The political transformations under way in the Arab world and the killing of Osama bin Laden raise serious questions about al Qaeda’s long-term viability. The secular-liberal Arab Spring protest movement appears to be winning the war of ideas over al Qaeda’s violent religious fundamentalism. Civil disobedience campaigns in Tunisia and Egypt succeeded in forcing regime change in ways that a decade of al Qaeda terror attacks failed to accomplish. While it is too soon to write al Qaeda’s obituary, its erosion came well before the death of its historic leader. This essay examines al Qaeda’s post–9/11 evolution, its strategy, and its steady fragmentation. Since the destruction of its Taliban Afghan sanctuary, al Qaeda has been through many mutations, none of which, over time, has been successful. This essay argues that al Qaeda’s failures in Iraq contributed substantially to the organization’s decline.

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