Since 2007, the number of attacks by al Qaeda and its affiliates has risen nearly tenfold, with violence levels highest in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Somalia. Unlike a decade ago, core al Qaeda has been involved in very few plots, but its branches have more than made up the difference. Between 2012 and 2013, both al Qaeda in Iraq and the Syria-Civil-War-born Jabhat al-Nusra quadrupled their attacks.
This war is real and metastasizing, as the Arab world continues on its rough road to what might be modernity. And I should reiterate one lesson I draw from this. Our previous tactics – invasion, occupation and torture – clearly failed. Drones have become a two-edged sword in terms of fomenting as much terror as they might destroy. We’re left with domestic security, which means to say the NSA. I worry almost as much as some others about the potential for abuse in this country’s vast intelligence and spying networks. But they exist for a reason; and they are primarily defensive. They exploit our core advantage over Islamist mass-murderers: our technological superiority. In this long war, which will wax and wane as the Arab and Muslim world grows and adapts, a better-monitored and better safe-guarded NSA is our friend and not our enemy.