Al Qaeda After bin Laden

Monday, May 02, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Lawrence Wright, staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, discussed the future of al Qaeda now that Osama bin Laden is dead.

Al Qaeda is weaker without a leader, so who's in the bull pen?

First of all, who was Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda? Lawrence Wright said, in some ways his leadership was actually surprising.

[Bin Laden] wasn't really charismatic. He was more of a puzzling, quiet figure whose remoteness, and the oddity of the fact that he was a wealthy Saudi who engaged in Jihad. All of that added to his mystique but he was not exactly a charismatic speaker. Still, he was able to, through his example, inspire many young radical Muslims around the globe.

Wright wrote in 2008 that al Qaeda would have trouble maintaining a "coherent identity" without their leader. Now, with bin Laden dead, he said the prognosis for the terrorist group still looks pretty bad.

They're in a crisis now and it is going to be very difficult to find a successor to Osama bin Laden who can actually handle that organization and lead it into the future. There's no obvious, no charismatic successor. Ayman Al Zawahari, the guy that is going to be running it now is anti-charismatic...His own organization, Al Jihad in Egypt, he ran into the ground and I'll suspect he'll have the same kind of luck with al Qaeda.

In fact, Wright said, al Qaeda will find themselves in an identity crisis without a leader that has defined them. Bin Laden was the one of the only common factors between many different nationalist groups (including the Taliban) that identified with al Qaeda.

A lot of these affiliates are essentially nationalist groups that have run up this pirate flag of al Qaeda and say, this is our banner that we're flying now. The main person who was espousing this internationalist jihad was bin Laden. It was his cause, and because he became such a celebrity and initially he had money to fund it, other groups would associate with him. I think there's going to be a tremendous amount of centrifugal force as these groups begin to realize that their allegiance to al Qaeda hasn't gotten them I think that what we'll see is a degeneration of the internationalist jihad more back into what it naturally is, a group of nationalist causes that really don't have that much in common.

As for Pakistan? "There's a reckoning ahead"

Bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan — a country that's an American ally — when he was killed by the U.S. military, so what does this mean for the relationship between the two countries? According to Wright, the U.S. should have take a second look at this relationship a long time ago. Now, he said, the Pakistanis have a lot of explaining to do.

We've given them more than $11 billion in military aid since 9/11. That put the military and the intelligence community in Pakistan in the business of looking for bin Laden. He became a priceless asset for them and if they found him they would be out of business. It wouldn't be surprising if they were protecting him if he was so valuable. It's practically the only source of revenue. This is a country of 186 million people and fewer than two million of them pay taxes. A lot of American tax dollars went into that country and I think it has had many unintended consequences.

A heightened risk for terrorist attacks

According to Wright, new attacks are very likely as a result of bin Laden's death.

We don't know how many other entrepreneurial efforts are underway or have been in the pipeline in the past. We don't know, for instance, if there was an operation in al Qaeda's portfolio that was supposed to be triggered by bin Laden's death. That could be. The signal of his death could start something.

As for how the public has reacted, Wright said, the calmer the better; the images of celebration around something like this can send the wrong message.

I think that a good sober moral tone is the appropriate one and to reflect on how much loss everybody's endured in the decade of bin Laden is the appropriate one. And a sense of relief is appropriate. And the feeling that maybe the page really can turn...I don't think the page could fully be turned until bin Laden was gone.

Mission accomplished

It took a lot of nerve to decide to do this face to face with no certainty that American troops wouldn't be killed in the operation or the operation might turn into something like the hostage rescue catastrophe in Carter's era. This was a well planned, well executed operation, but any such operation faces a lot more dangers than just sending cruise missiles out of the Arabian Sea. I think that they could ensure that this was done and the action was completed is the most significant take away.


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Comments [13]


Its not about Osama or Obama. It is what Congressman Ron Paul refers to as occupation of Muslim land that precipitates a response which is then referred to as " terrorism" . One man's terrorism is another man's freedom struggle.

