A quick, macro look at the US conundrum in the Middle East vis a vis al Qaeda:

Obama’s presidency is the most problematic quandary for al Qaeda since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.  Al Qaeda’s strategy has been to draw the US into a debilitating, costly struggle, which was easy to do during the Bush years.  Obama is likely to bring a more coherent vision of the world and act more competently than his predecessor.   And he will be more difficult to demonize.  Simply put, the US/al Qaeda standoff, as it is,  is won by strategy, not tactics.  And the US has an interest in recognizing that its moral position is a strategic asset.

In this piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Cynthia Tucker makes the point that almost every serious analyst has been making for at least the last 5 years–that George W. Bush and the Global War on Terror is the best recruiting tool al Qaeda has ever possessed.  (I probably could’ve/should’ve found a better article by a more serious analyst in a more serious venue, but that’s besides the point, really.)  Even the CIA said as much in an NIE released a few years back.  It was widely accepted that the OBL video that came out just before the 2004 election was an “October Surprise”, directed by al Qaeda with the intent to help re-elect George W. Bush.  And Peter Berger and Paul Cruikshank did a serious study of the Iraq war’s effect on Jihadist terrorism worldwide, showing the symbiotic relationship al Qaeda-inspired terrorism had found with Bush’s global war on terrorism.

Zawahiri’s new video seems to be an attempt to redirect the propaganda war between al Qaeda and the US, an attempt to make sure Sunni extremists see that, yes, the US is still the great satan.  I’m thinking Obama in a yarmulke is less effective an image for al Qaeda as Dubya doing anything.

It’s looking as if a Status of Forces Agreement can be achieved in Iraq, and it looks like the Iraqi Parliament will be able to force a US withdrawal by 2011 at the absolute latest.

Add to this the inevitable closure of the US prison complex at Guantanamo Bay and you have what appears to be a series of strategic victories in the US struggle with al Qaeda, which it has been lacking since 2001.