Robert Fisk: So al-Qa'ida's defeated, eh? Go tell it to the marines

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

Share
Related Topics

So al-Qa'ida is "almost defeated", is it? Major gains against al-Qa'ida. Essentially defeated. "On balance, we are doing pretty well," the CIA's boss, Michael Hayden, tells The Washington Post. "Near strategic defeat of al-Qa'ida in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qa'ida in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qa'ida globally – and here I'm going to use the word 'ideologically' – as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam." Well, you could have fooled me.

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?

Less than two years ago, we had an equally insane assessment of the war when General Peter Pace, the weird (and now mercifully retired) chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said of the American war in Iraq that "we are not winning but we are not losing". At which point, George Bush's Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, said he agreed with Pace that "we are not winning but we are not losing".

James Baker, who had just produced his own messy report on Iraq then said – reader, please do not laugh or cry – "I don't think you can say we're losing. By the same token, I'm not sure we're winning." Then Bush himself proclaimed, "We're not winning; we're not losing." Pity about the Iraqis. But anyway, now we really, really are winning. Or at least al-Qa'ida is "almost" – note the "almost", folks – defeated. So Mike Hayden tells us.

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?

Yes, we've bought ourselves some time in Iraq by paying half of the insurgents to fight for us and to murder their al-Qa'ida cousins. Yes, we are continuing to prop up Saudi Arabia's head-chopping and torture-practising regime – no problem there, I suppose, after our enthusiasm for "water-boarding" – but this does not mean that al-Qa'ida is defeated.

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.

Must we live this madness through to the very end of the Bush regime in Washington? Is there no one in that magnificent, imperial city who understands what "we" are doing out here in the Middle East? Why on earth does The Washington Post even give room to the fantasies of a functionary from the CIA, the very organisation that failed to prevent 9/11 because – if we are to believe what we are told – a phone call in Arabic about crashing planes into the twin towers hadn't been translated in time? Are we going to bomb Iran? Is this what we are waiting for now? Or is it to be another proxy Iranian-American war in Lebanon, fought out by Hizbollah and the Israelis? And does Mike believe al-Qa'ida is in Iran?

Israel continues to build settlements for Jews – and Jews only – on Arab land. And Washington does nothing. Illegal though these settlements are, George Bush goes along with it. They fuel anger and frustration and a righteous sense of grievance – and Washington will not prevent this outrage from continuing. I open my Arab papers each morning to find new reasons why the Bin Ladens of this world will not go away.

Take the story that came out of Gaza this week. Eight Palestinian students won grants from the Fulbright scholarship programme to study in the United States. You'd think, wouldn't you, that it was in the interest of America to bring these young Muslim people to the land of the free. But no. Israel won't let them leave Gaza. It's all part of the "war on terror" which Israel claims it is fighting alongside America. So the US State Department has cancelled the scholarships. No, it's not worth turning yourself into an al-Qa'ida suicide bomber for such a nonsense. But it would be difficult to find anything meaner, pettier, more vicious than this in yesterday's papers.

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?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower