IF you think the US markets have problems, look at the value of al Qaeda
shares throughout the Muslim world: A high-flying political equity just
a few years ago, its stock has tanked. It made the wrong strategic
investments and squandered its moral capital.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Osama bin Laden was the darling
of the Arab street, seen as the most successful Muslim in centuries.
The Saudi royal family paid him protection money, while individual
princes handed over cash willingly: Al Qaeda seemed like the greatest
thing since the right to abuse multiple wives.
Osama appeared on T-shirts and his taped utterances were awaited
with fervent excitement. Recruits flocked to al Qaeda not because of
"American aggression," but because, after countless failures, it looked
like the Arabs had finally produced a winner.
What a difference a war makes.
Yes, al Qaeda had little or no connection to Saddam Hussein's Iraq - but the terrorists chose to declare that country the main front in their struggle with the Great Satan. Bad investment: Their behavior there was so breathtakingly brutal that they alienated their fellow Muslims in record time.
Fighting enthusiastically beside the once-hated
Americans, Iraq's Sunni Muslims turned on the terrorists with a
vengeance. Al Qaeda's response? It kept on butchering innocent Muslims,
Sunni and Shia alike. Iraq exposed al Qaeda as a fraud.
Where do Osama & Co. stand today? They're not welcome in a
single Arab country. The Saudi royals not only cut off their funding,
but cracked down hard within the kingdom. A few countries, such as
Yemen, tolerate radicals out in the boonies - but they won't let al
Qaeda in. Osama's reps couldn't even get extended-stay rooms in
Somalia, beyond the borders of the Arab world.
And the Arab in the (dirty) street is chastened. Instead of
delivering a triumph, al Qaeda brought disaster, killing far more Arabs
through violence and strife than Israel has killed in all its wars.
Nobody in the Arab world's buying al Qaeda shares at yesterday's
premium - and only a last few suckers are buying at all.
Guess what? We won.
The partisan hacks who insisted that Iraq was a distraction from
fighting al Qaeda have missed the situation's irony: Things are getting
worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan not because our attention was
elsewhere, but because al Qaeda has been driven from the Arab world,
with nowhere else to go.
Al Qaeda isn't fighting to revive the Caliphate these days. It's fighting for its life.
Unwelcome even in Sudan or Syria, the Islamist fanatics have
retreated to remote mountain villages and compounds on the Pakistani
side of the Afghan border. That means Afghanistan's going to remain a
difficult challenge for years to come - not a mission-impossible, but
an aggravating one.
But we all need to stand back and consider how much we've achieved:
A terrorist organization that less than a decade ago had global appeal
and reach has been discredited in the eyes of most of the world's
No one of consequence in the Arab world sees al Qaeda as a winner
anymore. Even fundamentalist clerics denounce it. For all of our
missteps, Iraq's been worth it.
How is it that the media missed this stunning victory? Will they start to admit it after Nov. 4?
Yes, al Qaeda remains dangerous. It's a wounded hog still grunting
down in the canebrake: More innocent people will be gored - and it's
going to take a lot of pig-sticking to finish it off.
But I'm proud of one call I made last year: The prediction that the
"Sunni flip" in Iraq's Anbar Province marked the high-water mark for al
Qaeda. Increasingly, that call looks correct.
Democrats make a great fuss over the Bush administration's failure
to capture Osama (although they themselves have no idea how to do so).
But it now looks like the judgment of history - after the political
rancor has settled into the graves of today's demagogues - will be that
the administration of George W. Bush defeated al Qaeda.
There's plenty of work still to be done. Al Qaeda will behave
viciously in its death throes. Other terrorist groups await their turn
to appall the world.
But the second-greatest irony of our time is that, fumbling all the
way, the Bush administration did what it set out to do after 9/11: It
exacted vengeance on those who attacked us and toppled their towers - al Qaeda's fantastic dreams of global jihad.
So what's the greatest irony? The president's oft-mocked declaration of "Mission Accomplished" wasn't wrong, after all - just premature.
Ralph Peters' new book is "Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World."