January 25, 2009 12:53PM

Saying Nothing Gives Obama the Upper Hand

A terrific Washington Post article on Al-Qaeda’s reaction to Barack Obama features Paul Pillar of Georgetown, who chaired one of the panels in our recent conference on counterterrorism strategy.

The article, titled “To Combat Obama, Al‐​Qaeda Hurls Insults” is a great window into the rhetorical battle that terrorists seek with their opponents.

Al-Qaeda’s leaders are desperately trying to paint the United States during an Obama Administration as equivalent to the United States during a Bush Administration. Among audiences close to them ideologically and physically, they must maintain the narrative that our country is a font of evil. If they don’t, they’ll lose people’s interest, they’ll lose recruits, and they’ll lose support.

At the conference (video and audio available here), Marc Sageman observed how confounded by Obama the conversations on jihadi Web sites have been. It just doesn’t square with their thesis about the United States to have the grandson of a Kenyan goatherd become president.

The right response to the epithets Al‐​Qaeda lobs is nothing. Al-Qaeda’s virulence toward Obama would be rewarded if it drew the U.S. president out, and comment from any high official would confirm the importance of that group to the audiences Al‐​Qaeda is trying to influence.