter Beinart in The Atlantic. “Turkey’s Sunni Islamist regime initially supported Syria’s rebels. But now, seeing the danger their extremism poses, it says it will back a peace agreement that allows some elements of the current Syrian regime – though presumably not Assad himself – to remain. For months, Turkey has been pushing for Iran to participate in the conference on ending Syria’s civil war scheduled for later this month in Geneva. This weekend, to his credit, John Kerry partially agreed.”

“For a model of what post-cold war cooperation with Iran might look like, the U.S. can look to Turkey.

“Make no mistake: Even if the U.S. and Iran transform their relationship, ending the horror in Syria will remain excruciatingly hard. Syria is frighteningly divided along sectarian lines. There are multiple rebel groups. Saudi Arabia, which is terrified of Iranian power, now espouses a far more militantly anti-Assad line than the United States does. But if the U.S., Turkey, Iran, and Russia could come to a common understanding on how to structure Syria’s political transition, perhaps the Saudis might realize the futility of their efforts at promoting rebel military victory. Perhaps they might grasp the danger of prolonging a war that empowers jihadists who – like their hero, Osama bin Laden – may eventually turn their guns on Riyadh.”

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“Washington lobbying, and the government-sponsored privileges it secures for various interest groups, is rent-seeking in its purest and most pernicious form. Various societies have grown free and prosperous by many different methods; dividing up existing wealth according to political connections is not one of them,” argues Charles Lane in the Washington Post.

“Washington’s revolving door is hardly the only example of rent-seeking in our society, to be sure. A good deal of Wall Street activity fits the definition.

“Rent-seeking is not necessarily unproductive. One reason inventors create new products is to patent them, a form of government protection that entitles one to years of royalty payments. Still, too many of our public institutions – from Congress to big-city school systems – have been captured by rent-seeking interest groups.”


soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    If I were the Chancellor of Germany, I would offer my good offices to try to establish some kind of peace between the fighting factions in Egypt and Iraq and try to put an end to this needless bloodbath. Unfortunately, the broad who currently holds that office does nothing except to blabber "unity with the United States" and carry our orders from Washington with blind obedience!

    January 7, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Reply
    • Felix Unger

      On the other hand Joseph, are any of the other current European leaders any better? Evidently not, except for Vladimir Putin of Russia and Viktor Yanukovitch of Ukraine. All the others are mere lackeys for the right-wingers in Washington D.C.!

      January 8, 2014 at 8:45 am | Reply
  2. No Mr.Rodman

    No, Rodman should not be in North Korea and not negotiate about a new Al Qaeda! We need keep Rodman at home or put him into reopened Alcatraz. Rodman is collaboration with worlds most dangerous 'korean secret enemies military intelligence officers' that operate on global scale in 'dirty anti-westerm torture and killings operations'. No more, not with us. Bey, bye Rodman.

    January 8, 2014 at 5:18 am | Reply
    • Felix Unger

      This bozo above has it all wrong! If Obama had any sense which evidently is not the case here, he'd use Dennis Rodman for a basketball diplomacy toward North Korea just as Richard Nixon used ping pong diplomacy toward China in 1971. Needless hostility never proves anything but stupidity. This is exactly how WW1 started!

      January 8, 2014 at 8:40 am | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    According to Daniel Benjamin and Steve Simon in the opinion page in the New York Times, Michele Bachmann had recently visited Egypt to praise the military regime and condemn the Brotherhood. Many in the Middle East will forgive her for this blunder, because she's a woman.

    January 8, 2014 at 8:36 am | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Even if some members within the Muslim Brotherhood become radicalised and take up arms against the military-led government in Egypt, they will not get support from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which sides with the generals in Cairo, but from other Sunnis in the Gulf, like Qatar.

