Center for Strategic Communication

by ZS Justus

A recent audio recording from al-Qaeda #2 Zawahiri sends a series of “messages” to President-elect Barack Obama. News outlets have quickly grabbed one of the more provocative excerpts from the recording, Zawahiri’s labeling of Obama as a “house negro.” Several blogs have followed suit including hotair, gateway pundit, commentary magazine, the moderate voice, and right voices among others. I suppose the desire to label someone a “racist” is just too much to resist, but I want to urge readers to move beyond the obvious in considering the content of Zawahiri’s message. After all, are there really people out there who thought that Zawahiri was a-okay, but now that he has been exposed as a racist they are reconsidering their views? This idea that Zawahiri is a racist is not exactly news seeing as how his organization is interested in killing as many ethnic Jews as possible.

What seems to be lost on the mainstream media and many bloggers alike is that Ayman al-Zawahiri’s condemnation of Obama is based largely on policy considerations in Afghanistan. For instance, Zawahiri comments, “what you’ve announced about how you’re going to reach an understanding with Iran and pull your troops out of Iraq to send them to Afghanistan is a policy which was destined for failure before it was born.” The significant take-away from Zawahiri’s message is that he appears completely out of touch with most Muslim’s who overwhelmingly favored Obama in the last election (three to one in Palestine among those responding). Granted, some key areas like Pakistan, expressed disinterest in the election, but reporting populations in five different Muslim nations all favored Obama.

This is a strategic communication blunder by Zawahiri. The strongest arguments made by al-Qaeda have always relied on the concrete actions of the United States. Misguided as they were, these arguments were persuasive to many people who had been negatively affected by US foreign policy. Ridiculing the new American President before any concrete action has been taken runs the risk of eroding existing support for al-qaeda among local communities, many of whom seem moderatley hopeful about a new direction in US foreign policy. And opponents of terrorism we should be encouraged by this new message from Zawahiri because in his desire to keep al-Qaeda relevant he has rushed into a strategic communication blunder that could have serious negative implications for the support of organization itself.