In the Herald Tribune, Rami G. Khouri writes:
I was not surprised, during a visit to Egypt for a few days, to read the results of the latest BBC World Service global poll showing that in 22 out of 23 countries surveyed most people feel the U.S.-led “global war on terror” has not weakened Al Qaeda. On average, the poll showed, only 22 percent of respondents feel that Al Qaeda has been weakened, while three in five believe that the war on terror has had no effect (29 percent) or made Al Qaeda stronger (30 percent).
I’m not surprised either, considering the candidate in the lead for President of the United States feels the same way. Debating John McCain last week, Barack Obama dropped this whopper on 53 million American viewers and another 60 million viewers and listeners worldwide: “Al-Qaeda is resurgent, stronger now than any time since 2001.” When the loudest, most revered American voice on the planet insists that U.S. victory is U.S. defeat what is the rest of the world supposed to think? And what are we supposed to think? Is this what Obama means by restoring America’s standing in the world?
When Obama’s not denying American victory, he’s apologizing for America’s attempts at it, even when the culprit is someone else. Indeed, when Russia invaded Georgia in August, Obama saw the perfect opportunity to beat up a little more on the U.S.. He said, “We’ve got to send a clear message to Russia and unify our allies. They can’t charge into other countries. Of course it helps if we are leading by example on that point.”
That’s exactly right: we should lead by example. We can start by being honest about what the U.S. has achieved in the War on Terror. In countries such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda leadership has been killed, captured, or marginalized by the thousands. Operationally, fighters are scattered and strapped for money. And public sympathy for al Qaeda has plummeted throughout most of the Muslim world (although it is on the rise in Northern Africa, Egypt, Pakistan, and several parts of Europe.)
A U.S. that doesn’t deny its successes won’t necessarily inspire the rest of the world to join in the celebration. But it will halt the course of the self-fulfilling prophecy of America’s decline. There’s more than philosophical folly in the question: is a victory still a victory if everyone calls it a defeat?