Al qaeda under Osama ceased to exist after 9/11. Now the struggle has spread all over the world, where lands are being occupied.

May. 03 2011 12:08 PM

To all those who are asking "Aren't we in more danger having killed the leader?":
Your implication is that we should let a dangerous person live, because we are scared of him. It's surrender, and makes us no safer.

May. 02 2011 11:58 AM
H from NYC

Have there been any reputable sources reporting that the information about the courier that finally led them to bin Laden was acquired from the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

I see it being yelled at not-so-reputable sites but not in places that I would trust.

May. 02 2011 11:54 AM
Jennifer Hickey

I mean really, it took the most powerful government in the world this long to find jsut one guy!. We would have never gone to war in Iraq (which had nothing to do with 9/11) if the Bush administrations really focused on finding him and getting the Taliban out of Afghanistan for good. Makes you wonder whether that was part of the strategy.

May. 02 2011 11:51 AM

Bin Laden had a preference to use our own technologies and culture against ourselves. Given the effectiveness of our predator drones, it seems reasonable they would attack US targets with simpler (RC control hobby) model planes to inflict damage. Small attacks with a bit of nuclear waste or explosives on the Statue of Liberty, White House, etc would have a disproportionate effect compared to the actual damage.

Let's hope our response is rational and proportionate.

May. 02 2011 11:50 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

Actually correction, I can't remember if hewas related to the royals at all or not (I don't think he is now that I think about it) but his family was not in alignment with his "cause" (and the Bush's were friendly with them) so I would assume the control DNA was from his family.

May. 02 2011 11:48 AM
Jennifer Hickey

This does not really mean anything. If it happened in 2002 or 2003 before Iraq and would have taken care of the Taliban once and for all in 2001, then maybe it would have made things better. But it does not bring the people that died on 9/11 back or all the soldiers and Iraqis that have died. There are so many more terrorists now than before 9/11 because of these wars. Every time a drone drops a bomb and destroys some village by accident or an innocent child is caught in the , a new terrorist is born. It is a lesson of history that now country ever seems to learn. Just because this one gut is dead does not make this world safer. Osama bi Laden is the demon child of this country's continued support for repressive governments like Saudi Arabia. It's like cutting off the head of a snake, there will be someone to take his place. He used to be a unifying symbol for al-Qaeda, but now it's taken on a life of its own. But if our government supports these grassroots democratic revolutions in the Middle East, that will do more to stop people like Osama Bin Laden from ever gaining a following.

May. 02 2011 11:48 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!


The Saudi royals, I would guess

May. 02 2011 11:43 AM
Nick from NYC

Please ask your guest to comment on the stated rationale for U.S. forces in Afghanistan - we've been told we're there to fight Al Quaeda - but we've also heard that there are just a handful of Al Quaeda people left there.

What is the mission of U.S. forces there now, in your guest's opinion?

May. 02 2011 11:41 AM
oacar from oscar

I heard that spider man killd osama

May. 02 2011 11:22 AM

Q: I heard the AP did an independent DNA analysis confirming it was him. Where did the "control" DNA come from, to compare it with?

May. 02 2011 11:20 AM
Jeff Pappas from Ct.

OBL was much smarter than our Military Intelligence and politicians imagined. For almost a full decade after the 911 attacks the USA wasted BILLIONS of $ and caused or was indirectly responsible for Tens of thousands of people killed, maimed or displaced. This was and is very affective in rallying terrorists against the USA . He used our own Arrogance and Jingoism as well as our Airplanes to help destroy the USA
The Irony here is that in the end this commando raid is all the USA had to do !

May. 02 2011 10:57 AM
Nick from UWS

It didn't take 10 years to get him. It took TWO years to get him.

It took George Bush 8 years to let him escape, not try to get him, and then use 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq and get Hussein instead, then and forget about Bin Laden.

It took OBAMA two years to get him.



May. 02 2011 10:24 AM

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