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The End of an Era

May 3, 2011

Jihadica, 2 May 2011: Like most others, I knew this day would come but I still can’t believe it’s here.  And to come at such a momentous time in Middle Eastern history, with the Arab Spring and the end of our combat presence in Iraq.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the stock thinking about the implications of Bin Laden’s demise has given way to careful analysis when finally faced with the fact.  Al-Qaeda will certainly go on and may catch its breath with the likes of Zawahiri and Awlaki, but it is Bin Laden who was the driving force of the organization and much has died with him.  Like al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda Central will continue zombie-like to wreak havoc but it will never be the same.  This truly is the end of an era and more politically savvy Islamists will now take center stage.

There are a legion of big questions about the implications of all of this–for al-Qaeda, the US and its allies, the Middle East, and for the Muslim world.  I took my own stab at answering some at 1:30 this morning after the news broke, which Foreign Policy kindly published with the wonderful title of “William McCants: A Gaping Hole.”

We’re all clumsily feeling our way through this, and here are some of those who have helped me today:

  • Marc Lynch’s Bin Ladin’s Quiet End explained how al-Qaeda made itself irrelevant and the Muslim Brotherhood capitalized
  • Jason Burke’s What Now for al-Qaida ran through some of the implications of UBL’s death for AQ Central
  • Aaron Zelin did yeoman’s work translating the reactions of jihadis online in real time
  • Chris Anzalone put together a valuable collection of jihadi uses of Bin Laden’s visage
  • Clint Watts reminded us of his January poll on the implications of Bin Laden’s death
  • Leah Farrall has some inside-baseball analysis of the transition scenarios for AQ leadership
  • Joshua Foust predicts that the impact on Taliban operations in Afghanistan will be nil
  • Daveed Gartenstein-Ross cautions us that al-Qaeda is still very much alive
  • Andrew Exum reminds us of those who have sacrificed along the away

I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting (tweet them or write), and there are still some I’m waiting to hear from (come on Weisburd and Johnsen).  No doubt the analysis will get more sober as the weeks pass, and I reserve the right to completely change my mind.  It is hard to get things right when there is so little to go on and so much emotion involved.

Finally, my hats off to the journalistic community. I don’t know how you put together such cogent, well-sourced pieces in such a short period of time.

Stay tuned tomorrow.  We’ll be posting a very insightful piece by Joas Wagemakers on the dilemmas faced by the jihadis in Syria, whose revolution is only briefly eclipsed.

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