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White House: Zawahiri is an “armchair general” and “soft”

The Obama administration would like you to know it doesn’t have much respect for al Qaeda’s new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and thinks he’s an "armchair general" with a "soft" image. Al Qaeda released a statement today announcing that Zawahri, the Egyptian-born jihadist who was Osama bin Laden‘s longtime deputy, "has assumed the responsibility of the ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

The Obama administration would like you to know it doesn't have much respect for al Qaeda's new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and thinks he's an "armchair general" with a "soft" image.

Al Qaeda released a statement today announcing that Zawahri, the Egyptian-born jihadist who was Osama bin Laden's longtime deputy, "has assumed the responsibility of the leadership of the group." A senior administration official quickly sent out talking points to reporters belittling the terrorist leader, saying he has no charisma, poor skills, and can't hold a candle to his dead predecessor.

The Obama administration would like you to know it doesn’t have much respect for al Qaeda’s new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and thinks he’s an "armchair general" with a "soft" image.

Al Qaeda released a statement today announcing that Zawahri, the Egyptian-born jihadist who was Osama bin Laden‘s longtime deputy, "has assumed the responsibility of the leadership of the group." A senior administration official quickly sent out talking points to reporters belittling the terrorist leader, saying he has no charisma, poor skills, and can’t hold a candle to his dead predecessor.

"The number two, Zawahiri is not charismatic," Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan said in a post-Osama mission press conference. "He has not been — was not involved in the fight earlier on in Afghanistan… and I think he has a lot of detractors within the organization. And I think you’re going to see them start eating themselves from within more and more."

The senior administration official sent out these additional talking points this morning about Zawahiri, each more insulting than the last.

– He hasn’t demonstrated strong leadership or organizational skills during his time in al Qaeda or previously while in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

– His ascension to the top leadership spot will likely generate criticism if not alienation and dissention with al Qaeda.

– Unlike many of al Qaeda’s top members, Zawahiri has not had actual combat experience, instead opting to be an armchair general with a "soft" image.

– No matter who is in charge, he will have a difficult time leading al Qaeda while focusing on his own survival as the group continues to hemorrhage key members responsible for planning and training operatives for terrorist attacks.

And here’s the kicker:

– The bottom line is that Zawahiri has nowhere near the credentials that Osama bin Laden had.

Ouch.

 

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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