It's ironic that at the time when the framing 'war on terror' has receded from US public discourse the most telling blows are finally being struck. The conflict with al-Qaeda was always a war of ideas punctuated by horrible and unexpected violence for no other purpose than to provide tangible evidence of 'legitimacy' for the enemies of the 'Great Satan' who presumed to lead oppressed and potentially militant Muslims across the world. Our strategy of fighting this 'war' by suspending civil liberties, promoting fear at home and apprehension overseas while unilaterally projecting US military power in the Middle East and South Asia always seemed as likely to play into the hands of the self-appointed enemies of the US as not.
It almost seemed calculated that Bin Laden struck the US when our leadership was predictably willing to frame the conflict in the convenient medieval narrative of 'crusade.' But things are different now, we finally understand the field on which this battle will be won:
"Barack Obama is not just trying to reach out to Muslims for the sake of it," says Mr. Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College and an authority on modern jihad. "He's trying to hammer a deadly nail in Osama bin Laden's message." What President Obama understood more than his predecessors, Mr. Gerges says, is that it is not a war that can be won militarily, but only ideologically.
Jarret Brachman, a former West Point terrorism expert and author of a recent book, "Global Jihadism," said the speech "was the most important strategic step we've taken in this war."
"That's why Al Qaeda is so nervous," he said.
Rod Nordland - Forceful Words and Fateful Realities NYT 06 Jun 09
Woven within Obama's address to the Muslim world from Cairo was a carefully crafted refutation of the al-Qaeda argument, point by point, presented in the form of classical Islamic scholarly discourse, complete with quotations from the Qur'an:
Senior administration officials say the speech was carefully crafted to rob the Al Qaeda leader and his terrorist network of some of its chief recruiting totems, including fears the United States plans a permanent presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
White House officials say that the tide may be turning on the world's most wanted man. "For the first time, they're beginning to lose the propaganda war," said a top aide traveling with Obama during his six-day mission to Europe and the Middle East.
The week of high drama featured a showdown of sorts between the two leaders -- Obama vs. Osama -- with Obama's soaring speech and a bin Laden audiotape providing a powerful point-counterpoint as each sought to make his case to the Muslim world.
Mike Allen - Barack Obama takes aim at Osama bin Laden Politico 6 Jun 09
In January Bin Laden threatened to open 'new fronts' against the US and it's allies. On the eve of Obama's speech his scratchy audio-taped prebuttal was more tactical, and clearly concerned with his own backyard:
In a tape broadcast by Al Jazeera shortly after Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, bin Laden said the president had inflamed hatred toward the US by ordering Pakistan to crack down on fighters in the Swat Valley.
He said: "Obama and his administration have sowed new seeds of hatred against America.
"He has followed the steps of his predecessor in antagonising Muslims ... and laying the foundation for long wars."
Bin Laden attacks Obama policies Al Jazeera 3 Jun 09
It is indicative that this message was focused on the Pakistani offensive in Swat, the frontline evidence of the turning tide of Muslim sympathies and aspirations. The Taliban, having alienated public opinion in Pakistan, have increased popular support for the newly-minted civilian government's leadership and a determined military effort against this militant Islamist threat, including seeking and confronting the Taliban, and al-Qaeda, in their homelands. Ideological rhetoric is always most effective when the winds of change are blowing in your favour, and they are blowing fair for us right now.