Is there anybody left in al Qaeda to kill? Yesterday we killed Abu Yahya al-Libi, its "number two leader," and last year we killed its number one leader, and it seems like we've killed the number three leader at least three times.
Of course, that's the problem: al Qaeda keeps filling these abruptly vacated positions. There have been lots of jokes about this, but a "senior US official" apparently had a straight face when he told the Washington Post, "This would be a major blow to 'core' al-Qaeda, removing the No. 2 leader twice in less than a year." Yes, either a major blow to al Qaeda or a testament to the futility of President Obama's approach to fighting terrorism.
Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation goes with the former interpretation. He writes that "the terrorist group that launched the 9/11 attacks is now more or less out of business."
Bergen knows a ton more about al Qaeda than I do (and is a friend), so I won't disagree too forcefully with that assessment. But I will say that, if he's right, it doesn't matter much. Even if al Qaeda per se goes out of business, this killing won't have made us much safer in the long run and may have made us less safe.
Why? Because the war on terrorism is like the war on drugs. We keep locking up drug dealers, but the demand for drugs is so strong, and selling them so lucrative, that there's always someone to fill the imprisoned drug dealer's shoes. Even if we put a whole drug-selling gang out of business--let's call it the al Qaeda of cocaine--a new drug distribution network will emerge.