Has Al Qaeda advanced its goals since 9/11?

Al Qaeda or "The Base" issued its goals in the mid 1990s. Staff writer Dan Murphy asked three experts to assess the organization's progress.

The goals:

1. Remove US forces from Saudi Arabia. (In 2001, there were about 4,500 US troops there. Today, about 500 remain.)

2. Remove all foreign armies from all Muslim countries.

3. Destroy Israel and control Jerusalem.

4. Overthrow Arab regimes.

5. Establish a caliphate (a spiritual and secular ruler of the Islamic state.)

Hani Shukrallah

Analyst for the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic studies in Cairo, and a newspaper columnist.

1. "When this jihadist movement started, their most compelling objective was to take over power in the Middle East. Gradually they came to the realization that by fighting what they call the 'Far Enemy' they gain more popularity and they're more able to defeat the 'Near Enemy,' i.e. their own regimes."

2. "Al Qaeda couldn't have prayed for any better focal point [than Iraq], with American troops right here in the region. With all those open borders with so many countries, you can just walk in and have a jihad in Iraq. Again, this is exactly what they want."

3. "The most prominent example of how they've been able to use popular anger is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. For a long time [Al Qaeda] didn't care about the issue of Palestine at all; this wasn't high on their agenda. Their agenda was to take over power in Egypt and so forth. But the failure of the peace process has helped them and all Islamists.

4. "By framing it from the start as a clash of civilizations, starting with the 'Why do they hate us' speech by President Bush, [the US has] played into the radicals' hands. And then the US had the wars, and wars create anger. Instead of isolating what was a small, very fringe group, [the US] targeted a whole people and made them feel that there is a war against Islam and Muslims. This framing... strengthens all Islamist movements. It's redefining our identities. We're not Egyptians or Arabs, we're Muslims.

5. "This isn't likely. But for Arab democrats and secularists, you have to keep fighting against the very notion of this civilizational clash. But it's becoming more difficult. You have to rely on democratic change and hope that this will create a different climate. But secularists like me are in a much weaker position than we were five or ten years ago."

Brian M. Jenkins

RAND Corp. in Washington, a former US Army captain, and author of "Unconquerable Nation: Knowing Our Enemy, Strengthening Ourselves."

1. "It hasn't been an easy five years for Al Qaeda. The Taliban has been overthrown, Al Qaeda's training camps have been scattered, and a number of it's key operational planners have been removed.... Westerners see the war as a finite undertaking [with tangible goals. But Al Qaeda sees the war as an] indefinite undertaking. Bin Laden's not a leader tallying up his victories and failures."

2. The US invasion of Iraq "has gifted [Al Qaeda with] the sort of war that it fights best ... and convinced many Arabs and Muslims of an aggressive America and West."

In bin Laden's likely view: "We, have survived the infidels mightiest blows with our top leadership intact, which is evidence of divine protection ... by decentralizing, there are now many mini Al Qaedas, self-radicalizing cells, and the center is still in business which continues to carry out, plan, and execute operations at a higher pace since 9/11."

3. Arab and Muslim anger over the conflict among the Israelis and Palestinians has grown. "Their narrative portrays us, the West, as the aggressors, and sometimes we give them the recruiting posters with incidents like Abu Ghraib. Now, they are using recent events in Lebanon. Everything is used to try to show an implacable, relentless crusade against Muslims. Acceptance of that view has spread."

4. "This is not a military but a missionary enterprise. In their view the task of bin Laden is to incite and inspire. On 9/11, there was a handful of websites that talked about jihad as he sees it. Now, there are hundreds."

5. Bin Laden would probably say, "We have no timetables. We don't measure progress. Our task is to keep fighting to prove ourselves worthy. By our mere struggle we achieve our goals. If it's willed we will win, we will win. If it's willed that we should die, then we go to heaven."

M.J. Gohel

CEO of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a counterterrorism and intelligence think-tank in London.

1. "Al Qaeda hasn't been able to deliver on its goals, but in terms of their agenda, they don't care if it takes 10, 20, 100 years, whereas we in the West are looking for quick solutions. The fact is that since 9/11 we have seen more attacks in more countries than in the world ever before. There is unfortunately a very large pool of sympathizers. They may not be terrorists, but a large pool of people are being drawn into the Al Qaeda ideology of perceived grievances...."

2. Osama bin Laden's "ideology was out there before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars took place, so it's nonsense to suggest these wars have created the problem. But, yes, it's true that the Iraq war has not progressed as hoped for... and it's true that any kind of failure in foreign policy will be used to their benefit...."

3. Mr. Gohel doubts that this conflict is important, "because their ultimate goal is the overthrow of the entire secular and Western world. This is not just a military battle, it's a battle of ideologies.... We need figures within the Islamic world, who are both respected within the Islamic world and outside. We need somebody like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. who can counter Al Qaeda."

4. The larger problem is a lack of democracy. "People in these countries only have a choice of autocratic regimes or listening to the mullahs in the mosques. The media spews out anti-Western propaganda, even in those countries that are technically Western allies like Saudi Arabia.... What is needed is reform to ... bring about something more tolerant.

5. "They're happy to wait 100 years. They see it as a war of attrition, to wear down our resistance. Too many people are buying into the fiction that the West is against Islam.... This is a battle of ideologies and the West can't win this battle on its own. The Islamic countries have to come on board wholeheartedly.... Until they do, it will be impossible for this message of global jihad and caliphates to be countered, because it isn't being attacked by moderates."

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