In any event, measuring the protracted nature of insurgency and terrorism in dualistic terms of "up" and "down" is the realm of mainstream media.
The Washington Post offers few pieces of information that would catch the attention of international observers, but one startling figure is the high estimate of al-Qaeda in Iraq: 2,500. The largest operational count on the map (if roughly accurate) not only occurs within a country that al-Qaeda entered after American soldiers - al-Qaeda has maintained a presence in a war that was supposed to be over. Today the network allegedly struck again when a suicide bomber infiltrated the Sahwa - "Sons of Iraq" - headquarters in Taji, presumably as retaliation for the so-called Sunni Awakening. An estimated 340 civilians were killed and many hundreds wounded in January alone and, with Baghdad paralyzed by a power struggle between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Sunni opposition, Iraq's violence stands to persist and possibly intensify.
While al-Qaeda's ideology may be on set on a long-term "path to defeat," as the Obama administration and U.S. mainstream media continue to assert, an entire war has been declared over when it is far from it. This broken "promise" became the third leg of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, illustrating how al-Qaeda's estimated strength varies in relation to the administration's political needs at a given time. Taking Syria into account adds a new dimension to this dilemma. Now the same war that is supposedly "over" is fueling a new war across the border and new fears in Washington, where concerns of al-Noura's influence have overshadowed other aspects of Syria's revolution.
The administration clearly wants these situations to cut both ways - Syria is new news, Iraq is old news. Highlighting accomplishments and concealing failures is standard practice.
Add al-Qaeda's operations Iraq and Syria to AQAP and, to a lesser extent AQIM's activities in North Africa, and al-Qaeda's momentum doesn't feel as weak as the Obama administration claims. This isn't to lobby in favor of escalation, but to advise against an endless campaign of militarizing Muslim states and the undermining of their peoples. In order to truly counter al-Qaeda's ideology over the long-term, U.S. foreign policy must invest in the political energy needed to compliment military operations and establish genuine relations with local populations.
Such a multidimensional policy remains sorely missing in Yemen, Iraq, Mali and Pakistan.