September 27th, 2011
08:54 AM ET

America's Al Qaeda Obsession

By CNN's Tim Lister

Paul Pillar knows about the business of counter-terrorism. He was a deputy chief of the Counter-terrorist Center at the CIA and is now a Visiting Professor with the Security Studies program at Georgetown University.

And he believes that over the last decade we have become obsessed with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda – and failed to develop a more realistic and balanced sense of terrorist threats.

In the current edition of the CTC Sentinel, published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Pillar argues that a “highly disproportionate share of U.S. resources expended in the name of counter-terrorism have been expended against” al Qaeda. He says that the most recent “National Strategy for Counter-terrorism” published in June might better have been titled the “National Strategy for the War on al Qaeda.”

“All other terrorist acts or threats of terrorism in the world are noted and set aside in a few paragraphs,” he adds.

Pillar says that a lack of definition, as well as the narrow focus on al Qaeda as it developed under bin Laden, hampers our understanding of the threat of terrorism and our ability to respond to it. Equating counter-terrorism with the fight against a single group “obscures from where most of the initiative for terrorist operations is coming, which is at the periphery and not from a center in south Asia.”

In recent months, U.S. counter-terrorism officials have voiced greater concern about the threat posed by al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa – and the U.S. drone program, which has been effective in grinding down al Qaeda in Pakistan, is being extended to the Horn of Africa. U.S. Special Operations forces have stepped up their activity in Somalia.

Not before time, according to Pillar, the author of "Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11 and Misguided Reform." He says the "broader phenomenon of Sunni jihadist terrorism to which the label al Qaeda is commonly applied is not weaker. Instead, it is even more widespread than it was ten years ago." So, he says, it would be a mistake to think that bin Laden's demise has significantly reduced the terror threat to the U.S.

Pillar also believes that the effect of 9/11 on the American psyche has distorted policy. "Analysis of almost any terrorist incident or terrorist-related discovery or individual is couched in terms of whether or not the subject of attention is "linked" to al Qaeda," he writes. "A highly disproportionate share of U.S. resources expended in the name of counter-terrorism have been directed against this one group."

Somewhat ominously, Pillar concludes that "even within the radical Sunni variety of terrorism, al Qaeda is only one element." After all, he reminds us, al Qaeda means "the base" in Arabic, one that Osama bin Laden "never intended would do everything itself but instead would be the base from which larger efforts would be inspired and grow."

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  6. markjuliansmith


    At what point along a string of ethics is a Muslim a Moderate, Hard liner, Extremist, Terrorist.

    At what point is a Muslim a threat given all of the aboves ethics regards Other particularly women are based on exactly the same foundation text?

    Surely the only rational conclusion is you cannot have one without the other.

    "None of these actions are possible without more agreement on what constitutes a serious threat, not just to Indonesia’s security but to its social fabric. " Vigilantism to Terrorism in CirebonInternational Crises Group Update Briefing Asia Briefing N°132 Jakarta/Brussels, 26 January 2012

    Dare I be so bold as to say 'constitutes a serious threat' to Humanity as we see unrelentingly every single day since the seventh century.

    Oh one Happy day – no more.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  7. kimsland


    Maybe we could build a couple of tall buildings for them, I didn't realize that we ALL weren't thinking straight.
    I'm not interested in building relations with these psychos, I mean their justice system is solely religious, and even worse than backward christianity (at least priests here don't bomb everyone, after they abuse their children)

    These people should NEVER be trusted. This is NOT an obsession, this is a reality.

    October 3, 2011 at 10:18 am | Reply
  8. markjuliansmith

    "That does not mean everyone Muslim poses a threat,.."

    Of course every Muslim is not a threat because in any insurgency not everyone turns up in a suicide belt do they?

    The fact is as you are trying to ignore is Foundation Text=Ethics=Ideas=Motivation=Action For and Against.

    What is being pointed out to you is if the text informing evil against Other was not there in the first place as Plato said thousands of years ago we would not have the terror.

    Saying not every one is turned into a terrorist because of this text is not the point some are turned into terrorists.

    Enough as we can see to cause an enormous redirection of resources to even protect ourselves from fellow citizens.

    Change the text or Change nothing – where do you think terrorists come from – I will tell you in the main Moderate Liberal Muslim families or so they claim. You might notice they do not have suicide belts on. Comforting?

