One year after Osama bin Laden's killing, Al Qaeda is in tatters
While his murderous ideology persists in pockets of the Middle East and beyond, Al Qaeda as it was understood after Sept. 11 has failed.
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In the corners of the Muslim world where Al Qaeda had wrested control – parts of Iraq's Anbar province during the height of the war there, or in Afghanistan, or in spots in Yemen – they alienated local residents with arrogance and aggressive attempts to suppress the local tribal cultures.Skip to next paragraph
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And while the Arab uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere have threatened a regional order that bin Laden despised, the vast majority of regional citizens have rallied for a democratic voice, not for a medieval caliphate. Islamists will certainly be empowered by real democratic change in the region, but they will be those of the Muslim Brotherhood's brand, a group he despised.
It has now been almost six years since a major attack has been successfully carried out by his organization outside Iraq or Afghanistan (the November 2005 attacks on hotels in Amman, Jordan, that murdered about 60 people). And while there are fellow travelers under the Al Qaeda brand name in places like Yemen, their ability to operate outside their areas remains as yet unproven. Bin Laden's optimism that the Muslim world would flock to his banner was proven foolish.
Polling tells the tale of his failure. Before the Al Qaeda attacks in Amman in 2005, 61 percent of Jordan's citizens told Pew pollsters that bin Laden was a positive force in world affairs. The following year, after the murders in their capital, that number dropped to 24 percent. By 2011, that number had declined further to 13 percent.
It's a similar story elsewhere. In Indonesia in 2003, 59 percent had confidence in him. By last year, that number was 26 percent. In the Palestinian territories, his approval dropped from 72 percent in 2003 to 34 percent last year. And in Pakistan, he fell from 46 percent to 21 percent.
'He confessed to "disaster after disaster" '
In short, while the murderous ideology of Al Qaeda lives on, organizationally it is in tatters. And it already was by the time bin Laden was finally killed. What his successor, the dour Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, will be able to do about it is unclear. Mr. Zawahiri lacks the charisma or stature of his former boss.