In their zeal to undermine or discredit President Obama in any way they can, the neo-conservative Weekly Standard and former top Bush adviser Karl Rove have been indirectly making the case that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the single, most important recruitment tool of Al Qaeda and presumably other violent Islamist groups based in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It was Eli Clifton who first noticed Thomas Joscelyn’s piece on the Weekly Standard website on Dec. 27 in which he mocked Obama’s claim that Guantanamo was “probably the number one recruitment tool that is used by these jihadist organizations.”
In his post, entitled “Gitmo is Not Al Qaeda’s ‘Number One Recruitment Tool,” Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), performed a quantitative analysis of key words that appeared in the “translations of 34 messages and interviews delivered by top al Qaeda leaders operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, since January 2009.” Guantanamo, he found, was “mentioned in only 3 of the 34 messages. The other 31 messages contain no reference to Guantanamo.” Within those three messages, Guantanamo was mentioned a mere seven times, according to Joscelyn’s findings.
To try and show just how ignorant or misleading Obama was, Joscelyn naturally went on to compare that paltry total with the number of other key words used during the period:
“By way of comparison, all of the following keywords are mentioned far more frequently: Israel/Israeli/Israelis (98 mentions), Jew/Jews (129), Zionist(s) (94), Palestine/Palestinian (200), Gaza (131), and Crusader(s) (322). (Note: Zionist is often paired with Crusader in al Qaeda’s rhetoric.)
Naturally, al Qaeda’s leaders also focus on the wars in Afghanistan (333 mentions) and Iraq (157). Pakistan (331), which is home to the jihadist hydra, is featured prominently, too. Al Qaeda has designs on each of these three nations and implores willing recruits to fight America and her allies there. Keywords related to other jihadist hotspots also feature more prominently than Gitmo, including Somalia (67 mentions), Yemen (18) and Chechnya (15).”
So compelling were Joscelyn’s little survey and conclusions that Karl Rove gleefully devoted his regular column to it — “Gitmo Is Not A Recruiting Tool for Terrorists” he wrotes in the Wall Street Journal on Dec 29. [It was published in the Dec 30 print edition.] Here’s his triumphant conclusion about Joscelyn’s findings:
[T]he president is wrong to assign such importance to Gitmo and, by implication, to suggest it would be a major setback to al Qaeda were he to close it, as he promised but failed to do by the end of his first year in office. Shuttering the facility would not take the wind out of terrorism, in part because it is not, and never has been, its ‘No. 1 recruitment tool.’
So, assuming that Joscelyn’s hypothesis and Rove’s assertion make sense — that there must be some correlation between key words used by al Qaeda leaders (in Afghanistan and Pakistan) in their public pronouncements and what they believe are the issues that are most likely to rally their intended audience behind them (and assuming that Joscelyn’s methodology for data collection and keyword analysis was sound), what can we conclude?
It seems we can safely say that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is seen by al Qaeda leaders as their “number one recruitment tool.” Indeed, taken together, “Israel/Israelis,” “Jew/Jews,” “Zionist(s),” “Palestine/Palestinian,” and “Gaza” account were mentioned an astonishing 652 times in 34 messages: that’s virtually twice as many times as “Afghanistan” or “Pakistan” which, given their geographic proximity to the al Qaeda leaders who are sending these messages, is quite remarkable.
But let’s be more conservative. As Joscelyn noted, “Zionist” was often paired with Crusader in al Qaeda’s rhetoric” and thus may not have anything directly to do with the Israel-Palestinian conflict per se. Similarly, “Jew/Jewish” is not necessarily relevant, either, so let’s delete those two keywords from the data set as well. Nonetheless, even if we confine our count to “Israel/Israelis,” “Palestine/Palestinian,” and “Gaza” — all of which are more likely to refer to the Israel-Palestinian conflict — we come up with 429 mentions, or some 25 percent more than runner-up “Afghanistan”!
Of course, this linkage between Islamist extremism and the Israel-Palestinian conflict is something that real scholars — and the military brass, most famously last March in testimony by Gen. David Petraeus when he was still CENTCOM chief — have long maintained. But it also a linkage that neo-conservatives, in particular, have repeatedly and strenuously denied. Take what Abe Foxman wrote in the Jerusalem Post shortly after Petraeus’ remark last spring as just one of a legion of examples: “The notion that al-Qaida’s hatred of America ….or the ongoing threat of extremist terrorist groups in the region is based on Israel’s announcement of building apartments [in East Jerusalem] is absurd on its face and smacks of scapegoating.”
But let’s go back to the logic behind Rove’s argument that if Gitmo were “the No. 1 recruitment toll” for al Qaeda, “then Al Qaeda leaders would emphasize it in their manifestos, statements and Internet postings, mentioning it early, frequently and at length.” Well, if that doesn’t apply to Gitmo, it seems to apply in spades to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, suggesting — again, using Rove’s logic — that resolving the conflict could “take the wind out of terrorism.”
Of course, Rove doesn’t go down that road, even if his logic points in that direction. Instead, he reverts to a tired neo-conservative mantra: “It is the combination of a fierce, unquenchable hatred for the U.S. and a profound sense of grievance against the modern world that helps Islamists to draw recruits,” he insists. Of course, the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may contribute importantly to that sense of grievance doesn’t occur to him, despite all of the evidence he recites from Jocelyn’s little study.
Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to Right Web (http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/).