Whether or not you think al Qaeda is still capable of launching another major terrorist strike on the United States, it’s clear the loose network inspired by Osama bin Laden has significantly morphed since 9/11. Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as al Qaeda’s primary training ground and deployment center, and increasingly, its leading figure is Abu Mus’ab al Zarquawi rather than Osama himself. In a fascinating new article in The New Republic, Joseph Braude suggests al Qaeda is beginning to undergo a second transformation based on its emergence in an urban rather than rural setting. He focuses on a little-known but increasingly savage al Qaeda-based Islamist resistence to Quaddafi’s regime in Libya. And he goes on to suggest that the same conditions–a weakening militarist regime with a poor grip on tribal and religious loyalities, and a growing urban lumpenproletariat fed by military downsizing–exist in abundance in Syria.My first reaction to this hypothesis was to think: “Al Qaeda’s new targets are Quaddafi and Assad? Excellent!” But as Braude points out, an urban-based Islamist resistance linked to global terrorism could easily spread to less unsavory Muslim regimes in the greater Middle East. Moreover, al Qaeda’s modus operandi in both Afghanistan and Iraq–importing, training, using and then re-exporting “foreign fighters” to wreak havoc elsewhere–seems to be happening in Libya right now. At any rate, check out Braude’s piece, and see if it makes you more or less concerned about the future shape of the terrorist network that the Bush administration is beginning to think of as a spent force.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
You might have missed a potentially significant political story involving a non-candidate for president, so I wrote about it at New York:
One variable in the fraught and complex 2024 presidential election has now been put to rest: Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has announced he will not pursue an independent or “unity ticket” candidacy for president this year, as USA Today reports:
“Manchin made the announcement during a speaking engagement at West Virginia University for his recently created nonprofit group Americans Together, which is aimed at connecting and empowering moderate voices.
“’I will not be seeking a third-party run, I will not be involved in a presidential run,’ Manchin, 76, told the crowd. ‘I will be involved in making sure that we secure a president who has the knowledge, has the function and has the ability to bring this country together.’”
He argued that “the system right now is not set up” for candidates not affiliated with either major political party to win the presidency but said that in the “long game” there could be room to make a third party viable.
Manchin’s vow not to be “involved in a presidential run” seems also to preclude a vice-presidential candidacy, which had seemed a possibility if No Labels, the nonpartisan organization with which Manchin has been closely associated, winds up sponsoring a ticket headed by a Republican. His subsequent comment about the kind of president he wanted to help the country secure could indicate that for all his third-party flirtations and ideological heresies, Manchin might endorse a second term for Joe Biden. He could not possibly have been talking about Donald Trump by referring to a president who had “the ability to bring this country together.”
In any event, Manchin’s decision was good news for his party’s 2024 prospects. There’s likely a ceiling on Trump’s support well short of a popular majority, so it’s a strategic imperative for Biden to corral anti-Trump voters without too much competition from minor candidates, and particularly from a well-known Democrat.
The announcement obviously takes away one option for No Labels, which is reportedly in the process of interviewing potential candidates, even though the group has not formally decided whether to undertake a campaign (it has, however, secured ballot access in 13 states so far).
It also likely means Manchin has run his last campaign. He chose not to run for a third full term in the Senate this year, likely because West Virginia had turned so bright red that even a relatively conservative Democrat would have no real chance of winning, particularly in a presidential-election year. With no electoral base, the 76-year-old former governor will wind up his Senate service and presumably retire to his houseboat. His family already dodged one calamity this year when Manchin’s wife, Gayle, survived a serious car accident. A futile presidential run would not have improved their quality of life.