When the US launched its “war on terrorism,” the hope of many who cherished the freedoms offered by western societies was that al-Qaida and similar forms of reactionary Islam that aspire to reinstitute the ancient caliphate, and in the process slaughter or convert the infidels, would be ushered off the world stage.

It was said that al-Qaida’s own paranoia would devour it. The organization and others like it would fall victim to their own deluded worldview because such fundamentalist, totalitarian ideology is incapable of self-criticism.

Gradually, like Communism, Islamist extremism would fade away.

And for a time it seemed plausible to argue that the tide was turning. Osama Bin Laden had been eliminated.

The trove of information recovered from Bin Laden’s Abottabad hideaway seemed to confirm assessments that al-Qaida was suffering serious setbacks. Drone attacks were taking their toll, the network’s financial plight was critical, and increasing energies were being devoting to rooting out traitors and spies.

Even the Arab Spring – principally protests against economic inequalities – seemed to make the creation of a caliphate less likely.

It has been 12 years to the day since al-Qaida terrorists hijacked civilian airplanes, transformed them into weapons, and aimed them at population centers in Manhattan and Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, the US-led “war on terrorism” that followed – and was strongly supported by consecutive Israeli governments – has a mixed record.

The same al-Qaida that US President Barack Obama pronounced “decimated” and “on the path to defeat” during his successful 2012 campaign for reelection, is remarkably active.

Al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists are alive and kicking in Algeria and Somalia, in Mali and Yemen, in Pakistan and Iraq. And in Syria, the toppling of Bashar Assad’s despotic regime is not being discussed seriously, in part because there is a high likelihood that al-Qaida forces would be one of the central candidates to fill in the vacuum.

Admittedly, the toppling of Sadam Hussein which came in the wake of 9/11 has resulted in numerous benefits, many of them unnoticed or unacknowledged.

In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi’s fear at watching the fate of Sadam helped convince him to surrender his stockpile of WMD in 2003. And it is hardly coincidence that Iran reached what would be a short-lived agreement with Britain, France and Germany to suspend its nuclearenrichment work immediately after the western coalition forces marched on Iraq.

Meanwhile, Iraq has – albeit in rudimentary and tenuous form – a free press, a written constitution, and a parliamentary election system that are the minimum demand of Arab civil society. The changes in Iraq might even have been an impetus for the Arab spring. At the very least, the elimination of an oil-rich and heavily armed Arab state controlled by a sadistic crime family with a track record of aggression outside its borders and repression within has made the Middle East a slightly better place.

But the prolonged military interventions in Iraq and in Afghanistan launched in response to the 9/11 attacks have taken their toll. Generating the level of deterrence that intimidated Libya and Iran a decade ago is costly in both lives and resources and is impossible to maintain.

The West, and particularly America, is war-weary and rightly skeptical regarding the efficacy of even the most well-intentioned forced regime change.

Understandably, the same skepticism extends to the present debate over US military intervention in Syria.

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans think Congress should not authorize limited military action in Syria, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released on Monday. In a Gallup poll those surveyed oppose US military action 51 percent to 36 percent.

The US-led “war on terrorism” has a mixed record.

The ability of the West to truly influence the Middle East is limited. Totalitarian Islamist regimes and organizations – including al-Qaida – have proven to be remarkably resilient. Hopes that the Arab spring would lead to a more democratic Middle East have yet to materialize.

Instead, democratic election gave rise – temporarily in Egypt’s case – to Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated governments.

And this geopolitical reality – as we mark the 12th anniversary of 9/11 – presents serious challenges, not only for Israel, but for the rest of the freedom-loving world.

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