The Islamic State vs Al Qaeda

The War Within the Jihadist Movement

The rise of the Islamic State and its competition with al-Qaeda has fundamentally reshaped the global jihadist movement. Al-Qaeda, the once-dominant force within the movement, which adopted a strategy focused on fighting the United States in a competition between two actors, has faltered as the Islamic State’s strategy designed for war both with the United States and al-Qaeda has demonstrated results. Rather than competing with the Islamic State’s loud campaign trumpeting its brutality and military success, al-Qaeda has instead sought to avoid attention and rebrand itself as “moderate.” What is the future of the jihadist movement? Whose strategy will succeed – al Qaeda’s or the Islamic State’s? How should the United States analyze and respond to the new environment? In a new policy paper from New America, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and his coauthors explore these questions.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the co-author of the policy paper, is the CEO of Valens Global, a security consulting firm and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. An adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, his research focuses on the challenges posed by violent non-state actors, with a concentration on al-Qaeda and other jihadist organizations. He holds a Ph.D. in world politics from the Catholic University of America and a J.D. from the New York University School of Law.

Douglas Ollivant is an ASU Future of War Senior Fellow at New America. He is a managing partner of the strategic consulting firm Mantid International and a contributor to Al-Jazeera America. A retired Army officer, he spent a total of three years deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, both in uniform and as a contractor, and was Director for Iraq at the National Security Council during both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

Nadia Oweidat is a Senior Non-Residential Fellow at New America. She holds a D.Phil. in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford, where her dissertation focused on liberal Muslim intellectuals who attempt to bridge the gap between modern values such as secularism and women’s rights and Islam. Prior to her doctoral studies, Dr. Oweidat worked as a Research Associate at the RAND Corporation where she led several research projects.

New America is pleased to welcome Dr. Gartenstein-Ross, Dr. Ollivant, and Dr. Oweidat for the launch of New America’s new policy paper The Islamic State v. Al Qaeda.

Join the conversation online using #ISISvAQ and following @NatSecNAF.


Dr. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Chief Executive Officer, Valens Global

Dr. Douglas Ollivant
Senior Fellow, New America
Former Director for Iraq, National Security Council

Dr. Nadia Oweidat
Senior Non-Residential Fellow, International Security Program, New America

Peter Bergen
Director, International Security Program, New America