    October 2, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  9. CNN 'journalists' = Sensationalists

    America Media's Al Qaeda Obsession

    October 2, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Reply
  10. Patriot

    In other news, every American has completely lost the right to privacy and freedom when the federal government declared its right to listen to our calls, open our mail, read our e-mails, break into our homes, plant listening devices, and detain citizens deemed 'enemy combatants;' The president can label ANYONE an enemy combatant and that makes him/her one, effectively stripping him/her of his/her rights to due process by a jury of his/her peers. This and about 300 more pages was made possible by the Patriot Act of.. oh wait, you mean this has been the case since 2001 and the public just gave up their rights? Focus people.

    October 1, 2011 at 6:23 am | Reply
    • 2011cnn2011

      If ya aint got nothing to hide, ya got nothing to worry about?

      October 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  11. JOE

    True! That's why we need to keep a tab on the Tea Party. Remember that Tea Party Express leader earlier this year? He said that the emancipation proclamation was a mistake. And since the Tea Party has re-emerged, America has begun looking once again like it did during the Jim Crow era of the 1960's. But there's even more of this conspirital plague that's threatening to undermine our democracy. Shortly after comprehensive healthcare was passed a year ago, Arizona and the righwing conspirators retaliated by passing SB1070 as a model for the rest of the Americas South as a means of segregating, profiling and discriminating against Hispanic Americans and people of color in general.

    Then all of a sudden, during that same period the oil rig blast took place in the Gulf of Mexico. And I don't fault some people who said they sense conspiracy, the kinds of actions that seemed to be the doings of the Tea Party, America's new home grown terror regime aka the new Al Qaeda. And it was sort of coincidental too that after our Navy Seals striked a decapitating blow to Al Qaeda by killing Osama Bin Laden, all of a sudden just three months later a helicopter carrying a whole outfit of our Navy Seals gets shutdown. Seems like an inside job once again, the doings of the Tea Party that will not stop short of destroying America. But when all is said and done, they're goanna fail and become obsolete as fast as they re-emerged on the scene.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:13 am | Reply
    • Tadbeer

      I agree with others. I am not sure why America is following such an aimless and aggressive policy in Afghanistan and extending it to a conflict with Pakistan.

      America is still trying to set up Northern Alliance (the minority and hugely unpopular group of thugs) as the main controlling power in Kabul. The majority Pashtuns/Taliban cannot have this, even though this is the desire of India and Israel. Pakistan knows that setting up NA against Taliban will mean another unending civil war in Afghanistan, the effects of which have to be faced by Pakistan alone such as unending bloodshed, refugees and terrorism. Pakistan hence has again and again emphasized dialogue with Haqqanis and Taliban to end the conflict once and for all but America keeps wanting Pakistan to start a new war with Haqqanis and Taliban. This kind of a war would mean mass suicide for Pakistanis and Pakistan as a nation hence Pakistan has been less than willing to go ahead with this American request.

      America has now stepped up the pressure on Pakistan to do exactly this as it will cause a self implosion in Pakistan and provide a scapegoat for America as well as freedom to India to pursue its political motives in Afghanistan. However pressure is all America can put on Pakistan while their own CIA and Army is heavily dependent on Pakistan's support. Any rhetoric of going to war with Pakistan is not only completely idiotic but also damaging. America needs to wake up and smell its own economic and political realities. It needs to do whats right for once if it is to survive the Afghan war.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:27 am | Reply
    • LiberalNN

      Wow you're a real liberal whack job aren't you! I feel sad for you.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Reply
      • Ving

        That's the best answer by far! Thanks for cnotribiutng.

        January 27, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
      • muqoft

        ySh7TL sffajfvouesq

        January 28, 2012 at 7:47 am |
      • nzkuqojc

        OuRHyP ypstzevuepox

        January 30, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  12. Cha Cha

    Americas not obsessed with Al Queada but the media is. They love to spread the fear.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:12 am | Reply
  13. Art

    Al Qaeda is the new Communist. It's the Boogeyman being franchised by the media.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:58 am | Reply
    • 2011cnn2011

      theres like 20 al quedas its fun to watch when they get killed...drones with your names on it little bin ladens...

      October 1, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  14. Gene

    The the Al Qaeda terrorists want to die, and we want to kill them. You'd think we could get together on this.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:33 am | Reply
  15. markjuliansmith

    Change the Foundation text informing new citizens of evil intent against Other or Change Nothing.

    If there is Foundation Text informing good for Other without qualification by all means let Humanity keep it but Otherwise why leave the possibility of generating evil against Other?

    Islamophobia a rational justified response to the reality of a violent seventh century misogynistic tribal Islamic doctrines outcomes. There is very good reason to be fearful and demand Legislative protection and Societal restriction.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:05 am | Reply
  16. markjuliansmith

    Having read the Koran from cover to cover my immediate impression was it was the most dangerous boring book I have ever read.