    January 8, 2014 at 8:45 am | Reply
  5. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    January 9, 2014 at 2:29 am | Reply
  6. Matt

    The problem for the Saudi's is that to do nothing threaten their own kingdom. If they had not send weapons and when they walked out, them people in the kingdoms become upset and radicalized against their own regimes due to the genocide occurring in Iraq and Syria. So they are at more risk by doing nothing. In both countries the deal or settlement has to take that into account. What happens after the deal Iraq al-Maliki went back on the power sharing, Lebanon Hizbullah took over. People worry too much, because of the chemical weapons people did not want to support a revolution in Syria, this allowed Assad to go crazy, and he went more crazy than Iran did in 2009/10 or how Putin handled his protests against him. In most countries what started this off the graffiti would have been dealt with via an informal caution. People worried about the chemicals weapons and what happened they are being removed. People worry about al-Qaida, now the majority just as in Iraq will change sides, how many tribes and members of the SOI during the Sunni awakening were running around with al-Qaida. How many Shiite militia's al-Sadr supporters were in the Iraq security forces. British Marines and Iraq soldiers loyal to al-Sadr with guns pointed at each other, the night time ambushes, they get in and out of uniform. Driving through checkpoints on roads these guys are guarding IED boom, they either put it there themselves or saw who did it. Plenty green on blue in Iraq. People going to fight, people seeing it on the TV or net, any of it can radicalize people. I don't worry about al-Qaida or the US or West being a target in relation to Syria.

    Syria did not cause Iraq, if the power sharing deal had been kept, but you have Iranian influence, sectarian if anything Syria slowed down Iraq from going side ways. These countries are areas of Iranian influence you have to sometimes fight to maintain that influence, that is what is happening in Syria and in Iraq. You have a Shia genocide over Sunni's in Syria and repression in Iraq which may lead to genocide. It is all perceptions why would the US be a target for extremists when the US is the only one that removed the chemical weapons, Putin gets the credit, but it was the US threat of force. Obama on his own, with a few in the US supporting him. Bush was telling Egypt and others to reform because of the perception that the US backs dictators and totalitarian regimes, so it creates a narrative for radicals. When we were in Iraq we were shooting at everyone and everyone was shooting at us, we did not target one religious sect. At the moment for whatever reason our own fear we are doing the work for Assad preventing and arresting foreign fighters. You can get blowback from doing that, people can turn against the government, just as you can get blowback from some foreign fighters. I think the threat is overblown.

    I think Assad should go and these groups are the lesser evil, I spent around 3 weeks to convince the Israelis that was the case at the beginning. Before the beginning. I also told them not to take a stand or get involved because just like Obama you might find yourself left out in the cold as people change position. Miliband he could have stopped short of using military forces by the UK but gave moral support to the US. He decided not too. Now the US did not want to get involved in Libya, right oil and it was a UK labour Government that brokered those deals. The US dealt a heavy blow and then had to keep hitting Libya to finish the job.

    For the last 60 years Australia has always given the US moral backing, the US like to operate under a consensus, so it does not look as they are going around bully people on their own. Vietnam, no sand on the boots Iraq war 1, a quiet little place in Iraq during the last gulf war. So while the government gave support moral, elections were coming and the opposition did not give support, knowing the government would change. That has been the up keep of the alliance the US protect you and every now and then you have to give a token or moral support. It is a convention of the last 60 years. When that happens it is lonely and very cold place to be.

    That is where we are at, can't support Assad and he is not the lesser evil, cannot aid in a genocide of Sunni's and cannot take military action to decisively end the conflict. Peace talks well nothing is on offer, so what can come of it. Nothing has changed, don't try to overthrow him due to the chemical weapons, Gates key concern, now various people say he is the less evil due to al-Qaida. I was not worried about the first on and am not worried about the second. Another thing he will go just like his chemical weapons went.

    It is just the path, this is the path the world has decided on after Barak made his statements the IDF MI had to clarify the assessment, that he would be in power most of 2013, then he would go to far with the chemical attacks and a coalition would launch military action. The coalition turn out to be France and Obama on his own. So that timeline was correct. Now a new situational report is need and the timeline changes. That does not mean Assad is winning, he gained more time, that is not winning. Years ago the red cell came up with this thing called Operation Sandbag for situations like this say you don't want anyone side to come out on top, in which you back all sides at various stages to keep rolling fronts and any one side from gaining control. Now if you don't want Assad, you don't want al-Qaida and a third party is not ready. What do you do. All covertly via fronts.

    January 12, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Reply

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