Bin Laden, Beaten and Broken?

Support for Al Qaeda is dropping in countries it considers home, yet Bin Laden still walks free. Commentators debate what it means going forward.

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Commentators are reacting to a new report showing that support for al-Qaeda and its tactics have dropped in terror hotbeds around the world. With some tentatively hailing this as the end of "Global Jihad," several key questions remain: Where in the world is Osama bin Laden? Why hasn't he been apprehended? And how necessary is it to keep up the pursuit?

Hailing the Demise of Al-Qaeda

  • 'Al-Qaeda Has Failed'   So claims Tony Karon in Time's lead story for the day. Citing projections that claim al-Qaeda's membership is dropping, Karon makes the case that a combination of local intelligence work and popular resentment within al-Qaeda's base countries have marginalized the organization since 9/11. As he writes: "Not even another 9/11-scale terror attack would succeed in launching al-Qaeda's revolution ... History marches on without them." The security-focused McClatchy blog Nukes & Spooks breathes a sigh of relief: "Even as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq rage on, it's nice to have a bit of good news as we prepare to honor the victims of 9/11 and their families."
  • With Friends Like These...  A Guardian report on the present state of al-Qaeda further validates Karon's assessment. The piece contends that the terror-network's international networking efforts are weakening, increasing the possibility of capturing bin Laden: "The most significant recent development is evidence that al-Qaida's alliance with the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan is fraying, boosting the prospect of acquiring intelligence that will lead to Bin Laden's capture or death."
  • Fears Dispelled  Spencer Ackerman reacts to the Guardian piece by recollecting and refuting the urgent, dire predictions made by counter-terror officials in the aftermath of 9/11: "I remember Richard Clarke saying something like hitting al-Qaeda in 2001 was like smashing a seed pod -- it actually spread the seeds outward, allowing them to germinate. But what if it turns out that the soil just isn't fertile any longer?"
  • Time to Go Home  Democracy Arsenal's Michael Cohen also references the Guardian story to make his case that with al-Qaeda on the retreat, the U.S. should also be pulling its force out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later: "If al Qaeda is having a hard time finding new recruits is a long-term US military intervention in Afghanistan going to help or hinder that process?  I tend to think it plays right into AQ's hands, just as nearly everyone agrees the Iraq war did great things for the organization's recruitment efforts."

What To Do About bin Laden?

  • So Where Is He?, asks CNN's Peter Bergen. Irritated and dismayed that the Obama Administration continues the Bush failure to apprehend bin Laden, he reviews the hunt on his own and discovers that recent videos of the stealthy leader show him looking healthy and clean, not at all what one would expect from someone is supposedly cornered in a cave. Bergen is cautiously optimistic about the prospects for success, but is wary of bin Laden's legacy: "Should bin Laden be captured or killed, that would probably trigger a succession battle within al Qaeda...Yet the ideological movement that he helped spawn -- 'Binladenism' -- will live on long after he is gone."
  • Still a Threat, cautions an analysis piece from the Strategy Page. The writer examines the continuing radicalization within Pakistani political and security organizations, the very same ones relied upon by the U.S. for support in the fight against al-Qaeda, observing that bin Laden continues to inspire: "Osama bin Laden remains a hero to many Pakistanis, because Osama 'stuck it to the man.' Can’t forget that aspect of all this. The 'East' has been getting stomped by the 'West' for several centuries now. People in the West think nothing of it, but those in the East are obsessed by this lengthy humiliation. Any payback is appreciated, and September 11, 2001 has become something of a guilty pleasure throughout the Moslem [sic] world."
  • Walking The Talk  Analysts quoted by Larry Hertz make the case that while the capture of bin Laden isn't especially critical to U.S. counter-terror efforts as a whole, it remains important on another, more symbolic level: "Killing or capturing him would benefit the United States politically. 'It's a matter of national pride.'"
  • Give Peace a Chance  At the pacifist blog Antiwar, Jason Ditz isn't comforted by the fact that bin Laden is still on the the lamb, but he takes it as proof positive that force just isn't capable of getting the job done. "Bin Laden and his organization appear quite capable of launching attacks, and to the extent that perception remains he will likely continue to loom large in foreign policy discussions. At the same time, it seems that nearly a decade of American warfare focused at least ostensibly around him has done little good, and created many new problems across the world."

Updated, Mon. Sept. 14, 8:46 a.m. A new audio-recording of a voice claiming to be Osama Bin Laden was released on Sunday, Sept. 13. The speaker condemns American "neoconservatives" and the "Israel lobby," and issues a vague threat to attack the U.S. in the coming "years and decades."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.