What does it say about Washington's ''war on terror'' that dozen and
a half people with paper cutters forced hundreds of thousands of
Western troops into the battlefields of the "greater Middle East"
That 100,000 foreign soldiers are bogged down in occupied Afghanistan
wondering how many dozens of al-Qaeda operatives have remained, if any;
That the most liberal democracy enacted new controversial illiberal laws and unpatriotic practices under its "Patriot Act";
That one shoe-bomber has forced millions of people to take off their shoes every time they take a flight;
That one underpants-bomber will expose every other traveler in most humiliating of ways;
That after US loss of deterrence and prestige as well as trillions of
dollars of military and other expenditures, al-Qaeda's top leadership
remains at large; its bases/cells proliferate globally; that volunteers
continue to flock into its ranks and young supporters to its websites. And above all that it continues to terrorize America and Americans.
So much that one gets the impression that America is fighting a world
superpower despite the incredible disparities in capacity, numbers and
Is al-Qaeda winning? Has the United States lost?
Hitting the Jackpot
A dozen years ago, a demoralized group with nowhere to go but the hills
of Afghanistan, al-Qaeda began targeting America instead of the
region's authoritarian regimes hoping to destabilize the region, bloody
America's nose and gain popularity.
Its strategy was simple: Draw the US into direct confrontation against
and within the Muslim world. Like sheep to the slaughter house, America
walked right into its trap.
Al-Qaeda was lucky. With a 'cowboy' and so-called "chicken-hawks"
(militarists who ever served in the military) dominating the White
House and the Pentagon... military escalation was only a question of time
The Bush administration decided to "take the war to the enemy so as not
to fight it at home". This is exactly what al-Qaeda hoped for
considering it wasn't applying for Green cards for its members.
It all went as smooth as a scripted movie. After the 9/11 attacks at
the pillars of its world status, the Pentagon and Wall Street, the
wounded superpower went on a rampage. Like a bull in a china shop, it
responded with little or no thinking of the consequences of its
Warmongers took advantage of the threat to US national security to
advance their military agenda in foreign policy and the radical
American Right exploited what they termed as the threat to "our way of
life" to transform America's way of life towards the Right.
Washington called for a "crusade", then changed it into a "war" on
terror and under its guise, went on to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq and
support Israel's bloody wars in Lebanon andPalestine. It also
intervened in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan and put direct pressure on
its allies to confront their Islamist movements.
In no time, the US was preoccupied by its draining occupation and
costly military operations. And as expected, the terrible human cost
only added petrol to the flames of hatred.
Paradoxically, anti-Americanism has been more rampant under "friendly
regimes" like in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey etc. than others.
America's unfortunate and disproportionate use of military force to
defeat a segmented, mobile and polycentric movement of several hundred
core groups of fighters didn't make it any more secure or dissuasive.
As the Obama administration asks for $33 bn extra budget above the
already approved $660 bn for 2010, I remember what Richard Meyers, the
former head of the US joint chiefs of staff, told me several weeks ago how a decade later, the US still doesn't have a strategy to deal with "the global insurgency" facing America.
Popular opposition and world denunciations of US military campaign has
fallen on deaf ears in Washington. Instead of seriously reversing its
military expansion, the Obama administration has accelerated it in the
Afghan-Pakistan area and it seems adamant to repeat more of the same in
Needless to say, no serious strategic analyst would advise abandoning
military power all together. However, Washington's dependency on, even
addiction to, firepower has neutralized or nullified all other efforts
towards defusing support for al-Qaeda and truly winning hearts.
Good-will gestures provided by President Obama and his attempts to
reconnect to the Arab and Islamic world on the basis of "mutual
interest and mutual respect" can hardly be heard considering the echoes
of drone fired missiles, speeding F-15 jets and rolling tanks.
The more Washington used its military force, the less it won the minds
of those it needs most to defeat al-Qaeda: Americans, Arabs and Muslims.
Likewise, US military actions are harming its intelligence and law
enforcement work that over the last decade have dealt the greatest blow
to al-Qaeda's leadership and organisation.
Zero Sum strategy
As military adventures kill, maim and destroy lives, they create,
nurture and build animosities and "alliances" among most unlikely
allies, such as a young rich Nigerian that studies in London, a
Jordanian doctor that studies in Turkey and an Arab-American soldier
trained by the Pentagon, all whom were ready to die to hurt America.
And likewise, counter terror tactics and intelligence work has made it
ever more difficult for public diplomacy to "win hearts and minds".
Instead of listening to people of the region, it has been spying on
them and instead of reading them their rights, it has tortured them in
And instead of hearing out their concerns and fears, Washington has underlined its own above all others.
In that limited and limiting spirit, for example, mostly impoverished
Yemenis that suffer from war in the north, intensive conflict in the
south and three decade autocratic regime, must now worry about US
fears, and cater to US interests above their own.
Which brings us back to our initial question: al- Qaeda is winning only as far as Washington is running a self-defeating war.
However, one needs to remember that in the self-defeating war on terror, winner and loser is one and the same.
As long as America puts its security preoccupations and political
interests about those under its military and strategic domination, the
Pentagon and al-Qaeda will feed into one another and the Americans,
Arabs and Muslims will continue to be the ultimate losers.