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Posted at 10:47 AM ET, 03/11/2011

Marc Thiessen invents a terrorist group

By Adam Serwer

Yesterday, in an attempt to justify New York GOP Rep. Peter King's broad and pointless hearings on domestic radicalization, consevative Post writer Marc Thiessen decided he'd invoke a terrorist group that does not yet exist:

Al-Shabab/al-Qaeda in East Africa. In the summer of 2008, the Somali terror group al-Shabab formally merged with al-Qaeda, and last year released a video showing its fighters chanting "Here we are O' Osama. We are your soldiers O' Osama" and pledging to carry out jihad for him across the world.

Al-Shabaab's recruitment of at least twenty young Somali Americans in Minnesota is, indeed, alarming. The events in Minnesota and the FBI's success in establishing a relationship with the local Muslim community that helped them nab the recruiters would be a proper subject for a Homeland Security Committee hearing, unlike King's rhetorical indictment of the American Muslim community as a whole. In fact, it's one of the alternatives I suggested.

The problem with Thiessen's take is that, while al-Shabaab has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden in an effort to gain al-Qaeda's support, they have not, in fact, "formally merged" with the group, nor have they taken on the name "al-Qaeda in East Africa." They are still wannabes. That's in part because of internal conflicts within the group -- as Brookings's Daniel Byman wrote last year, "Some parts of the organization cooperate with al Qaeda, with foreign jihadists playing leading roles in tactics and operations. But others within the movement -- probably the majority, in fact -- oppose the foreigners' control, with some even publicly condemning terrorism and even working with international humanitarian relief efforts."

A formal merger between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda would be a huge deal, because, as Australian counterterrorism expert Leah Farrall, who authored a recent Foreign Affairs piece on al-Qaeda's franchise operations, explained to me, adoption of the franchise name is "usually done around the time of the franchise's first large-scale attack against Western interests -- as a sort of exercise in 'brand promotion.' Al-Shabaab is a heinous and brutal group -- but their activities have thus far been confined to East Africa. Farrall called Thiessen's statement that Al-Shabaab had merged with al-Qaeda "completely inaccurate."

Thiessen appears to be the only person using the term "al-Qaeda in East Africa" to refer to al-Shabaab. But his rhetorical excess in defense of a useless meta-hearing that yielded little in the way of understanding on the topic in question may be actively harmful. As Farrall wrote in an e-mail:

Any attempt to represent the group in this way before a formal merger took place would be rightly quashed in internal review processes that take place before the release of formal analytical product, not only because it is completely inaccurate and analytically misleading, but also because experts within government would also be aware that such a depiction would empower al Shabab in its campaign to join al Qaeda. In this respect, not only are Thiessen's comments inaccurate, they are also irresponsible.

It wouldn't be the first time a conservative commentator was overstating the influence of a terrorist group for political purposes. When underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab set himself on fire before being subdued by a group of unarmed airline passengers, conservatives rushed to portray the attack as "a success" for the terrorists rather than an  embarrassing failure. 

The irony is that al-Shabaab largely exists in its current form because of the misguided Bush-backed Ethiopian intervention in Somalia in 2006. As Matthew Yglesias wrote, that operation bred "a new generation of anti-American jihadists." It also helped breed them here. If Congress does hold hearings on domestic radicalization involving al-Shabaab's recruitment in Minnesota, it should probably consider that, too.

By Adam Serwer  | March 11, 2011; 10:47 AM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy and national security  
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Next: Do people care about the deficit?

Comments

So, the "formal" name change paperwork hasn't been filed with the Secretary of State then?

Posted by: clawrence12 | March 11, 2011 10:57 AM | Report abuse

With all due respect, can someone explain how Theissen's lone depiction of al-Shabaab's formal link with al-Qaeda would 'empower' them to pursue stronger ties?

Even in the event that such ties are actually established, how would it be possible or credible to link it back to one op/ed guy in DC?

Posted by: MsJS | March 11, 2011 11:06 AM | Report abuse

OT but can you conservatives help me out from the last thread...


