These are confusing…difficult…let’s just say unsettled times in the counter-terrorism field.
On one hand, the mainstream message seems to be that an extensive global drone strike campaign, combined with a vastly expanded intelligence and special forces capability, has disrupted not only Al Qaeda’s plots but the operations of it’s “central” organization and has kept the American homeland safe.
On the other, “Al Qaeda” is spreading among the chaos of the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa. While not the centralized, directed threat of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, it is often posited as nonetheless a worrisome national security risk.
I’m not taking a side in this argument…at this point anyway. However, I do think that Harvard Professor Steve Walt’s analysis (keep in mind he comes from the realist school of international relations)” is worth considering:
What is needed is a much more fundamental rethinking of the entire anti-terrorism campaign. As I suggested last week, part of that rethink means asking whether the United States needs to do a lot more to discredit jihadi narratives, instead of persisting with policies that make the extremists’ charges sound plausible to their audiences. A second part is to keep the jihadi threat in better perspective: They are a challenge, but not a mortal threat to Americans’ way of life unless the country reacts to them in ways that cause more damage to its well-being and its values than they do. Sadly, a rational ranking of costs, benefits, and threats seems to be something that the U.S. foreign-policy establishment is largely incapable of these days.