From Peter Zeihan’s article on Stratfor‘s Free Intelligence Report.
With all the talk about al Qaeda “leaders,” al Qaeda “factions” and militants with “links” to al Qaeda, it is useful to take a step back and clarify precisely what al Qaeda actually is. Al Qaeda is a small core group of people who share strategic and operational characteristics that set them apart from all other militants — Islamist or otherwise — the world over. All signs indicate this group is no longer functional and cannot be replicated. Whether or not Osama bin Laden is still alive, al Qaeda as it once was is dead.
Furthermore, al Qaeda has left no one truly capable of taking up its mantle. The training camps in the 1990s processed hundreds of would-be jihadists, but the quality of that training for the rank and file has been exaggerated. Most of it was a combination of poor conventional combat training and ideological indoctrination. Hence, most “veterans” of those camps have neither access to the core al Qaeda leadership nor the operational security or tactical training that would allow them to reconstitute a new elite core. They are no more members of the real “al Qaeda” than today’s skinheads are members of the real Nazi party.
By the only criterion that matters — successful attacks — al Qaeda has slipped from readjusting global priorities (9/11) to contributing to the change in government of a middling U.S. ally (the March 2003 Spain attacks) to affecting nothing (the 2005 London bombings). No attacks since can be meaningfully linked to al Qaeda’s control, or even its specific foreknown blessing. Al Qaeda had hoped for a conflagration of outrage that would sweep away the Middle East’s political order; it only managed to raise a few sparks here and there, and now it is a prisoner of its own security.
And for the remaining al Qaeda wannabees in Iraq? The locals will take care of them.