You really, really need to read Steve Coll’s prepared remarks for the Armed Services Committee. Very nice summary of the current state of al-Qaeda. The parts I thought worthy of note:
Al Qaeda the organization has never been tested by a succession crisis because its two foundational leaders have remained at large for so long.
One recent, particularly rigorous poll was published in 2009 by The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, entitled, “Public Opinion in the Islamic World on Terrorism, Al Qaeda and U.S. Policies.” It found that support for Al Qaeda-conceived attacks against American civilians in the U.S. homeland, such as the attack attempted aboard Flight 253, is virtually negligible in a diverse array of heavily populated Muslim-majority countries. In Pakistan, where anti-American feeling has reached a fevered pitch, only nine percent supported such attacks; in Indonesia, the number was five percent.
Yet the outlook of Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri is not merely political. It is also millenarian, in the sense that both of them believe, as they often repeat, that they have been called by God to lead a war whose outcome is pre-ordained and will only finish at the end of Earthly time.…it is now clear that the construction of a political strategy has proven to be beyond their abilities. Al Qaeda’s political appeal seems to have crested and barring provocative mistakes by the United States, or allies such as India and Israel, it is hard to see how that appeal can be broadly revived. (italics added)
In a strategic or global sense, Al Qaeda seems to be in the process of defeating itself. Its political isolation in the Muslim world has set the stage for the United States and allied governments, with persistence, concentrated effort, and perhaps some luck, to finally destroy central Al Qaeda’s leadership along the Afghan-Pakistan border.