Kaddafi said "Wookie Michelle clomping along in her potatoe sack and heels"

Let me guess, that wasn't really a racist comment. It was just a funny joke, *wink* *wink*

Hey so conservatives. Do you think calling the first lady a wookie is OK? Please, lets hear it from you serious conservatives.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | March 11, 2011 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Exactly, clawrence and MsJS. Another laughable Adam Serwer failure. This is the kind of nitpicking to which these liberal hacks resort because they never have any critique of substance to lodge.

Btw, Adam, please do tell us how lack of a formal name change or merger means that Theissen "invent[ed]" the group? Your carelessness with rhetoric is appalling.

Posted by: quarterback1 | March 11, 2011 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Nova, clawrence, scott, sbj, quarterback, lets hear it guys.

Is it OK for Kadaffi to call the first lady a wookie?

Thanks.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | March 11, 2011 11:21 AM | Report abuse

You poor drooling teabaggers -- JimmyDork and the rest of you feebs -- are too stupid to realize, or too gutless to admit, that Hack Thiessen is throwing around the words "Al Qaeda" because it's a dog whistle for you idiots.

Posted by: Observer691 | March 11, 2011 11:24 AM | Report abuse

al-Shabaab is referred to as an "al-Qaeda affiliate(s)" in the Fort Hood report released by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs February 2011.

http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/_files/Fort_Hood/FortHoodReport.pdf

Posted by: sbj3 | March 11, 2011 11:28 AM | Report abuse

@Mike from Arlington

They can't respond to your question because they are busy googling to find some example of a Dem/progressive calling Bush or Laura some bad name....actually they have to stick to George the Stoopid because I've never heard anybody deriding Laura Bush. She is obviously a fine lady who made the sad mistake of falling in love with a dolt.

But at the moment Mike they are all scrambling for their Pee Wee Herman retort..."I know you are but what am I". I exclude NoVA from that group btw...and maybe SBJ..he did at least post the link to Keith Ellison's moving testimony yesterday.

On topic....nice work Adam but sorry I can't get excited.
That's simply because I have ZERO respect for Marc ThIessen.
Can anybody provide a link where Thiessen was EVER correct about foreign policy...EVER? Why should we be surprised that this partisan bed wetter is wrong AGAIN.

Posted by: rukidding7 | March 11, 2011 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Kaddafi said "Wookie Michelle clomping along in her potatoe sack and heels"

Let me guess, that wasn't really a racist comment. It was just a funny joke, *wink* *wink*

Hey so conservatives. Do you think calling the first lady a wookie is OK? Please, lets hear it from you serious conservatives.

He followed up with "I apologize for offending wookies. That was a cheap shot."

Nova, clawrence, scott, sbj, quarterback, lets hear it guys.

Is it OK for Kadaffi to call the first lady a wookie?

Thanks.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | March 11, 2011 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Come on conservatives, do you think making primate jokes about black people is funny?

I assume by the silence, NoVA, clawrence and quarterback agree with Kaddafi.

Lets hear it guys. Or are you all too busy laughing at the idea of the Obama's walking around looking like wookies?

Is that funny to you folks?

Posted by: mikefromArlington | March 11, 2011 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Republicans working to 'keep the fear' alive is not news, it is how they get elected. It is what they do, because conservatives like to be afraid, apparently.

If you want real bad news, you don't have to look far. For example, the Labor Department says the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 20.9 percent.

I remember there were hire a vet programs years ago, maybe there still are, but I don't see them. Maybe they aren't effective anyway. Besides, for that age group, I think the real unemployment rate is around 20% anyway, it is just that it is easier to track vets' employment status than people who either never were or who are no longer registering their search for work.

Posted by: shrink2 | March 11, 2011 11:41 AM | Report abuse

One *might* be able to defend the wookie term (I won't) if it was just on its own, but the potato sack thing definitely makes it a racist remark. And the entire statement is certainly disrespectful and rude.

