Is al Qaeda still relevant?

Nearly nine years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States still has 100,000 troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan, and another 50,000 holding down the fort in Iraq. One hundred seventy-six inmates remain at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A number of disturbing near-misses — the attempted Christmas Day bombing ...

SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images

Nearly nine years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States still has 100,000 troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan, and another 50,000 holding down the fort in Iraq. One hundred seventy-six inmates remain at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A number of disturbing near-misses -- the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the Times Square fizzle, and various other plots -- have put the threat of terrorism back in the news. In a Gallup poll conducted in late August, 47 percent of Americans surveyed said that terrorism would be "extremely important" to their vote for Congress this year, with another 28 percent rating the issue "very important."

Yet there's also a sense that terrorism has faded as a political issue as the economy and general dissatisfaction with Washington have crowded out all other concerns. The intense debates on the op-ed pages and in the blogosphere of the war on terror's go-go years have quieted. The military tribunals in Guantánamo have evoked little public interest. Anti-Islam fervor may be rising, but terrorism just doesn't seem to elicit the passions it once did. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine outgoing Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria, always a reliable barometer of conventional wisdom, writing this sentence in, say, 2008 -- "Nine years after 9/11, can anyone doubt that Al Qaeda is simply not that deadly a threat?" -- and barely making a splash.

Nearly nine years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States still has 100,000 troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan, and another 50,000 holding down the fort in Iraq. One hundred seventy-six inmates remain at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A number of disturbing near-misses — the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the Times Square fizzle, and various other plots — have put the threat of terrorism back in the news. In a Gallup poll conducted in late August, 47 percent of Americans surveyed said that terrorism would be “extremely important” to their vote for Congress this year, with another 28 percent rating the issue “very important.”

Yet there’s also a sense that terrorism has faded as a political issue as the economy and general dissatisfaction with Washington have crowded out all other concerns. The intense debates on the op-ed pages and in the blogosphere of the war on terror’s go-go years have quieted. The military tribunals in Guantánamo have evoked little public interest. Anti-Islam fervor may be rising, but terrorism just doesn’t seem to elicit the passions it once did. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine outgoing Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria, always a reliable barometer of conventional wisdom, writing this sentence in, say, 2008 — “Nine years after 9/11, can anyone doubt that Al Qaeda is simply not that deadly a threat?” — and barely making a splash.

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