August 18th, 2008
11:46 AM ET

Al-Qaeda At 20... ... Dead or Alive?

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Editor's Note: The following article by Peter Bergen originally appeared in Sunday's Washington Post. We share it with you here:

Peter Bergen | Bio
AC360° Contributor
CNN National Security Analyst

Two decades after al-Qaeda was founded in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar by Osama bin Laden and a handful of veterans of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the group is more famous and feared than ever. But its grand project - to transform the Muslim world into a militant Islamist caliphate - has been, by any measure, a resounding failure.

In large part, that's because bin Laden's strategy for arriving at this Promised Land is a fantasy. Al-Qaeda's leader prides himself on being a big-think strategist, but for all his brains, leadership skills and charisma, he has fastened on an overall strategy that is self-defeating.

Bin Laden's main goal is to bring about regime change in the Middle East and to replace the governments in Cairo and Riyadh with Taliban-style theocracies. He believes that the way to accomplish this is to attack the "far enemy" (the United States), then watch as the supposedly impious, U.S.-backed Muslim regimes he calls the "near enemy" crumble...


Filed under: Global 360° • Peter Bergen
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. James Dylan

    It is foolish to think Al-Qaeda is only a small threat; animals are at their most dangerous when injured and cornered. The head of this animal has yet to be cut off and we still have yet to witness the thrashing about of it's body.
    I read some of the comments here, that this whole thing is about Israel, and they are completely wrong. Al-Qaeda has set as it's goal to institute Islamic law across the middle east and the world. The US is a Christian nation, but knows better than to institute a Christian law. How many of the ten commandments are actual laws? I find all fundamentalists of all religions to be insane. As Nietzsche would say the enemy is "thou shalt" while the future is "I will." Islam is still to full of "thou shalt" and we will not come to a cowardly compromise with these despisers of life. Should we, we only prolong the struggle and the war.

    August 19, 2008 at 12:53 am |
  2. BKoi

    Perhaps with a change in government, and a foreign policy that recognizes that the world and it's peoples are all interconnected,we won't have to suffer another Bin Laden. The old politics got us here, not just US political policies either. We , with some dumb luck, just may have another chance to get it right. War begets war. Haven't we all seen enough torn bodies, children crying, soldiers on stretchers , lives ruined? Let's take a chance for something new, give the new kid a try. All you'r going to get with the old guy is another war, and another war, and another.................

    August 18, 2008 at 11:51 pm |
  3. Annie Kate

    Its a relief to hear Peter Bergen doesn't think there will be a mainland attack on the US in the next 5 years – I hope that grows to "never'. I have never understood how bin Laden and al Queda could be acceptable when it kills so many of its fellow Muslims – the very people you would think al Queda would be trying to recruit. Seems very short sighted to me.
    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 18, 2008 at 9:25 pm |
  4. Rose from Southern Calif

    Hi Mr. Bergan hope your day is a great one...

    My comment:

    On Election Day will we see Osama face again? Whatever happens as Americans we need not let this run our lives. We as American people need to show Osama that we are not afraid anymore and we have moved-on for the best.
    We will still United as Americans even after the election.
    I have never known a man that hated so much, since Hitler! A man of wealth and still not happy, this so-call man has some issues that needs to be address. Can we blame his parents?

    August 18, 2008 at 8:49 pm |
  5. Wain

    I in no means want to justify what Osama stands for. I hated what he did. There is no justification for that. I just hope we dont follow suite and take civilized steps to root out the cause than to bomb our way into a hostile future for the generations to come.

    August 18, 2008 at 7:24 pm |
  6. Wain

    I recommend you all read chomsky. Read the history of Arab-Israel conflict. Try to find the root cause of radicalism in the Middle East. May be you will find a lot of answers to what, why and who. I sincerely hope may be one day America can solve the Arab-Israel problem.

    Also try and find the numbers in Human History. How many of the total killings of innocent civillians happened at the hands of so called Muslim radicals? You all will be surprised.

    Its a shame that in USA people fear Obama can be Muslim. As if being a Muslim is a crime in this world.

    Its a shame in Israel Muslims are denied the rights of a Jew.

    Both democricies and both agaisnt its very principles. Its time we stop being hypocrates. Stop blaming Islam for the failed foreign and defence policies.

    August 18, 2008 at 7:22 pm |
  7. Ratna Sadal

    Peter Bergen,

    This Al-Queda war is only viewed from one perspective by the American media in favor of the American government. The whole story is not viewed in its complexity of the Middle East inter-nation conflicts and indifferences. BIn-Laden is either a lunatic or driven.

    August 18, 2008 at 5:02 pm |
  8. Mike in NYC

    "Their mission is accomplished: worldwide instigation and inspiration."

    Sounds like success to me. Scheuer seems to differ with Bergen on what Al-Qaeda's main goal was. Bergen saw it as the establishment of a caliphate. Personally, I doubt if someone with Bin Laden's intelligence could ever view that as a realistic goal.

    Oddly enough, both AQ's actions and strategies seem, in the short run, to have benefited certain influential US policymaking circles. Strange.

    August 18, 2008 at 3:45 pm |
  9. Wain

    Keep Islam out of this. The only problems Osama had with the West was and is Israel. The very creation of that state was based on evacuating Muslims out of their homes and appeasing Jews with free land. Solve the problem of Israel and Palestine and you will see these radicals disappear.

    August 18, 2008 at 1:02 pm |
  10. Marcia, Warren MI

    Here's a thought if you guys are so intent on rerunning specials how about reshowing "In the footsteps of Bin Laden", it was a great show and deserves to be seen again.

    August 18, 2008 at 12:32 pm |
  11. Cindy

    I think that al-Qaeda is dying out. They only have cells here and there and aren't working as one group anymore. They aren't as nearly as together and with it as they were. Bin Laden's visions of grandeur were far off. They should have known that they'd never overtake huge nations like the U.S.

    Thanks to the war on terrorism they are losing big time. But if we back off and let them regroup they could grow once again to a major organization.


    August 18, 2008 at 12:25 pm |
  12. Joe

    Barry didn't even mention Al Queda when asked about evil by the pastor. Apprearantly, Barry doesnt think that Al Queda, Iran, Hamas or Hezbollah are evil. MAybe they are his friends? Or maybe Barry just doesnt want to offend anyone? How thoughful of Barry. He thinks about everyone but Americans.....

    August 18, 2008 at 12:09 pm |