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Why defeating the Taliban is key to stopping Al Qaeda

Only in Afghanistan and Pakistan have we seen jihadism actually take root in large numbers.

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Sophisticated critics of sending more US troops to fight the Taliban argue that the group is not as central a threat to American national security as Al Qaeda.

Yet, for Al Qaeda operationally, there is nothing more important now than the Taliban wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

To start with, the critics are undoubtedly correct in underscoring Afghanistan's near-irrelevance, and thus lack of influence, in the development of modern Muslim thought as well as the central importance of Arabs to Al Qaeda. I can't think of a single Afghan intellectual who has shaped either Sunni or Shiite militancy.

To be sure, the Arab world's dysfunctional efforts to come to grips with modernity created the pestilence that struck us on 9/11 and has slaughtered so many Muslims – especially in Iraq. And it's a decent bet that the slow evanescence of jihadism as a vibrant religious calling among Sunni Arabs – assuming it continues – will be the death knell for jihadists globally.

Unless Al Qaeda is able to reignite Sunni-Shiite strife in Iraq – and the odds of this happening seem pretty small – Sunni jihadism has lost the Iraq war, and with it, cross your fingers, the Arabs.

Mesopotamia really was the central front in the war on terror because it was the only military theater Al Qaeda and its allies had in the Arab world. Drive out the Americans, unleash a Sunni-Shiite bloodbath that just might bring Sunni Arab states and Iran into a bloody cold – ideally hot – war, and Sunni Islamic militancy might just shake the region.

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