Eli Lake was asking me the other day whether or not we had been defeating al-Qaeda these past eight years. I replied that I thought we had not been "beating" al-Qaeda, per se, but that we had made fewer mistakes than al-Qaeda has. Our strategic blunders (going to war in Iraq; diverting resources from Afghanistan) were less signficant than theirs (killing more Afghan and Arab Muslims than Americans and other Westerners). I sense that al-Qaeda's "brand" has really suffered internationally, while America's is in recovery (thanks in part, at least, to the election of Obama*). As it turns out, al-Qaeda is apparently now having trouble raising recruits:
Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida is under heavy pressure in its strongholds in Pakistan's remote tribal areas and is finding it difficult to attract recruits or carry out spectacular operations in western countries, according to government and independent experts monitoring the organisation.
Speaking to the Guardian in advance of tomorrow'seighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, western counter-terrorism officials and specialists in the Muslim world said the organisation faced a crisis that was severely affecting its ability to find, inspire and train willing fighters.
Its activity is increasingly dispersed to "affiliates" or "franchises" in Yemen and North Africa, but the links of local or regional jihadi groups to the centre are tenuous; they enjoy little popular support and successes have been limited.
(In the interest of intellectual honestly, I have to say this article also highlighted the success of drone strikes on terror networks.)
*If you're a Republican and reading this, I am not endorsing Obama and his policies but merely highlighting the obvious: President Bush was not very popular in the Arabic-speaking and greater Islamic worlds. Obama is not wildly popular, but he is certainly much better liked than his predecessor.