A brief blog by a powerful media personality, employed by one of the world's largest news corporations, on 9/11, offers an simple example of information warfare in the modern world.
In a post titled "Al-Qaeda diminished, but not gone," Fareed Zakaria claims that the network began its downward trajectory soon after America and its allies' organized a global reaction, and now functions as a "shadow of its former self." The overall conclusion is reasonably argued: a combination of government actions and social factors depleted al-Qaeda's core of trained jihadists and stained its ideology. The Arab revolutions in particular have undercut al-Qaeda's "defense" of the Muslim Umma and further alienated the group from the Arab world's marginalized populations.
However the presence of overt propaganda reveals a wider agenda at work, one that thrives on Zakaria's personality and CNN's information warfare. None of his questionable statements can be conclusively proven or disproven, making them ideal fodder for propaganda. Although al-Qaeda's brand appears to be diminishing over time, an alternative scenario can be plausibly reasoned between the extremes of triumph and defeat. Al-Qaeda is no longer its former self, not just a shadow, and its branched structure has diversified in the decade after 9/11. Some states have been lost while others have been gained. Osama bin Laden never managed to bring down the American economy (his strategy only enriched the powerful) or secure an Islamic caliphate of his own, but northern Mali is starting to resemble his vision.
al-Qaeda is still fighting in Iraq and infecting Syria in the process.
As for U.S. policy in the Gulf, its Saudi-coordinated counterrevolution is feeding al-Qaeda's ideology rather than starving it; genuine support for self-determination in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria would have dealt a more severe blow. Instead the Obama administration plans to destroy the group by facilitating a pro-US government in Yemen, creating an impression that will nourish AQAP through the government's U.S.-supported campaign. The Obama administration is also sluggish to respond to Libya's aftermath, which is partly responsible for Mali's situation, and bases its policy in the Sahel on the support of an totalitarian Algerian government.
The Trench is simply pointing out the difficulty of judging al-Qaeda's long-term objectives and lifespan. Zakaria does clarify that "these signs of life from al-Qaeda do not change the central reality of its diminished potency," only to concede "the danger of al-Qaeda was always about more than scattered violence in far off places across the globe."
Another questionable statement is admittedly subject to opinion, but a prime example of Washington's insular connectivity. Having concluded that al-Qaeda poses less of a threat to America's national security than ever before, he speculates "that there may now be a danger of complacency." No such complacency appears to exist, though, as U.S. drones and commandos hunt al-Qaeda behind a tuned chorus of political rhetoric. Zakaria then cites former CIA analyst and current Obama adviser Bruce Riedel as his "serious expert" when acknowledging the above observations: "al-Qaeda has been able to reconstitute itself in places like Yemen, Somalia, and even Mali. The Pakistani connection remains strong. And the growing chaos in Syria has presented the group with an opportunity to make inroads there as well."
Riedel is one the administration's louder al-Qaeda watch dogs, providing shallow commentary on Mali for The National Interest and supporting Washington's counterrevolution in Yemen. One insider appealing to another turns the gears of propaganda.
A final discrepancy, however, centers on a factual lie. With Yemen, Mali and other "worrying signs" in mind, Zakaria "naturally hopes that the U.S. government is battling al-Qaeda wherever it can." He sees hope in reports "that the second-in-command of al-Qaeda in Yemen was killed by government forces," when a U.S. drone strike is the more likely culprit. This information has yet to be verified but Zakaria makes no attempt to examine the situation, nor does he refer to the previous strike in Yemen that killed 14 civilians. al-Qaeda cannot be defeated so long as it trades injustices with America.
The aura of 9/11 isn't needed to cover these propaganda tracks from the majority of Americans. Any day will do.