These pathways continue to allow Al Qaeda’s affiliates and offshoots to play the Whac-A-Mole game, popping up here and there. Oil money remains vital to their operations. While it’s too soon to tell how bin Laden’s death will affect such funding, it would be foolish to assume that it will end.
Terrorists also rail against US support for oil-rich regimes such as Saudi Arabia, and mistakenly believe that America wants to “steal” Middle East oil. In fact, the United States and its firms have barely even cashed in on oil contracts in Iraq.
Meanwhile, worldwide communications help terrorists convey their negative narrative. According to numerous polls of Muslim countries over the past decade, Al Qaeda’s message has weakened substantially, but it still carries weight with millions of people.
While oil has fueled terrorism, globalization has offered terrorists vulnerable outlets for attack. In a more connected world, just a handful of angry men can wreak havoc, which is partly what makes the Al Qaeda threat so hard to eliminate.
In previous centuries, the September 11 attacks would have hardly been known to the world; but in 2001 they hit a key node of a globalized world – New York – producing ripple effects around the world. All financial markets, including oil, were affected. Big businesses felt the shock waves. That kind of impact could never have been felt in a much less globalized world.
Today's communications and the 24/7 media age also allow terrorists to seem more threatening than their capabilities suggest. We can all watch terror threats unfold in real time. Even a hapless underwear or shoe bomber can stir global fear. And a small, well planned attack such as the one that recently killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya gains global coverage.
Yes, Al Qaeda’s leadership has been decimated, making a massive 9/11 attack far harder to achieve. Obama is right. But Al Qaeda’s bankrupt ideas live on and are communicated to millions, partly via affiliates and offshoots. Oil has helped fuel and motivate them, while globalization has allowed them to exploit that fuel to do things that otherwise would be more difficult and costly.