Consider this historical analogy. Once Hitler took power he dismantled the storm troopers, even killing their leaders, because he didn’t need them any more. The Bolsheviks wiped out the anarchists and the Social Revolutionary Party which had committed so much terrorism in earlier years. Lenin’s own brother was a terrorist who was executed by the Czarist regime. When Lenin took power, terrorism of the old type disappeared. There was only, as in Nazi Germany, state repression.
And state repression, according to the way the Obama administration sees things, is real progress.
The Muslim Brotherhood goes nowhere near that far. The Salafist groups are still quite useful for indoctrinating citizens and intimidating opponents. When you want Christians taught a lesson, women put down, an embassy stormed, or an Islamist constitution passed, the Salafists provide wonderful and when necessary deniable service.
Here is an important principle in studying the politics of this contemporary era: violence (including terrorism) is not the main measure of radicalism. Instead, the way to judge the extremism of a group is the organization’s ideology, goals, and seriousness in seeking total victory. Strategic and tactical flexibility should be taken into account, but do not mitigate the threat posed by the objective toward which any political force is striving.
Finally, the bottom line is different from what both sides of the debate have claimed: ironically, the United States has a counterterrorist policy, but it does not have a national security strategy.
It has a way of reducing anti-American terrorism — let or even help Islamists seize power — but does not realize that anti-American regimes are far more dangerous than a bunch of guys in caves.
If terrorism was ever merely a law enforcement issue, that is certainly true today in terms of al-Qaeda. Instead, what the Obama administration has done is like trying to reduce crime by turning over cities to the Mafia, letting it make the laws and run the police and court systems.