Posted by: sbj3 | March 11, 2011 11:43 AM | Report abuse

sbj, why even hedge on the wookie remark. Anyone with a lick of sense can safely assume his intention was racism.

Anyways, at least you have the guts to call this cretin out.

Any other of you so called Christian conservatives want to cross the courage line with sbj or can we safely assume you agree with Kaddafi that Michelle Obama is a wookie.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | March 11, 2011 11:48 AM | Report abuse

mike, FWIW I never considered wookies to be monkeys or apes. To me they're just one of a long line of non-earth creatures invented for the Star Wars saga.

I understand why the comment you refer to would be offensive and possibly racist if one thought of wookies in that way, though.

Posted by: MsJS | March 11, 2011 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Where is Kevin these days, if you are there friend, could the Troll Hunter be adapted not just to block a poster, but all mention of, reference to or arguments about a blocked person? Just kidding, I know that isn't possible, somehow, they just keep getting the attention they crave.

Posted by: shrink2 | March 11, 2011 11:54 AM | Report abuse

""mike, FWIW I never considered wookies to be monkeys or apes. To me they're just one of a long line of non-earth creatures invented for the Star Wars saga.""

They certainly look nothing like apes that **I've** ever seen!

*snick*
.

Posted by: jprestonian | March 11, 2011 11:57 AM | Report abuse

sorry mike -- i thought everyone ignored that guy.

come on. of course he's wrong to call the First Lady as wookie.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | March 11, 2011 11:57 AM | Report abuse

The right wing line here appears to be that because Thiessen isn't in the government his irresponsible move to lump this group in with Al Qaeda somehow isn't a problem.

1) Thiessen writes for the Washington Post, a supposed "paper of record"

2) He was obviously influential/important enough to be invited to testify to this Congressional hearing, this isn't some scribble of his on Fredd Hiatt's construction paper page.

3) His comments are now part of the congressional record, his testimony will presumably be published on an official .gov website giving these quotes even more authority.

This all highlights what a farce King's hearings are. Thiessen has no actual expertise on these matters and has a track record as a lying hack who will promote the party line. That is of course the point of why King would invite him, but no credible hearing on the subject of Muslim extremism would bother with the likes of him.

Posted by: Scientician | March 11, 2011 11:57 AM | Report abuse

No, mike and ruk, I'm not going to play your game of "admit X is a racist." Isn't my job.

Besides, I concluded from mike's own comments a long time ago that he's as much of a racist as anyone who frequents (or cameos) here. Heck, ruk isn't much better, with all his Wasilla Hillbilly epithets and the like. I don't take such accusations from you folks seriously.

But why don't you both write us an essay about how the comment is racist. I'm sure everyone is dying to read it.

Posted by: quarterback1 | March 11, 2011 11:57 AM | Report abuse

There is nothing "new," here. This is just normal Republican world view stuff, whether it's Gingrich "explaining" his divorces (who cares!) happened because of his love affair with America, and Huckaby detailing why President Obama was born in Kenya, to Gov. Walker eliminating public employee collective bargaining rights as the panacea for balancing budgets, to House Republicans severely cutting Federal spending to create jobs, blah, blah, blah.... Incredibly, it works and inherently highlights that our school system has "failed" as 50% of our population believe all this as truth.

Posted by: dozas | March 11, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

""Incredibly, it works and inherently highlights that our school system has "failed" as 50% of our population believe all this as truth.""

I don't think it's anywhere near 50%, but even 30% can seem like 70% if they can make enough noise (and be amplified via the media).
.

Posted by: jprestonian | March 11, 2011 12:01 PM | Report abuse

When did Adam become an official spokesperson for al-Shabab?

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | March 11, 2011 12:06 PM | Report abuse

According to the Fort Hood report released by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs February 2011, al-Shabaab is an "al-Qaeda affiliate(s)".

http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/_files/Fort_Hood/FortHoodReport.pdf

Posted by: sbj3 | March 11, 2011 12:06 PM | Report abuse

shrink, the gutless cowardliness on display by those un-Christian like conservatives on here is one thing that ticks me off. Conservatives can rant of racist remarks and other conservatives sit in silence and just say, not my problem. To each his own. I didn't say it so I don't need to comment on it.

