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Al-Qaeda Is (Almost) Finished

If this Guardian piece is even 50 percent correct, al-Qaeda faces a recruiting crisis, ideological bankruptcy and capabilities deficit so severe that its entire viability is questioned. This is a death spiral:

Amid a mood of cautious optimism, some experts talk of a “tipping point” in the fight against al-Qaida. Others argue that only Bin Laden’s death will bring significant change. But most agree that the failure to carry out spectacular mass attacks in the west since the 2005 London bombings has weakened the group’s “brand appeal” and power to recruit.

“In order to stay relevant al-Qaida have to prove themselves capable and they haven’t been able to do that,” said Norwegian scholar Brynjar Lia.

Popular sympathy, which drained away because of sectarian killings in Iraq, has dwindled further this year. In Saudi Arabia, according to a recent intelligence report, 60-70% of information about al-Qaida suspects now comes from relatives, friends and neighbours, not from security agencies or surveillance.

Indeed, this was the consensus from last year’s New America Foundation conference on counterterrorism: al-Qaeda is a spent force. I recall Peter Bergen, who knows as much about al-Qaeda as any U.S. analyst, predicting that it would cease to exist within the next five years. According to the Guardian, which admittedly may be too optimistic, the core al-Qaeda in Waziristan could be as few as six people. If we kill them, and if they can’t find someone to take their place, and if they can’t recruit, congratulations, America: war is over, we win. And this was the organization we used to think of as a generational enemy. So much for the “Long War” or whatever.

But even if the Guardian is only 50 percent right, is it necessary to pursue, for instance, a second escalation of combat troops this year in Afghanistan, if the goal is to destroy safe havens across the Pakistani border for a handful of dudes who can’t attract competent recruits any more? So much of bipartisan U.S. strategy has rested on the presumption — and committed such overwhelming blood and treasure — that these people are an overwhelming security threat. Now they just look pathetic. Will our habits force us to implicitly inflate their danger?

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