Every July in the lush, green mountains of Aspen, Colorado, many of the top present and former U.S. national security officials and other experts gather to discuss how the war against al Qaeda and its allies is going.
Ahead of last year's Aspen conference, I wrote a piece for CNN provocatively titled "Time to declare victory: Al Qaeda is defeated." And I then spoke on a panel at Aspen where I tried to make the case for this position.
I'm not sure too many of the folks in Aspen were convinced. (If they had been, it would hardly seem necessary to travel back to Aspen again this year!)
Since last year's Aspen conference, a group of men only very loosely aligned with al Qaeda attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four U.S. diplomats and CIA contractors.
And in April, the Tsarnaev brothers whose family originated in the Caucasus -- one an American citizen and the other a US resident -- were accused of detonating pressure-cooker bombs in Boston that were based on a design that al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate had widely distributed on the Internet.
The bombing killed three and wounded more than 250 and brought ordinary life to a screeching halt in one of the nation's largest cities.
Certainly the attacks in Libya and Boston were victories for "Binladenism," the ideological movement that al Qaeda has spawned.
Indeed, the New Mexico-born cleric Anwar Awlaki who was a leader of al-Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate before he was killed in a US drone strike in 2011, was influential not only on the Tsarnaev brothers who possessed some of his writings but also on 22 other US-based jihadist extremists, according to a count by the New America Foundation.
However, the attacks in Libya and Boston don't really change the prognosis that al Qaeda, the organization that attacked the U.S. on 9/11, is going the way of the VHS tape.
Al Qaeda itself hasn't carried out a successful attack in the West since the suicide bombings in London in 2005 that killed 52. And the terrorist group hasn't carried out an attack in the United States since 9/11. Nor have any of its affiliated groups.
The killings of several high-level al Qaeda militants -- foremost among them the organization's founder and leader, Osama bin Laden, during a Navy SEAL raid on his compound in May 2011 -- have dealt a serious blow to al Qaeda's core leadership.
A few months after bin Laden's death, a U.S. drone strike killed Atiyah Abdul Rahman, who had become al Qaeda's No. 2 commander after Ayman al-Zawahiri had assumed bin Laden's leadership role.
Rahman was one of 30 leaders of al Qaeda in Pakistan who have been killed in CIA drone strikes over the past five years, according to a count by the New America Foundation.
Al Qaeda "Central," in short, remains on life support.
A second chance with the Arab Spring
However, the unrest that swept the Arab world in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring has provided jihadist extremist groups with more room to operate and injected large amounts of arms into the region.
Al Qaeda affiliates subsequently gained significant footholds in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Mali. But the bulk of jihadist violence in those countries is focused on purely domestic targets. And in countries such as Mali and Yemen, jihadist militants have overplayed their hands and have suffered real reverses in the past year or so.
As a result, the attacks by al Qaeda-aligned groups on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in September and on the BP gas facility in Amenas, Algeria, at the beginning of this year represent the current state of jihadist anti-Western capabilities abroad.
Worldwide, al Qaeda affiliates aren't a major threat to the West:
-- Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a real threat to Yemen, but despite its strong interest in U.S. targets, the group has not attempted any serious anti-American attack since its failed October 2010 plot to plant bombs hidden in printer cartridges on cargo planes destined for the United States. However, AQAP's capable chief bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, remains at large.