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The War on Terror: Who is Winning? By: Dr. Walid Phares
www.walidphares.com | Wednesday, September 15, 2004

On the third anniversary of 9/11, the question remains: are we winning the War on Terror? The answer has serious consequences not only for America's national security and international relations, but also, with less than sixty days until America’s presidential elections, for the future of that war.

Three years after the 9/11 massacre, the American debate on the War on Terror is still trapped in reactive mazes. For some, forcing al Qaida’s leadership into caves is indicative of victory. To others, attacks within the Sunni Triangle signals American failure in
. Still others believe that the jihadists are on the run, while opponents affirm that the terrorists are recruiting even more than ever. Pieces of statistics, if considered singularly, do not answer much, but if inserted into a broader analysis of the war, clarify the picture somewhat.

The War on Terror is between two parties: the nebulous jihadists with al Qaida on the top and other agglomerations of regimes and organizations on the edges, waiting to jump in, or already involved in secret; and the United States, its allies, and many civil societies in conflict with the terrorists on the other side, while a number of other governments are waiting on the sidelines or are engaged in a limited manner.  
Hizbollah, Iran and the Syrian Baath Party fired the first shots in this war in the 1980s, killing U.S. Marines in 1983 at the Beirut Barracks, and then assassinating diplomats, taking hostages, blowing up others throughout the rest of the decade. The second wave started in the early 1990s with many Wahabi attacks, including ones in New York City, Saudi Arabia, East Africa, Sudan, Yemen, and a takeover in Afghanistan. But it was only after September 11, 2001, that the two holy wars met significant US-led resistance in the form of counter-offensives worldwide.

This war is historically asymmetric. It was waged unilaterally for over two decades by radical Islamist forces, while the U.S. response was either ten to twenty years late, depending on the benchmarks. Which is why the U.S. was badly hit in 2001; its enemies had started the war 10 years earlier. And ‘Homeland Security’ is still lacking within U.S. borders because it is three years old by American standards and two decades late by jihadi time. American attention towards terrorism was weak before 9/11 because America’s vision of Islamic fundamentalism was blurred for many years.

Furthermore, the so-called campaign to win the "heart and minds" of the Arab and Muslim world is not running up against an anti-Americanism that can be traced back to a particular presidency, but rather is facing an uphill battle against a whole century of militant Salafism. In short, and not surprisingly,
is again fighting a war that had already started ages ago, a fact it came to realize, simply and roughly, on 9/11. So, who is winning?

United States lost 3,000 souls on its own territory on 9/11, a thousand soldiers in Iraq, and hundreds of military personnel and diplomats from Beirut to Kabul. But it solidified its national security, removed the Taliban and replaced them with friendly Afghans, degraded al Qaida’s leadership, up-rooted one Baathist regime and produced an ally in Baghdad

On the other side of the ledger, the jihadists lost leaders, militants and a piece of significant real estate in
Afghanistan. They lost a safe haven in America and total freedom in Saudi Arabia. But al Qaida gained a battlefield in Iraq
, prominence among holy warriors and additional recruits within the Muslim world.

In the final analysis, both the U.S and al Qaida are winning their wars; but we can reasonably project that the long-term, U.S.-inspired doctrine of freedom will ultimately defeat al Qaida’s jihadism. The answer to whether the U.S. prevails, therefore, boils down to how Washington will conduct its campaign over the next few years, and whether the future White House will stay the course, both of which should be matters of utmost importance for Americans in the current election.

Dr Walid Phares is the author of the newly released book Future Jihad. He is also a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington DC.

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