The Cable
The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

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 ...

By , a former staff writer at Foreign Policy.
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 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 is a former staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

Children are hooked up to IV drips on the stairs at a children's hospital in Beijing.
Children are hooked up to IV drips on the stairs at a children's hospital in Beijing.

Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak

Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.

Henry Kissinger during an interview in Washington in August 1980.
Henry Kissinger during an interview in Washington in August 1980.

Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage

The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.

A Ukrainian soldier in helmet and fatigues holds a cell phone and looks up at the night sky as an explosion lights up the horizon behind him.
A Ukrainian soldier in helmet and fatigues holds a cell phone and looks up at the night sky as an explosion lights up the horizon behind him.

The West’s False Choice in Ukraine

The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.

Illustrated portraits of Reps. MIke Gallagher, right, and Raja Krishnamoorthi
Illustrated portraits of Reps. MIke Gallagher, right, and Raja Krishnamoorthi

The Masterminds

Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.