Is Al Qaeda Finished? No, Really

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James Fallows no doubt wishes his Atlantic piece (you can’t read it here–subscription required) on why it’s time to declare the war on terror over (because we won) had run, oh, just about any other time. But timing isn’t everything, and Fallows–one of a vanishingly small number of big-name journalists who actually bother to go out and talk to people–impressively lays out what most people who follow Al Qaeda have been trying to say for some time (and are still saying in the wake of the London plot): Al Qaeda as the group that masterminded 9/11 hasn’t existed since the war in Afghanistan, since its top operatives were killed or driven into hiding, since it lost the ability to freely communicate via cell phones or the Internet, to transfer money over international financial networks, etc. What exists now, as Peter Bergen’s Mother Jones story on “The Wrong War” noted some time ago, is a loose confederation nominally inspired by the occasional Osama or al-Zawahiri tape, but mostly proceeding on the Environmental Liberation Front model (no overall comparison intended) of like-minded cells that claim affiliation with an ideological brand when it suits them. The problem is that thanks to current U.S. policy in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, that unstructured network is growing larger and stronger every day, even in spite of its own mistakes (such as killing large numbers of Muslim civilians). Which is why Fallows is right: It’s time to stop. Not stop going after terrorists, which is what the Brits were doing in investigating bomb plotters, but stop the “war” (meaning what, exactly?) on “terror” (ditto), and move on to what might actually make the world more secure.

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