- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

Dare we dream of a world in which al Qaeda no longer exists? The terrorist network responsible for September 11 may be headed for the dustbin of history, according to “Global Trends 2025,” the latest report by the National Intelligence Council. But the report isn’t all good news. The NIC, a center of strategic thinking within the American government, says the ultimate demise of al Qaeda will coincide with a different set of terrorist challenges. The Obama administration would be wise to take stock of these findings and heed the warnings.

First, the good news: The report confirms one of the most understated stories of 2008 - that in critical areas, al Qaeda appears to be losing in its campaign against the West. In one major theater of operation, Iraq, al Qaeda is on its last legs. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stated in July that terrorism has been defeated in his country. “They were intending to besiege Baghdad and control it,” he said of al Qaeda. “But thanks to the will of the tribes, security forces, army and all Iraqis, we defeated them.” Mr. Maliki expressed optimism about Iraq’s ability to eradicate the residual terrorist threat. This was not simply an effort to rally his nation; subsequent events confirmed his statement.

On the first day of 2009, a milestone was crossed when Americans handed control of the Green Zone (the heavily guarded international area in the center of Baghdad) to the Iraqi government. Mr. Maliki said he will propose making Jan. 1 a national holiday in celebration of the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. His positive outlook is confirmed by the NIC report which states that al Qaeda is losing ground around the world. The terrorist network is beset by three major weaknesses that are likely to lead to its ultimate disintegration and defeat: “unachievable strategic objectives, inability to attract broad-based support, and self-destructive actions.”

The report chronicles the increasing evidence that al Qaeda’s influence is waning. The vast majority of Arabs surveyed doubt that the al Qaeda objectives of establishing a worldwide global caliphate and removing U.S. influence from Arab regimes will improve their daily lives, and “majorities in all Arab countries oppose jihadi violence, by any group, on their own soil.” Finally, at least 40 percent of al Qaeda victims have been Muslim, thus leading to decreasing support even among former sympathizers. Terrorist communications networks and Web sites lament that they are “losing” their battle against Western materialism. Hence, the news for al Qaeda in many areas is grim.

But terrorism will remain a major threat in the years to come. The resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan serves as a reminder that jihadist terror networks are far from dead. According to the NIC assessment, there will be an increase in the operation of a wide variety of “nonstate actors” such as terrorist groups (like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the organization based in Pakistan that is responsible for the recent Mumbai attacks). They will continue to be exceedingly dangerous as technology is diffused and chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons are likely to be more readily available. Countries will therefore have to prepare for attacks on their information technology, for irregular warfare tactics as a result of the diffusion of light weaponry and for nonmilitary combat such as cyber- and economic war. In other words, as the adage goes, “The devil does not disappear; he only changes form.”

The United States cannot take its eye off the ball when it comes to al Qaeda. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently observed, “We have our foot on the neck of al Qaeda [in Iraq],” but, we have to keep the pressure on, while recognizing that our efforts are bearing fruit.

In a nutshell, it appears that in the years to come, the Obama administration - and people around the world - will likely reap the benefits of President Bush’s unrelenting campaign against al Qaeda. Our hope is that the next president will be as determined and tough as Mr. Bush in keeping America safe.

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