Time to declare victory:  al Qaeda is defeated (Opinion)
June 27th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Time to declare victory: al Qaeda is defeated (Opinion)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of opinion articles about national security by participants in the upcoming Aspen Security Forum. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event which is taking place from July 25-28 in Aspen, Colorado.

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst

To end World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin demanded an unconditional surrender from the Nazis.  But there will be no such surrender from al Qaeda. The group is not a state that is capable of entering into such an agreement, even if it wanted to do so, which seems highly unlikely.

So we are left with a choice:  We can continue fighting al Qaeda indefinitely and remain in a permanent state of quasi-war, as has already been the case for more than a decade now.

Or we can declare victory against the group and move on to focus on the essential challenges now facing America, notably the country's sputtering economy, but also containing a rising China, managing the rogue regime in North Korea, continuing to delay Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons, and - to the extent feasible - helping to direct the maturation of the Arab Spring.

The case for declaring victory over al Qaeda takes two forms.  First, there are al Qaeda's own myriad weaknesses that make the group's offensive capabilities rather puny. Second, there is the vast increase in the capacity of the U.S. national security industrial complex since 9/11, which makes America's defenses quite strong.

Consider some of al Qaeda's obvious weaknesses:

- According to reliable press reports, CIA drones have killed 28 al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Yemen since U.S. President Barack Obama took office. During the George W. Bush administration, roughly a dozen leaders of the group were also killed in drone strikes.

- As a result, al Qaeda has one senior leader left, Ayman al-Zawahiri, a black hole of charisma who took over the group after the death of Osama bin Laden. He inherited the Blockbuster Video of global jihad and has done nothing to resuscitate it. (Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian military commander of the group, who might make a more effective leader of al Qaeda, seems to have gone to ground.)

- Al Qaeda hasn't conducted a successful attack in the West since the bombings on London's transportation system seven years ago that killed 52 commuters. And the terrorist group, of course, hasn't carried out an attack in the States since 9/11.

- Even terrorists influenced by al Qaeda-like ideas have only killed 17 people in the United States since 9/11.  About the same number of Americans are killed every year by dogs. In other words, in the United States during the past decade, dogs have been around ten times more deadly than jihadist terrorists.

- Polling data from across the Muslim world in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and Turkey indicate that support for al Qaeda has plummeted.

- Al Qaeda played no role in the Arab Spring and hasn't been able to exploit in any meaningful way the most significant development in the Middle East since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

- Bin Laden's death was greeted by only minor protests in the Muslim world.

At the same time that al Qaeda has weakened considerably, the United States has built up formidable defenses against the terrorist group and its allies.

- On 9/11, there were 16 people on the "no fly" list. Now there are more than 20,000.

- In 2001, there were just a handful of Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF), "fusion centers" where multiple law enforcement agencies work together to chase down leads to build terrorism cases. Now there are more than one hundred JTTFs across the country.

- A decade ago, the National Counterterrorism Center, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) didn't exist.  All of these new institutions make it much harder for terrorists to operate in the United States.

- Before 9/11, Special Operations Forces were rarely deployed against al Qaeda and allied groups.  Now they perform some dozen operations every day in Afghanistan, as well as many other missions in countries such as Yemen and Somalia.

- At the beginning of the 21st century, the American public didn't comprehend the threat posed by jihadist terrorists.  That changed dramatically after the attacks on New York and Washington.  In December 2001, it was passengers on his plane who disabled the "shoe bomber," Richard Reid.  Similarly, eight years later it was his fellow passengers who tackled Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the "underwear bomber."  And the following year it was a street vendor who spotted a suspicious SUV parked in Times Square that contained a bomb.

- Before 9/11 the CIA and the FBI barely communicated about their respective investigations of terrorist groups. Now they work together quite closely.

Some may counter that while "al Qaeda central" is indeed on the ropes in Pakistan, regional affiliates of al Qaeda in countries such as Yemen and Somalia continue to pose a real threat, as do terrorist groups inspired by bin Laden's ideas, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan.

Certainly, since 2009 the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has attempted to bring down American airliners and cargo planes flying to the United States with hard-to-detect bombs, but those plots all failed, and once the talented bomb-maker behind them is captured or killed the threat to the United States from AQAP will likely recede.

Meanwhile, al Qaeda's Somali affiliate has never targeted the United States, nor has Boko Haram or Lashkar-e-Taiba. (Lashkar did attack an American-Jewish community center in Mumbai in 2008, but since then it has not attacked a U.S. target anywhere.)

It is hard for any American politician to say definitively that al Qaeda is defeated because the political costs of a subsequent, even relatively small, successful attack against the United States attributable to al Qaeda or an allied group would be very high.  And since 9/11, both al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban have tried to launch attacks in Manhattan that could have killed dozens if they hadn't been averted.

Nonetheless, the Obama administration is going about as far as it can go to underline the fact that the threat from al Qaeda is essentially over.  A year ago, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta predicted: "We're within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda."  And on the first anniversary of bin Laden's death, Obama similarly observed: "The goal that I set - to defeat al Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild - is now within our reach."

