Heritage: Year after Osama bin Laden's Death, What's Next?

By: James Jay Carafano | Posted: April 28, 2012 3:55 AM
Mike Hayden knows a thing or two about terrorists. From 2006 to 2009, he ran the Central Intelligence Agency.

James Jay Carafano

James Jay Carafano

Last year, the Marine Corps University asked Gen. Hayden to keynote a conference on the state of al-Qaida. "Al-Qaida main is like IBM Solutions," he said. "They're now a consulting service. What they give to the franchises are the name, legitimacy, some financing, some expert advice." Their slogan, he suggested, should now be: "We don't do the terror, we make terror better."

Hayden and others at the conference had no way of knowing that, just two weeks later, May 2, 2011, Osama bin Laden would be dead.

Materials found in bin Laden's compound suggest Hayden's assessment was right on the mark. By the time of his death, the "mastermind" behind the 9/11 attacks was reduced mostly to cutting public relations videos, cheerleading for the global Islamist insurgency and blue-skying plots without a clue as to their practicality.

As we approach the anniversary of bin Laden's last breath, it's worth asking: What next from al-Qaida? The proceedings from last year's Marine Corps University conference, just published as "Al-Qaida: After Ten Years of War," is a good place to start looking for the answer.

"According to bin Laden, the United States is clearly the key because, with its defeat, resistance to achieving al-Qaida's objectives will collapse," writes Norman Cigar, the university's director of regional studies.

So, the United States remains target No. 1. But, having been pummeled for taking America head-on, al-Qaida has shifted to an indirect approach -- doing what it can to fan the flames of insurgency on many battlefields. With this strategy, the key issue is deciding where to engage.

Cigar divides al-Qaida's options into four types of theaters of war. "Theaters of choice" -- such as Yemen, the Horn of Africa and Nigeria -- are areas where the organization sees opportunities to establish sanctuaries and bases of operation. "Theaters of necessity" include Afghanistan, where al-Qaida is desperate to see the Taliban regain the honor they lost by being evicted by the Americans. "Theaters of opportunity" -- think Syria -- are where chaos creates new prospects. "Theaters of refusal" are where, for various reasons, the gain does not seem worth the pain. In Gaza, Lebanon and Egypt, for example, more established Islamist groups would not welcome al-Qaida horning in.

As a theater of war, America is clearly a "hard" target for al-Qaida. At least 50 Islamist-related terror plots have been aimed at the United States since 9/11, and all have been thwarted. Increasingly, the conspiracies have been "homegrown," organized and undertaken by persons living here. Al-Qaida has been able to do little more than inspire them from afar.

Doubtless the U.S. government has amped up counterterrorism efforts at home and overseas in anticipation of the anniversary of bin Laden's death. It's a sensible precaution against efforts to mark the occasion with a revenge attack.

Al-Qaida has failed to capitalize on many "anniversary attacks" in the past. But regardless of what the group may have up its sleeve for this one, the U.S. has bigger problems.

The bigger, enduring threat remains al-Qaida's aspirations to inspire a global Islamist insurgency.

Keeping al-Qaida from getting back in the game requires more than just robust counterterrorism strategy. It requires a confident and determined American people, resolved to defend themselves and their freedoms from all enemies. Recommitting ourselves to the defense of liberty is the best way to mark bin Laden's passing.

James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.

Comments (1)

10:58AM MAY 1ST 2012
Then I guess it's rather sad that Mitt believes Russia's the biggest threat to America.

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