It happens time and time again on blogs all over and apart from one or two that have a lick of decency in them, the silence is deafening. I'll drop it for now because it's apparent the bed wetting conservatives on here overwhelmingly won't say something against someone on the same team, even if its racist.

For them, the end justifies the means. Dehumanize the first family as primates and move along. So what if it's highly offensive. To them it means naught and apparently Washington Post doesn't mind the racist remarks either so long as it generates more clicks.

And you can make that two, NoVA joined team decency.

I see qb is still holding onto the I'm with Racist team.

But like I said, right on cue, qb, as I was writing this, said it's not my problem. Typical.

Anyways, I'm done for now. I've made my point.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | March 11, 2011 12:08 PM | Report abuse

dozas - I always find it helpful to remember that half of all people are of below-average intelligence. Well, maybe not so much "helpful" as it only heightens the magnitude of the problem.

Certainly it helps to explain the likes of qb, Kaddafi, claw, skipsailing et al.

Posted by: JennOfArk | March 11, 2011 12:19 PM | Report abuse

[mikey: "Is it OK for Kadaffi to call the first lady a wookie?"]

I have already apologized sincerely for insulting wookies; do I need to show contrition toward the sensitivities of any other StarWars characters?

[sbj3: "the potato sack thing definitely makes it a racist remark."]

What does Michelle's bad taste in attire have to do race?

And if you're going to play race-baiter, what do folks think of mikey "calling a spade a spade"?

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | March 11, 2011 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Or, every time someone says something racist. one could simply post the Haile Selassie quote, made famous by Bob Marley's song...

“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war. And until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation, and until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes. And until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race, there is war. And until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, rule of international morality, will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained, now everywhere is war.”

Posted by: shrink2 | March 11, 2011 12:20 PM | Report abuse

All, my take on whether people really care about the deficit:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2011/03/do_people_care_about_the_defic.html

Posted by: Greg Sargent | March 11, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I would like to know if there any guesses how many short ribs Michelle "Antoinette" Obama toted home for breakfast this morning in her new $1000 handbag?
http://www.whitehousedossier.com/2011/03/10/michelle-obama-sports-1000-handbag/

*Everyone must sacrifice*
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GJX8bXduLM&feature=player_embedded

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | March 11, 2011 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Well, since Kaddafi the racist wants to continue this conversation with encouragement from his friends like qb who see nothing wrong in what he says, I'm left to defend myself.

Kaddafi the racist, only a racist American such as yourself would assume I would be referring to the derogatory term spade. Who's surprised really coming from a racist such as yourself.

So tell me racist boy, did you learn all this from your inbred hillbilly parents who were undoubtedly brother and sister or maybe from your sister/wife? Which one of you inbreeds started the racist trend in your family?

Posted by: mikefromArlington | March 11, 2011 12:26 PM | Report abuse

*Obamateur "Man-Caused Disaster" Update*

BREAKING: France leads, Obama fiddles
http://www.france24.com/en/20110310-France-NTC-national-transitional-council-embassy-Libya

In a major diplomatic victory for the Libyan opposition, France has become the first country to formally recognise Libya’s rebel leadership, pledging to exchange ambassadors between Paris and the Libyan opposition stronghold of Benghazi... Ahead of the Brussels meeting, AFP reported that Sarkozy would propose “targeted airstrikes” in Libya as a way to end the violence.

*Sarkozy Doctrine*

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | March 11, 2011 12:28 PM | Report abuse

[mikey spat: "only a racist American such as yourself would assume I would be referring to the derogatory term spade."]

I merely quoted YOU, mikey. It's right there on the morning plum for all to see. "calling a spade a spade."

By your own analysis, you're a waaaacist!

Try harder to avoid soiling yourself in public.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | March 11, 2011 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I stopped reading anything that torture boy (Thiessen) has to say, when I realized that he will never even admit to condoning torture.

