The recent crisis in Syria has driven the growth of al Qaeda groups in that country; in Iraq, al Qaeda has killed dozens at a time in coordinated car bombings. The broad network of al-Qaeda affiliates now threatens the United States from safe havens across the Middle East and North Africa. But it is far from the same beast that attacked the U.S. in 2001: It has evolved and adapted, and is much more resilient than before.
Twelve years ago, al Qaeda was on the run. When the U.S. overthrew the Taliban government in Afghanistan, al Qaeda lost its safe haven. Its operatives there fled to neighboring Pakistan and Iran, and its operatives worldwide had a target on their backs as countries responded to President George W. Bush’s ultimatum that “you’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.” That fight relied heavily on authoritarian regimes to crack down on al Qaeda-linked cells from Algeria to Egypt to Yemen.
This article appears in the December 31 edition of The National Review Magazine. The complete text is available through subscription only here.