    "Even the uneducated masses living there know that terrorists have no color or religion."

    Very uneducated to come to such a conclusion you are right.

    “Crime is crime and terrorism is terrorism. It does not relate to ethnicity or religion,” he said."


    If this is true then a Brick has no relationship with the Wall within which it is situated and no relationship to the Bricks surrounding it.

    The Terror has been motivated by the idea of Terror without any relationship to cause – which is impossible given it is a crime? Is crime based on a motive or a vacuum?

    It is impossible because any Terror can now be said to be instantaneously in the cause of an infinite number of possible motives from freeing whales or against one legged three eyed wombats riding the Mona Lisa backwards across the Grand Canyon – sounds plausible.

    Means you suspect everyone and in fact I have a feeling such logic must mean we are all guilty.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:14 am | Reply
    • Diamonds


      September 29, 2011 at 6:39 am | Reply
  17. markjuliansmith

    "..few supposedly-Muslim fanatics yet another Western crusade which targets Islam has been launched"

    So what is the Islamic Terror across Asia and the pacific and the Asian response of course are 'crusades' to keep their military machines going.

    I am not sure you noticed but terror against Other has been occurring since the seventh century – could you please explain what has happened to all the citizens who were in fact Christians the majority across the middle East, Turkey, North Africa?

    The males killed and the women and children sold to slavers following Mohammad’s own template?

    September 29, 2011 at 6:08 am | Reply
    • Diamonds


      September 29, 2011 at 6:40 am | Reply
  18. Blogson

    Al-Quaeda is the U.S.politicians' buzzword for inciting the sheep-people into a state of paranoia so that the authorities can make the sheep accept the loss of freedom which has resulted from the enactment of "security" measures. Those measures are designed to keep the U.S. political power business-as-usual structure intact and induce the sheep into renouncing meaningful reform. Because of a few supposedly-Muslim fanatics yet another Western crusade which targets Islam has been launched, propelled by supposedly-Christian conservatives whose actual agenda is the expansion of their political and economic power base, masquerading as religion.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:48 am | Reply
    • 2011cnn2011

      I guess sometimes we have to lose some freedoms to win wars to get our full freedoms back after we win.

      October 1, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  19. bailoutsos

    baby Bush's monster under the bed.

    September 28, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  20. markjuliansmith

    The Simple Answer to Ending the Terror – Plato Knew it years Ago Why have we not Understood.

    Two things: Process to change Foundation Text and Control of Education

    September 28, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Reply
  21. Barry

    and failed to develop a more realistic and balanced sense of terrorist threats.

    And that is different from America's failure to get a grip on reality when it comes to anything, how?

    September 28, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Reply
  22. 2011cnn2011

    my obsession is for the reason of knowing how fun it is to know they die one by one, its like collecting baseball cards.
    drone drone drone...dont stop looking over your shoulders ya little bin ladens.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  23. bailoutsos

    There have been and will always be people labeled as "terrorist." What were they called when America fought for freedom? Oh, yeah, "Minutemen."

    September 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Reply
    • InfidelHere

      Wrong! Terrorism is not an enemy that can be named or identified, much less fought effectively. A "War on Terror" is a war on shadows, a war on nothing and on no one. It is a fool's errand. The fact is that you will finally understand that terrorism is the “How”, the “WHO” are true and devoted MUSLIMS and the “WHY” is the cult ideology called ISLAM!

      September 28, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Reply
      • Diamonds

        Stop playing too many video games guys...This is not Call of duty!

        September 29, 2011 at 6:43 am |
    • InfidelHere

      I should add that Universal Islamic Jihad PREDATES the birth of the United States and Israel by a 1,000 years, and already has conquered much the Middle East and parts of Europe…and this cancer is spreading. For years we had two big oceans protecting us from their "stones and rocks". Now, with oil money affording them better weapons and better means to KILL us, Muslims have brought their jihad war to our shores.

      September 28, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Reply
      • 2011cnn2011

        they will run out of oil...and we will not sell them water...

        September 28, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
      • Diamonds

        Yeah Yeah... we heard your silly logic a zillion times before!

        September 29, 2011 at 6:44 am |
  24. InfidelHere

    I see that the Feds and our media have been falling over themselves trying NOT to associate Islam with "terror" attack after "terrorr" attack (and threats) ...but will you muslim appeasers and apologists finally WAKE UP!

    Never mind the facts discovered in terror case after terror case that would support such a declaration that Islam is the CAUSE of this behavior.

