Although al-Qaeda was unvanquished it was also unable to repeat its startling triumph. America was sinking ever more deeply into unpromising, fantastically expensive wars in the Muslim world—following the script that had been written by bin Laden. Repeatedly, he had outlined his goal of drawing America into such conflicts with the goal of bleeding the U.S. economically and turning the War on Terror into a genuine clash of civilizations. His attacks, from the twin U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998, to the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and ultimately to 9/11, were designed to goad the United States into Afghanistan, where he expected that America would experience the same catastrophe that befell the Soviet Union in 1989, when it withdrew in defeat and then simply fell apart. Bin Laden’s plan was that the sole remaining superpower would dissolve, the United States would become disunited states, and the way would be open for Islam to regain its natural place as the dominant force in the world.
Ten years after 9/11, al-Qaeda is not defeated. It has shown itself to be an adaptable, flexible, evolutionary organization, one that has outlasted most terrorist enterprises in history. One day, al-Qaeda will disappear, as all terrorist movements eventually do. But the template of asymmetrical warfare and mass murder that bin Laden and his confederates have created will inspire future terrorists flying other banners. The legacy of bin Laden is a future of suspicion, grief, and the loss of certain liberties that are already disappearing from memory.
Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Vintage Books, 2007, 2011. p. 428–9