Whether al Qaeda is in its third decade or third century matters little to its leaders, who see the current conflict as the continuation of centuries of armed struggle between believers and infidels, and who expect it to transcend their lifetimes.
Lack of Consensus on al Qaeda's Current Condition
- Al Qaeda's operational capabilities have been reduced.
- The architects of 9/11 have been captured or killed.
- Al Qaeda today is far more decentralized than it was ten years ago and far more dependent on its autonomous field commands, its affiliates, its allies, and its ability to inspire homegrown terrorists.
The Arab Spring
- The street protests that sparked uprisings across North Africa and continue in the Middle East are changing the political landscape. The turmoil offers al Qaeda some immediate opportunities, but for the long run, it is not clear how these events will affect either al Qaeda or U.S. counterterrorist efforts.
Al Qaeda's Perception
- Al Qaeda sees itself engaged in an existential struggle with Western infidels determined to destroy m"Hammedism.
- Al Qaeda sees Great Satan as weakened economically and weary of a costly war — as the Soviet Union was before its withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent collapse.
- Al Qaeda believes that its superior spiritual commitment will eventually defeat America's superior military technology.
of these seems likely in the current contest with al Qaeda. It is easier to see how the conflict
could persist for decades.
This has persuaded some to argue for unilaterally declaring an end to the “war” against a severely weakened terrorist foe. It would not end all U.S. counterterrorist efforts, but it would alter perceptions at home and signal a reduction in the military component of the effort abroad, while preventing the expansion of a military role in domestic security.
At the same time, such a declaration would raise questions about the status of the enemy combatants who remain in U.S. custody and the use of lethal force against enemy commanders
and militants abroad.
What Americans may really be seeking is the official termination of terror. This cannot be delivered by counterterrorist operations. It is a mission of all Americans and their leaders.