The Barack Obama administration’s May 2013 assessment of al Qaeda’s weakness and fracturing in the post-bin Laden era has been greeted with indignation by both liberals and conservatives. They believe al Qaeda is stronger than ever in the wake of the Arab Spring. These critics, however, misunderstand the network’s dysfunctional direction. Al Qaeda’s “resurgence” is likely to lead to its failure. The argument proceeds on four levels: (1) the dramatic growth of the al Qaeda network masks its internal weakness and organizational splintering; (2) the Arab Spring has led to a burst of al Qaeda activism that is likely to undermine its jihadist cause; (3) al Qaeda’s fragmentation and its multiple trajectories in the post-9/11 era violate bin Laden’s original intent and are beyond al Qaeda Central’s direction; and (4) the dysfunctional nature of al Qaeda’s ideology and its excessive reliance on takfiri violence is paradoxically a source of both persistence and failure.

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