To win World War II, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin did not feel it necessary to kill every Nazi. We should not impose a higher standard in the battle against al Qaeda.

Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst, is a director at the New America Foundation and the author of the new book, "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden - From 9/11 to Abbottabad."

soundoff (162 Responses)
  1. Dominica Kooser

    I am continuously browsing online for posts that can facilitate me. Thx!


    March 4, 2021 at 10:46 am | Reply
  2. Pamala Doughton

    I am writing to let you know of the helpful encounter my wife's daughter obtained reading through your web page. She discovered some issues, which included what it is like to have a very effective helping nature to get others completely gain knowledge of selected grueling subject matter. You undoubtedly surpassed my expected results. Thanks for showing those useful, safe, educational and as well as unique tips about that topic to Sandra.


    March 4, 2021 at 10:04 am | Reply
  3. Fjjufiple

    buy viagra without prescription who makes viagra how much does the military spend on viagra

    March 2, 2021 at 11:58 pm | Reply
  4. ClarkClurn

    6ehh7 olwqe mxj1

    March 1, 2021 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  5. Portal Cukrzyków

    A good and thoughtful post, lets have more like this please!


    March 1, 2021 at 12:10 am | Reply
  6. 강남안마

    Wonderful blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News.
    Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News?
    I've been trying for a while but I never seem to get
    there! Appreciate it

    Feel free to visit my web page :: 강남안마

    February 28, 2021 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  7. ClarkClurn

    m34an ge3cf l0xv

    February 28, 2021 at 10:53 am | Reply
  8. generic viagra 100mg

    https://genericviagragog.com viagra sale

    February 27, 2021 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  9. Cukrzyca.XMC.pl

    Gdyby tak mozna bylo spojrzec na swiat bez zadnej innej ochrony, uczciwie i odwaznie – peklyby nam z pewnocia serducha http://www.xmc.pl


    February 27, 2021 at 10:46 pm | Reply
  10. KndnVelm

    viagra near me does viagra raise your blood pressure viagra triangle

    February 27, 2021 at 2:42 am | Reply
  11. Nbmofiple

    cialis canada pharmacy buy cialis with dapoxetine in canada super cialis best price

    February 26, 2021 at 3:05 pm | Reply
  12. Turystyka w USA

    First Off, let me commend your clearness on this subject. I am not an expert on this subject, but after reading your content, my understanding has developed substantially. Please allow me to grab your rss feed to stay in touch with any forthcoming updates.


    February 22, 2021 at 5:32 pm | Reply
  13. USA Biznes

    Wielkie biografie powstaja z ruchu do przodu i progresywnego pressingu, a nie z ogladania sie do tylu. P. Coelho... & TM Created by ENdemol Studio...


    February 21, 2021 at 2:11 am | Reply
  14. SocialMedia Services2021

    Do you want get more social network traffic, likes, and retweets? SMM Supreme uses his own panel system to generate social media traffic to any website. Best Quality-Price Ratio on the market with 714928 orders until now. – Facebook Fan Page Likes: $4.50/1000 – Instagram Followers: $0.78/1000 – Youtube Views: $1.62/1000 – Twitter followers: $2.10/1000 – Paypal Deposit – Payeer Deposit – Automatic order processing – Our Website: https://smmsupreme.com/


    February 19, 2021 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  15. Filozofia Geneza

    Cool. Do you have a mailing list? This is what I was looking for. Much appreciated! 😉


    February 19, 2021 at 8:23 am | Reply
  16. JulioFArmada

    Excellent method of telling, and fastidious post to
    obtain facts about my presentation topic, which i will deliver in school.

    Here is my web site :: JulioFArmada

    February 19, 2021 at 5:40 am | Reply
  17. plaquenil diarrhea

    erectile desensitization plaquenil weight gain erectile lubricants

    February 18, 2021 at 3:18 pm | Reply
  18. malarone

    chloroquine phosphate vs chloroquine sulphate hydroxychloroquine sulfate corona chloroquine phosphate medicine

    February 18, 2021 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  19. orlando italian restaurants

    You really make it appear really easy along with your presentation however I find this topic to be really one thing which I believe I would by no means understand. It seems too complex and extremely large for me. I am taking a look forward in your subsequent submit, I will try to get the dangle of it!


