Last week the head of the CIA claimed it was winning the battle. Nonsense, argues Robert Fisk. The extremists in the Middle East are growing stronger
Six thousand dead in Afghanistan, tens of thousands dead in Iraq, a suicide bombing a day in Mesopotamia, the highest level of suicides ever in the US military – the Arab press wisely ran this story head to head with Hayden's boasts – and permanent US bases in Iraq after 31 December. And we've won?
Am I alone in finding this stuff infantile to the point of madness? As long as there is injustice in the Middle East, al-Qa'ida will win. As long as we have 22 times as many Western forces in the Muslim world as we did at the time of the Crusades – my calculations are pretty accurate – we are going to be at war with Muslims. The hell-disaster of the Middle East is now spread across Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, even Lebanon. And we are winning?
Because al-Qa'ida is a way of thinking, not an army. It feeds on pain and fear and cruelty – our cruelty and oppression – and as long as we continue to dominate the Muslim world with our Apache helicopters and our tanks and our Humvees and our artillery and bombs and our "friendly" dictators, so will al-Qa'ida continue.
Does Mike Hayden read this stuff? Or is he, like most of Washington, so frightened of Israel that he wouldn't say boo to a goose? Doesn't the CIA realise – or imagine – that as long as we allow the Middle East to fester under a cloak of injustice, al-Qa'ida will continue? Why are our forces – and this is a question I was asked in Baghdad – in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria (yes, US special forces have a base near Tamanraset), Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Tajikistan? (Yes again, French bomber pilots are based at Dushanbe to fly "close air support" for our lads in Afghanistan.)
And as long as we have stretched this iron curtain across the Middle East, we will be at war and al-Qa'ida will be at war with us. This new iron curtain, by the way, starts up in Greenland and stretches down through Britain and Germany, through Bosnia and Greece to Turkey. What is it for? What's on the other side? Russia. China. India.
These are questions we do not ask; certainly they're not the kind of questions that The Washington Post would dare to put to Mike and his chums at the CIA. Yes, we huff and we puff about democracy and freedom and human rights, though we give little enough of them to the Muslim world. For the kind of freedom they want – the kind of freedom that allows outfits like al-Qa'ida to flourish – is freedom from "us". And this, I fear, we do not intend to give them.
Mike Hayman may think the Muslim world is "pushing back" al-Qa'ida's "form of Islam", but I doubt it. Indeed, I rather suspect al-Qa'ida is growing stronger. Mike says they're defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. But are they defeated in London? And Bali? And in New York and Washington?
Not exactly similar, but similar enough to the Vietcong, skinny little guys with AK47s, and the Afghans who defeated the British with handmade copies of bolt-action Lee-Enfields, and many others throughout the years, al Qaeda's got a few things goin' for 'em, rightly or wrongly, that no modern firepower-based army can ever defeat - they've got a fire in the belly born of religious fanaticism and social oppression to rid themslves of exploitation by outsiders and their own regimes that are fueled by it.
They can peck away at the biggest army and cause it to lose its will to continue. It doesn't matter if it takes a hundred years. They are where they are and will be there long after we leave. Which we eventually will.
We might as well GTFO. As long as oppressive regimes are in place, many of whom even sponsor aQ as long as they terrorize elsewhere, the conditions that cause things like aQ will let 'em percolate along in perpetuity just fine without us.
And just as an afterthought, thank the stars for foreign news media that's not afraid of their corporate masters or a failing oppressive regime here at home.