Still, Tacitus does assume that Bush makes this country safer, without dismissing all disagreement as rote partisanship, and hence his challenge to find fact-based evidence that the bombings in Istanbul were the result of the diversion of resources from the legitimate war on Terror to the illegitmate-but-now-essential-to-finish war on Iraq, is worthy of answering.
The fact is that Al-Qaeda is evolving. Via Phil Carter's excellent analysis, the La Times has an editorial on this evolution by Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc. :
Al Qaeda has always been relatively decentralized and unstructured. But today it moves faster, inciting attacks that require less time, expertise or high-level supervision, said Matthew Levitt, a former FBI analyst and terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"It was always a network of networks whose inner core would wait patiently for three to five years to carry out spectacular attacks," Levitt said. "What's different today is that it's not clear they can conduct attacks with that kind of command and control. So to maintain relevancy, they gave the go-ahead: Do what you can, where you can, when you can. And they are targeting softer targets more frequently."
The resurgent global menace leads critics to assert that the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have boomeranged by scattering Al Qaeda's forces, making them harder to detect, and inspiring like-minded extremists.
"I think it [U.S. strategy] has backfired," said Alani, of the London defense studies institute. "There is no evidence they can cope effectively with these groups."
On the other hand, some U.S. and European officials see signs of weakness as inexperienced, improvised terrorists turn to soft targets. Even in a diminished condition, Al Qaeda has shown how effectively it can harvest the seeds of hate, said Olivier Roy of the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.
"It's a movement that functions by franchise," Roy said. "You find a local group like the Casablanca group who exist all over, who are radicalized and controlled by intermediaries. Al Qaeda gives a general attack order, and then it's not really important if the attack is rational. Casablanca was not rational in many aspects.... The real message was in the suicide, not in the targets. It was necessary to strike fear."
Al-Qaeda's recent attacks in Saudi Arabia itself underscore this fact. Phil adds his own analysis, noting:
This is truly a living, breathing, thinking, evolving enemy. Its original form was probably the "Afghan Arab" movement which successfully fought the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with a composite force of Afghans and Arabs supported by America and others. In the 1990s, this force mutated into the international terror network responsible for the 1996 bombings in Africa, 1998 embassy bombings, 2001 USS Cole attack, and Sept. 11. Over that period, the Al Qaeda network evolved, building redundancy and operational capabilities, building doctrine, and learning lessons from other conflicts. One lesson it learned well was how to survive the eventual Western counter-attack.
The organization had enough redundant operational capability, as well as enough dispersal, to withstand our operations in Afghanistan and continue its operations abroad. The best that can be said is that Al Qaeda has been diminished. It currently appears to lack the ability to conduct "spectactular operations" in the U.S. or Western Europe. But Al Qaeda does not lack the ability to conduct operations abroad, either in Africa, Asia or the Middle East. It appears likely that Al Qaeda has adopted a purposeful operational strategy of "wait and strike where we can."
To lure more recruits and more donations from sympathetic Arabs around the world, Al Qaeda doesn't have to launch another 9/11-style spectacular operation. They can simply go on, throwing rocks and bombs at insignificant targets while being hunted by American special operations units. Doing so will inspire their followers, which will make them stronger.
At some point in the future, Al Qaeda 3.0 will resume its larger operations, perhaps when we have become complacent or when America can no longer politically justify the exhaustive hunt for Al Qaeda. This enemy has the tactical patience to wait for that moment, and to strike then.
Relevant to this point is this timetable of attacks by Al-Qaeda since 9-11 by Lt. Smash - note that they are exclusively confined to the Islamic world. Far from eroding their base of support, it will fuel it, since they are franchising violence by extreme groups within these societies. AlQ has been affected by our war on Terror, but by no means dismantled, and in fact has evolved into an even more virulent strain of terror ideology exporting than before. Given that we are committed to Iraq, it's not a challenge we have resources to address effectively, because Al-Qaeda's recruitment efforts are aimed at the radical fringe in Islamic societies, who will not be receptive to the beacon of a Free Iraq.
UPDATE: Billmon has more on how resources are being diverted to Iraq that are sorely needed in Afghanistan. Namely, Arabic-speaking linguists.