    February 18, 2021 at 8:13 am | Reply
  20. Fqbbreext

    ez money loan san marcos early bird payday loans loaning money to a corporation

    February 17, 2021 at 7:54 am | Reply
  21. zithromax prices

    azithromycin generic name zithromax pfizer zithromax oral

    February 17, 2021 at 7:52 am | Reply
  22. Filozofia Opis

    Zycie jest tym, co sie wydarza, kiedy Ty jestes zajety robieniem innych planow. – John Lennon


    February 17, 2021 at 6:46 am | Reply
  23. 1000000GSA Backlinks

    High DA PA 50+ Do follow Forum Backlinks: https://www.seoclerk.com/Link-Building/836800/High-DA-PA-50-Do-follow-Forum-Backlinks


    February 16, 2021 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  24. Fbsgfiple

    brand cialis sale http://llecialisjaw.com/ generic cialis in canada

    February 16, 2021 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  25. 1000000GSA Backlinks

    Create a profitable digital marketing strategy and plan: https://www.seoclerk.com/Virtual-Assistant/840836/I-will-create-a-profitable-digital-marketing-strategy-and-plan


    February 16, 2021 at 8:44 am | Reply
  26. Jbnvclups

    payday loans clackamas or payday loan places in corpus christi payday loans bc disability

    February 16, 2021 at 2:22 am | Reply
  27. Norwegia.XMC.pl

    Krotki okres zycia jest dostatecznie dlugi na to, aby zyc dobrze i uczciwie. – Cyceron


    February 15, 2021 at 8:03 pm | Reply
  28. Jbbnreext

    cialis opis leku effetti viagra cialis adderall cialis interaction

    February 15, 2021 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  29. Abcfallogegen

    buy viagra http://viagriyvik.com/ viagra 500mg

    February 14, 2021 at 6:42 am | Reply
  30. Norwegia.XMC.pl

    Sukces nigdy nie jest ostateczny. Porazka nigdy nie jest totalna. Liczy sie tylko odwaga i waleczne serce. Sir. W. Churchill Adaptation by ITI Systems


    February 14, 2021 at 5:47 am | Reply
  31. Charis Buerger

    Earn 500 a Day With Our Passive Income System Doing These 3 Steps – Step 1: Get our ready made niche websites, Step 2: Setup your Paypal account. Step 3: Run our Unlimited Traffic System from our Free 850 sources of traffic (Approximately 35000 views a day guaranteed). Then in few hours you will start receiving payments without do nothing! More info: https://www.k3reviews.com/2020/08/16/monster-mode-700k/


    February 12, 2021 at 11:39 pm | Reply
  32. Ahbzreext

    payday loans ottawa montreal road loans vs cash payday loans in plano tx

    February 12, 2021 at 5:35 am | Reply
  33. Labxreext

    cialis bigger comprar lilly icos cialis cialis theme song ringtone

    February 11, 2021 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  34. Nbnhfiple

    where to buy female viagra canada http://vigedon.com/ viagra soft generic

    February 11, 2021 at 12:25 pm | Reply
  35. KvaxVelm

    payday advance georgia best payday loan companies in texas do payday loans call your references

    February 11, 2021 at 4:22 am | Reply
  36. Socjologia

    naturally like your web site but you need to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I find it very troublesome to tell the truth nevertheless I will certainly come back again.

    February 10, 2021 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  37. Fqhhreext

    navarro pharmacy miami pharmacie best online pharmacy stores

    February 9, 2021 at 1:06 am | Reply
  38. Metale

    Mozna uciekac i w nieskończonosc, ale prawda jest taka, ze wszedzie, gdzie sie zatrzymasz, dopadnie Cie Twoje zycie. – Cecelia Ahern http://www.xmc.pl


    February 8, 2021 at 10:39 pm | Reply
  39. Jbnbclups

    canadian online pharmacies legitimate online pharmacies uk best 10 online canadian pharmacies

    February 8, 2021 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  40. Fvfcfiple

    buy viagra discover card viagra shop london drugs canada

    February 8, 2021 at 10:16 am | Reply
  41. Aqcfallogegen

    cialis 25mg canada original cialis online cialis for daily use

    February 8, 2021 at 1:54 am | Reply
  42. Jbbvreext

    online pharmacy school prescription cost comparison quit smoking

    February 8, 2021 at 12:52 am | Reply
  43. Pianino.XMC.pl

    Great content I do agree with all the ideas you have presented in your post. You must continue your writing. Im confident, youve a huge readers base already!


    February 7, 2021 at 4:32 am | Reply
  44. Metale Blog

    Zycie, uswiadomil sobie, bardzo przypomina piosenke. Na poczatku jest tajemnica, na końcu – potwierdzenie, ale to w srodku kryja sie wszystkie emocje, dla ktorych cala sprawa staje sie warta zachodu. – Nicholas Sparks

    February 6, 2021 at 7:05 pm | Reply
  45. antibiotic zithromax

    can you get zithromax over the counter https://zithromaxes.com/ is zithromax a strong antibiotic

    February 6, 2021 at 3:05 pm | Reply
  46. plaquenil 200mg

    erectile stamina in older men https://plaquenilx.com/ erectile creams for men

    February 6, 2021 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  47. generic tadalafil 40 mg

    erectafil 20 https://tadalisxs.com/ tadalafil 60 mg dosage

    February 6, 2021 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  48. xemkqxs.com

    Stunning story there. What happened after? Good luck!|


    February 6, 2021 at 2:02 pm | Reply
1 2

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.