While the world continues to try to digest the news of the death of Osama bin Laden, speculation is naturally falling on what will become of his terrorist baby, al-Qaeda. Over at the Global Public Square, Fareed Zakaria is arguing, perhaps optimistically, that bin Laden's death with also be the death knell for al-Qaeda – that stripped of their spiritual head the organization will become adrift and will eventually burn itself out. On CBS during their Sunday night coverage, Lara Logan (and it's great to see her back to work) wondered if bin Laden had been betrayed by a member of his inner circle, or at least by one of their respective underlings, and if so what impact it would have on al-Qaeda as a whole?
That made me think of the mafia here in the United States. In their heyday during Prohibition in the 1920s and 30s, the idea of omerta (“silence”) was strong – if you were picked up by the police or the feds, you didn't talk about the mafia's operations or members, “this thing of ours” to quote Tony Soprano. But the idea of omerta began to fade as the years went on, particularly after anti-racketeering laws were passed that basically meant that even if you were a low-level foot soldier you could face the same kind of charges - and jail time - that would be awaiting The Boss if he ever got arrested. More mobsters started to talk when they were inevitably arrested, which sent more mobsters to jail and seriously undermined the effectiveness of the whole criminal enterprise. The leaders of the mafia families became more and more insulated out of fear of being betrayed by one of their colleagues (think about how nervous Tony Soprano always seemed), and worried more about finding the “rats” within their organizations than in actually engaging in money-making activities, which left them less able to manage their criminal empires, which in turn became less and less effective.
Could then a similar thing happen to al-Qaeda and it's frachises? Bin Laden himself had apparently not only withdrawn from the active operational role he played pre-9/11, but in these last few years he seemed to have become a hermit, holed up in a sprawling, barb-wire encircled “mansion” in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Now that even these precautions seem not to have helped keep him safe, will the leaders of al-Qaeda's franchises – the Pakistan operation, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen, mostly), al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (North Africa) – isolate themselves further? The best part, from an anti-terror perspective, is that bin Laden doesn't even have to have been betrayed by a follower, the other leaders in al-Qaeda only have to believe that he was and they will act accordingly.
This likely isn't the end of al-Qaeda, just like the arrests of a number of capos hasn't been the end of the mafia in America, but it will likely lead to a far less effective organization and one that is even less capable of pulling off a major 9/11-style (or London or Mumbai for that matter) attack in the future.
1 day ago