    Now, Isn't it reasonable for the media to report that all of these terror suspect's motivation might be related to Islamic Jihad? Oh...that's right. That hypothesis would tarnish an entire religion, an entire people. It can’t be possibly true—but even if it is true, it’s too troubling and unpleasant a truth to report. Right? Why connect the dots when you can continue to confuse apologists and never report the possible motive for such acts that occur almost on a daily basis around the world?

    I guess the media believes its better not to descend to the level of people who believe that Islamic terrorists have declared war against all non-Muslims (as well as other “moderate” or "not-enough-Muslims"). I understand…sometimes the truth hurts, but let's not dance around the MOTIVE as to WHY these terror suspects act and carry forth as they do.
    It is because of Islam. WAKE UP PEOPLE!

    September 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Reply
    • PraveenIndia

      There are tens of non-muslim secular countries which have been victims of terrorism at many points but they do not have prejudice against one particular religion. Even the uneducated masses living there know that terrorists have no color or religion. Why is it that only USA feels threatened by Islam? Makes you look like an uninformed fourth grader.
      I am impressed though by you in-depth knowledge of Koran. How many time had you read it? Or did fox news teach you all the excerpts?

      September 29, 2011 at 12:05 am | Reply
      • Diamonds

        These are the same guy trolling on CNN all the time spreading hate and Islamophobia. This is their purpose of life.

        September 29, 2011 at 6:47 am |
    • Belj

      It's an interpretation of Islam, not the religion itself. There certainly are quotes in the Koran – I haven't read the book but have had them pointed – which are alarming if interpreted literally. That does not mean everyone Muslim poses a threat, some Muslims are alarmed by it and some former al Qaeda supporters have revised their views. I saw in another of your posts that you wrote al Qaeda is a term the mainstream media has adopted; al Qaeda – translation 'the base', is a term that people considering themselves founders and members of al Qaeda have adopted and the terrorist acts that they carry out are done in the name of that organisation, so it would be odd for the media to call them anything else. There is now a considerable amount of hatred on both sides and hating a religion, or fearing it as responsible for terrorism, does not seem a good way forward. Hatred of the West did not develop in al Qaeda because of Islam, but for a range of reasons and the references to Jihad in the Koran became their doctrine for attacks resulting from their hatred, but not their reason for hating in the first place. The Koran is a very old book and in the era it was written, the attitudes in it were not unusal. There are some pretty alarming passages in the bible as well, lets be honest. The world is in a very dangerous situation and saying 'Islam is to blame' can inflame the situation, as well as misinterpreting it.

      October 2, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  25. InfidelHere

    You have to hand it to our media that use generic terms like ‘radical’, ‘extremist’, ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘links to Al Qaida’ which in fact they are describing those "good" muslims that are carrying out the Koran's instructions to fight, punish, tax, and KILL Non-Muslims. When over 60% of their ‘holy’ (cough-cough) Koran itself is dedicated to the specific treatment of Non-Muslims…we really shouldn’t be surprised by all of the cancer that continues to perpetuate from the ideology of Islam.

    Al Qaida is simply a term that the main stream media has adopted to identify what are in fact are "true" islamic terrorists. Since the media and PC cultures does not wish to use 'Muslim' or 'Islam in front of the word 'terrorist', ‘radical’ ‘extremist’, etc, it is simply easier to lump all islamic terrorists and those that follow the absolute instructions of their terrorist muhammad into a term that means an international organization of loosely affiliated cells that carry out attacks and bombings in the attempt to disrupt the economies and influence of Western nations and advance ISLAMIC fundamentalism.

    Make no mistake…according to the Koran, the “best” Muslims are those that fight for their allah while “bad” muslims who are considered “moderate”, “peaceful” and “not-muslim-enough” have no room in the muslim world because the Koran calls for their death as well!

    Islam IS what it IS. Al Qaida would make muhammad proud!

    September 28, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Reply
    • shafi

      well Mr. Infidal , what you are speaking here is simply your outpouring your prejudiced emtional outbursts which to my understanding is that either u might be an fanatic Hindu Or Jew. Let me give u some historical facts here.
      US kIilled thousands of people in Vietnam and burned millions in Japan by Nukes, starved half a million children to death in Iraq. well the list is long – speak from rationality, this is why American People who are good at ther heart but are thrown into wars by Zionists/evalgislists and military industrial complex, are hated every ehere . check in Europe.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:40 am | Reply
      • Belj

        My feeling on reading Mr Infidelhere's posts is that he is probably not a Hindu or Jew, but a Christian, or at least born into a Christian background. I sense that, having been born into a Christian background myself. Think it's worth making that point before any idea that Hindus or Jews are attacking Islam on a forum. Referring to himself as 'Inifidel' and the way he writes would imply he is saying he is one of the people as we all are, targeted by al Qaeda, and therefore I would think probably from what he has written, an American presumably Christian background.