So, I am not surprised that torture boy is still spreading lies. It seems to be in the very DNA of everyone in that administration, and the party that never once opposed it.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | March 11, 2011 12:42 PM | Report abuse

"Conservatives can rant of racist remarks and other conservatives sit in silence and just say, not my problem. To each his own. I didn't say it so I don't need to comment on it."

I'm sure you were all over the Bush=Chimp meme, condemning "your side." You're always the first to police your side. Yeah right.

"I see qb is still holding onto the I'm with Racist team.

But like I said, right on cue, qb, as I was writing this, said it's not my problem. Typical."

No, I said not my job, and I'm not playing your game and taking your "are you a racist" tests.

I don't read most of Kaddafi's (or whatever his names's) posts and couldn't tell you what he his intention was. Nor am I going to speculate.

You're the only person I can recall calling someone a honkey on this blog. Which was in keeping with vein of prejudice that has run through many of your comments. So don't try to tell me about who else is a racist on Plumline.

Posted by: quarterback1 | March 11, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

"So tell me racist boy, did you learn all this from your inbred hillbilly parents who were undoubtedly brother and sister or maybe from your sister/wife? Which one of you inbreeds started the racist trend in your family?"

Yeah, there's good old mikefromarlington, the policer of racism. Just like old times.

Posted by: quarterback1 | March 11, 2011 12:51 PM | Report abuse

"dozas - I always find it helpful to remember that half of all people are of below-average intelligence."

Just a wild guess, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that half includes someone who says "I don't know squat about X, but I know someone whose job is X is a parasite on society and produces nothing."

Lololol

Posted by: quarterback1 | March 11, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

@qb: Mikey is clearly experiencing severe withdrawal. Greg hasn't cooked any heroine for his toadies' Palin-hater fix.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | March 11, 2011 12:55 PM | Report abuse

mike (and ruk):

"Do you think calling the first lady a wookie is OK? Please, lets hear it from you serious conservatives."

I think it is about as "OK" as calling someone on this board "subhuman" or a "parasite" or any number of other dehumanizing insults that various people on the left here routinely sling at those of us on the right, sans of course any comment from the likes of you. (Or even, in the case of ruk, with active encouragement if not outright agreement.)

Posted by: ScottC3 | March 11, 2011 1:01 PM | Report abuse

" think it is about as "OK" as calling someone on this board "subhuman" or a "parasite" or any number of other dehumanizing insults that various people on the left here routinely sling at those of us on the right,"

Nice try, troll, but "parasite" in fact is one of the favorite teabagger insults to throw at public-sector union members.

Better luck next time.

Posted by: Observer691 | March 11, 2011 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Observer:

""..."parasite" in fact is one of the favorite teabagger insults to throw at public-sector union members.""

Whether or not that is true is entirely irrelevant to my claim...that it is an insult that has been routinely thrown around by mike's (and yours, I guess) comrades here on this board. So my point stands.

BTW, you will search in vain (either here or anywhere else) looking for an instance in which I have called another person a "parasite". Would you like me to direct you to a post in which I have been called such? Today? By someone here on this board? Who is an avowed liberal?

Let me know.

Posted by: ScottC3 | March 11, 2011 2:50 PM | Report abuse

mikefromArlington, it is as OK for Kadaffi to call her a wookie as it was for you to call George W. Bush a chimp. Apart from that, it's not my job to police either of you.

Posted by: clawrence12 | March 11, 2011 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Al Shabaab may in someway be active in recruitment in the USA, but I doubt it. King should be helping the people of East Africa who face a real danger from Al Shabaab. Kenyans, Ugandans, and Somalians have already suffered from Al Shabaab attacks. Sub-Saharan Africa have many active terrorist groups and they are not equip to combat them and get little help from the west. For on-going discussions of Africa's terrorist groups see www.terrorisminafrica.com

Posted by: Chowning | March 11, 2011 6:07 PM | Report abuse

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