Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 30, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

AL-QAEDA A PAPER TIGER?....Last month, the BBC ran a 3-part documentary arguing that al-Qaeda is not the threat they've been made out to be:

The Power of Nightmares seeks to overturn much of what is widely believed about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The latter, it argues, is not an organised international network. It does not have members or a leader. It does not have "sleeper cells". It does not have an overall strategy. In fact, it barely exists at all, except as an idea about cleansing a corrupt world through religious violence.

A couple of weeks later, Eric Umansky spoke with LA Times reporter Terry McDermott, who is writing a book about al-Qaeda and has come to similar conclusions:

Al Qaeda itself was never the huge organization its opponents sometimes portrayed....Its own small size, with which came severe limits on the skills available from within its ranks, virtually required it to reach beyond its members for specific needs.

....Shared values enabled the organization to amplify its power by aligning with similarly politicized fundamentalist groups, many of them completely autonomous, around the globe. This made the group at times seem ubiquitous, but, in fact, it was a few men persistently pursuing a few deadly enterprises.

Today in the LA Times, Dirk Laabs chimes in on the subject and recounts the conclusions of Germany's famed terrorist hunting federal police force:

This month, at the BKA's annual conference, Germany's top investigators and international experts discussed what they had discovered since Sept. 11 about Al Qaeda and the international Islamist terror network. The main thing they have learned is that there is less than meets the eye.

.... In other words, this battle in the war on terror might already be over.

I don't really have much of an opinion on this myself, especially since I've always considered the war on terrorism to be less against al-Qaeda per se than against radical Islamic terror in general and the ideology that goes along with it. Still, it's interesting that the conventional public wisdom about al-Qaeda now seems to be shifting, a backlash that was perhaps inevitable given the larger-than-life hold that Osama bin Laden has had on our imaginations for the past three years.

You can read the three linked pieces and make up your own mind, of course. I just thought it was an interesting pattern to pass along.

Kevin Drum 2:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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