IF you think the US markets have problems, look at the value of al Qaeda shares throughout the Muslim world: A high-flying political equity just a few years ago, its stock has tanked. It made the wrong strategic investments and squandered its moral capital.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Osama bin Laden was the darling of the Arab street, seen as the most successful Muslim in centuries. The Saudi royal family paid him protection money, while individual princes handed over cash willingly: Al Qaeda seemed like the greatest thing since the right to abuse multiple wives.

Osama appeared on T-shirts and his taped utterances were awaited with fervent excitement. Recruits flocked to al Qaeda not because of "American aggression," but because, after countless failures, it looked like the Arabs had finally produced a winner.

What a difference a war makes.

Yes, al Qaeda had little or no connection to Saddam Hussein's Iraq - but the terrorists chose to declare that country the main front in their struggle with the Great Satan. Bad investment: Their behavior there was so breathtakingly brutal that they alienated their fellow Muslims in record time.

Fighting enthusiastically beside the once-hated Americans, Iraq's Sunni Muslims turned on the terrorists with a vengeance. Al Qaeda's response? It kept on butchering innocent Muslims, Sunni and Shia alike. Iraq exposed al Qaeda as a fraud.

Where do Osama & Co. stand today? They're not welcome in a single Arab country. The Saudi royals not only cut off their funding, but cracked down hard within the kingdom. A few countries, such as Yemen, tolerate radicals out in the boonies - but they won't let al Qaeda in. Osama's reps couldn't even get extended-stay rooms in Somalia, beyond the borders of the Arab world.

And the Arab in the (dirty) street is chastened. Instead of delivering a triumph, al Qaeda brought disaster, killing far more Arabs through violence and strife than Israel has killed in all its wars. Nobody in the Arab world's buying al Qaeda shares at yesterday's premium - and only a last few suckers are buying at all.

Guess what? We won.