        October 2, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  26. okthen

    "we have become obsessed" Who is this "we" exactly? Generalizations are so inaccurate.
    "the effect of 9/11 on the American psyche has distorted policy" The masses do not, and never have, dictate(d) policy. Maybe he meant to say our leadership's psyche has distorted policy? Because that has always been the case.

    September 28, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Reply
  27. Fred Phred

    It's very wrong to say we're obsessed about Al Qaeda. We were obsessed with killing Bin Laden. Especially when he had the nerve to brag about 9/11 in interviews. He was asking for it.

    Since justice was dispensed, I think we've moved on. The fact that he knew US Seals got him, makes it even more satisfying.

    September 28, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Reply
    • chin chin

      you are such an idiot...the same mighty navy SEALs are dead too you moron...we cannot leave those countries now where we cannot afford to be there anymore...when are you going to realize this, what 23% unemployment is not a big enough sign, within one year the value of dollar will plummet...maybe that will get people like you to focus on our internal affairs...but its too late

      September 29, 2011 at 8:02 am | Reply
      • Fred Phred


        Some of those seals are no longer with us, an unfortunate possibility in such a dangerous job. The fact that they put that scumbag away still makes me proud of them – and always will. Your freedom isn't free. It cost lives of men and women like Seal team 6.

        And if it were 1942, I would bet you would start taking German lessons and surrender. After all why would we want to risk our soldiers lives right in the middle of the great depression. The cost of WWII was enormous. Shoud we just have surrendered?

        Go back under your turtle shell, you coward.

        September 29, 2011 at 8:56 am |
      • Someone

        I see you have been reading the fringe paranoia about the doomsday prediction of the dollar – it could happen, it could not, it could be next year, it could be decades from now. A lot of things influence the currency – any group that tells you you have x-number of months left is trying to sell you something.

        September 29, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  28. SconnieGuz

    What a bunch of BS....Americans do not give one flying fuk about al queda. They ever attack again, and whole countries will be leveled so my advice to the muslim world would be to not support these people. If they are not "true muslims" like I always here from the muslim apologists, this shouldn't be a problem.

    September 28, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  29. faceit

    um, I think it's the other way around-AlQaeda is obsessed with America

    September 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
    • InfidelHere

      Exactly...after all, these MUSLIMS declared war on us well before 9/11. Their convictions to KILL us are second to none!

      September 28, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
    • 2011cnn2011 true

      September 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Reply
    • Sandman

      They didn't care about us until we landed in Saudi Arabia to support Desert Storm. The offended OBL. That made us the target, we set foot on 'sacred soil'. He felt he could do that job himself, it just would have taken longer.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Reply
      • Belj

        After defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan and being on reasonable terms with the US, Bin Laden is said to have been extremely insulted when his offer of taking fighters in to first Gulf War was rejected. It's hard to know how history would have been different had that happened, except that it's unlikely there would have been a second Iraq war some years later had he done that. The West taking action in that region certainly didn't help in terms of preventing OBL's outlook becoming more radical. The current approach seems a little simplistic in that while al Qaeda has plotted and carried out massive attacks, there are other 'Jihadist' groups, some of them affiliated and some of them in virtual competition with al Qaeda. Also while the organisational structure can be substantially undermined when various senior level al Qaeda operatives are killed or captured, that doesn't end the ideology or likelihood of smaller similar affiliated organisations gaining supprt. There does seem a kind of obsession of refusing to see the whole picture, and just focusing on one part.

        October 2, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  30. Erisian

    Our government has bought into the same campaign of fear they are trying to sell.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Reply
    • InfidelHere

      Look, the fact is that Islam isn't a peaceful religion; it is a declaration of war against all mankind. While "bad" Muslims can be moderate, peaceful or "not-Muslim-enough", these people have NO influence because even their Koran tells "good" Muslims to KILL them!! Our self deception will evetually destroy us unless we fight and KILL off these people who declared WAR on us long before we ever heard of the word Al-Qaida!

      September 28, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Reply
      • sheela

        you must have no soul with the hatred and lies that you spread so blatantly...

        September 29, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  31. Sean

    Yea.. lets just ignore them instead. We have buildings to spare.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Reply

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