There seems little doubt that the original Al Qaeda” organization, based in Afghanistan and led by Osama Bin Laden, has been “decimated,” to use her term. Our enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to be the Taliban and the Haqanni Network. Yet reports often refer to one or both “Islamic militants” and “Al Qaeda” as if they are two different groups, the latter in some sense more dangerous to us than the former.
Yesterday in her Senate testimony Secretary Clinton referred to Al Qaeda as “a brand,” saying that some groups using that name included people who were trained in Afghanistan by the now decimated organization. She went on to refer to use of the name to recruit adherents and used the term “affiliated with Al Qaeda” to describe other groups of Islamic militants. She pointed to yet other groups that do not use that designation.
Is there any meaning left in the term Al Qaeda that distinguishes these people from Islamic militants from a public perspective? (I can see why intelligence agencies might make some distinctions particularly to understanding the biographies and training of those individuals who have migrated from Afghanistan.)
I raise this question because the term is still such a “hot button.” It seems to me that officials and the media use it to heighten the sense of threat, even as it seems to be losing its ability to be more of a threat than any other militant group.
In my quest to cool hot buttons, if they have no real heat, I raise the question, what is Al Qaeda? What does that term mean now?