... U.S. intelligence agencies and many private security analysts doubt al-Qaida or its elusive leader, Osama bin Laden, still maintain much if any operational control over far-flung terror cells.So what does this mean? In my view, it means two things.
They see no sign of a direct al-Qaida hand in a flurry of recent attacks, such as the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria, or the fatal shooting of a British tourist in Jordan. The French intelligence report that bin Laden may have died last month of typhoid merely highlights the uncertainty the West now has about any role he plays in the terror network.
All that means those frightening videos may have been just that -- designed to frighten the West and inspire followers -- with little real punch behind them.
Bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are now ''less like generals and more like talking heads, disseminating their violent ideology via satellite television in hopes of inspiring others to do their bidding,'' said Eben Kaplan of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York.
First, it means that Bush's constant carping about al Qaeda is probably misplaced and overblown.
Second, it means that Democrats who keep bashing Bush for not having captured or killed bin Laden are wrongly implying that bin Laden's demise, in and of itself, would dramatically reduce terrorist threats against the U.S.