BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- With every day of market decline and economic pain, we need to face a terribly unpalatable question, and it's not whether Standard & Poor's is credible or if the downgrades will send the economy into a tailspin (or, perhaps, if we are already in a tailspin).

Sure, the downgrade of U.S. long-term debt by Standard & Poor's appears to be a cynical ploy by this tarnished credit-rating agency, perhaps trying to burnish its reputation at a time when parent McGraw-Hill is in play. But there's no question that the content of its downgrade report is correct, even if its initial arithmetic was off. The fact is that our political processes are a mess. We don't deserve a top credit rating.

But there is, I think, a deeper reason for the misery we're experiencing. I'll put it in the form of a question: Is al-Qaeda winning the economic struggle?

I know, bin Laden's dead, al-Qaeda is on the run, etc. etc. And I don't mean that al-Qaeda has won militarily, though even that is debatable -- can anyone say with confidence what will happen to Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq after a U.S. withdrawal? But I think that a strong case can be made that al-Qaeda has gone a long way toward achieving one of its primary war aims, which was to sabotage the U.S. economy. Bin Laden may be fish food, but his strategy seems to have worked. We are being bled white, thanks in large part by the war that he forced us to fight -- and we have our representatives in Washington, and their ideologically driven refusal to increase taxes, to blame for this mess.

First, let's go back to the bin Laden "we'll bleed you" tape. This is not an urban legend, but was widely publicized at the time. In October 2004, al-Qaeda distributed a bin Laden video that contained a departure from his usual invective. Instead of inveighing against U.S. Imperialists, Jews and so on, he spent nearly 20 minutes talking not like a terrorist chieftain in a cave but the former corporate executive that he used to be, analyzing with satisfaction an objective that al-Qaeda was clearly achieving.

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