Feature

Al Qaida: The diminishing threat

Talk about a reversal of fortune, said Joby Warrick in The Washington Post. In 2006, the CIA gloomily concluded that the Iraq war had been

Talk about a reversal of fortune, said Joby Warrick in The Washington Post. In 2006, the CIA gloomily concluded that the Iraq war had been “a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al Qaida,” inspiring “legions of volunteers” to join the jihad against the invading Western infidels. But last week, CIA Director Michael Hayden offered a “strikingly upbeat” reassessment. Al Qaida, he said, has been defeated in Iraq, and is on the defensive in the rest of the world, with its leadership hemmed in and facing growing threats along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Most important of all, many intelligence experts say, is that Osama bin Laden’s organization “is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world.” The tide turned, apparently, when al Qaida terrorists began murdering thousands of Muslim civilians in Iraq. “One of the lessons we can draw from the past two years,” said former CIA counterterrorism official Robert Grenier, “is that al Qaida is its own worst enemy.”

It may be true that “al Qaida is in bad shape,” said Peter Brookes in the New York Post, but “the bad guys could bounce back.” With its central organization crippled, al Qaida’s surviving leadership has turned to churning out sophisticated Internet propaganda and cultivating homegrown plotters in target countries such as Britain, France, Germany, and Spain. It’s a worrisome trend, said Daniel Benjamin in Slate.com. In the past two years, European authorities have broken up several major terrorist conspiracies, including a plot to blow up seven commercial jets over the Atlantic. Meanwhile, half a world away, jihadists continue to harass U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan; inside Pakistan, they launched a record 56 suicide attacks in 2007 alone.

Still, facts are facts, said John Hinderaker in the New York Post. Since 2003, al Qaida–led attacks on the U.S. and its overseas interests have dwindled remarkably. “Something clearly has made us safer.” Credit President Bush’s war on terrorism. By crushing al Qaida in Afghanistan, the U.S. has eliminated its primary base of operations. Thanks to intensive interrogation techniques, the CIA forced al Qaida leaders to reveal much of their command structure, severely weakening the group. And by designating Iraq as the front line in the war on terror, Bush invited al Qaida into a direct confrontation, where it was decimated by the superior firepower and numbers of U.S. and Iraqi troops. That’s quite an accomplishment, said Thane Rosenbaum in The Wall Street Journal. “And yet President Bush is regarded as the worst president in American history? Sorry, I must be missing something here.”

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