Why the U.S. lost the war on terror

The war on terror is over …  Terror won. [1]

Following the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States began what was called the “war on terror.”  This war [2] has been lost.  Anti-American terrorists are many times stronger now than they were back then, and the U.S. government lacks a feasible strategy for fighting them.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the whole world, including most of the Islamic world, was outraged at the killing of 3,000 innocent civilians, and rallied to the side of the USA.  There were pro-American demonstrations even in Tehran!

This would have been a great opportunity to shut down Al Qaeda for good.  Al Qaeda was a criminal conspiracy and a would-be mass movement.  The way to fight a mass movement is to cut it off from its popular support.  The way to fight a criminal conspiracy is to cut if off from its sources of money.  Both of these, in my opinion, were feasible at the time.

0618-ISIS-Iraq-gulf_full_600But this was not the path that was taken.

Instead of targeting Al Qaeda, the U.S. government decided to target hostile governments—perhaps on the theory that the Pentagon does not know how to fight mass movements, but does know how to invade small foreign countries.

Instead of targeting countries in which Al Qaeda had its roots, such as Saudi Arabia, the U.S. invaded Iraq, whose leader, Saddam Hussein, was an enemy of Al Qaeda, while continuing its cold war with Iran, also an enemy of Al Qaeda.  Later the U.S. helped overthrow the government of Libya and plotted to overthrow the government of Syria, whose leaders, Qaddafi and Assad, were not anti-American, but eager to stay in the good graces of the U.S. government.

U.S. invasions reduced Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria to bloody chaos, which are precisely the conditions in which radical and terrorist mass movements flourish.  Since the U.S. military has yet to figure out how to deal with insurgencies, the U.S. government has relied on assassination teams, flying killer robots and use of local forces as proxies.

Assassination teams are effective in taking out leaders.  I can’t count the number of times the death of Al Qaeda’s “second in command” has been announced.   Flying killer robots are less so.  But mass movements throw up new leaders.  Osama bin Laden is dead, and his original organization probably is need, but new Al Qaedas have sprung up in Yemen and Iraq, and the so-called Islamic State is even more radical than Al Qaeda.

Use of proxies has backfired time and time again.  The weapons the U.S. government gives to its supposed friends wind up in the hands of its enemies, either because the supposed friends are not willing to fight or because the supposed friends have their own objectives which are different from what we Americans think.

The USA has had too many enemies in the Middle East, so that the enemies of our enemies are also our enemies.   We were enemies of the Shiite ayatollahs in Iran, but supported their Shiite allies in Iraq against Saddam’s loyalists and radical Sunni Muslim jihadists.   We were enemies of the radical jihadist Muslims, but we supported them against Libya’s Qaddafi and Syria’s Assad.  Now Washington journalists and politicians talk about supporting Iran and its Syrian and Iraqi allies against the jihadist Islamic State.

It is no wonder there is no faction in the Middle East the U.S. government can trust.  Nor is it any wonder there is no faction that trusts the U.S. government.

Having no clear aims of its own, the U.S. government follows the lead of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchs such as Qatar, all of whom naturally follow their own perceived interests,

I am as horrified by the actions of the so-called Islamic State movement as anybody else.  But I can’t think of anything the Obama administration could do that won’t make matters worse.   Bomb the Islamic State forces?  Bombing from the air terrorizes and alienates the mass of the people below.  Arm the Iraqi government?  The U.S. arms they were given previously wound up in the hands of the Islamic State.   Arm the Kurds?  Maybe.

We Americans have lost all moral standing in the Middle East to denounce the crimes of the Islamic State.  That is because hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners have died as the result of U.S. military action, and hundreds of thousands more have been turned into refugees.  [3]   Nobody in that part of the world has any reason to take seriously anything an American says.  [4]   The Islamic State is an evil for the Arabs to deal with (or not), not us.

The best thing for us Americans to do is to admit defeat, wind down our presence in the Middle East and concentrate on rebuilding our own nation.

LINKS

Empire as jumping fish by “B Psycho” for Psychopolitik

How America Made ISIS: Their Videos and Ours, Their “Caliphate” and Ours by Tom Engelhardt for The Unz Review.

ISIS in Perspective by Paul R. Pillar for The National Interest.

Obama makes Bushism the new normal by Dan Froomkin for The Intercept.

[1]  This epigraph is from the cover of Ken MacLeod’s prescient 2007 SF novel, The Execution Channel.

[2]  Even if you think of it as a war for oil rather than a war on terror, it is still a failure.  The United States has no more control over the oil of the Middle East now than it did then.

[3]  I’m ashamed to have to make an argument against indiscriminate killing and military aggression purely on pragmatic grounds.  They’d be no less morally wrong if the U.S. government has succeeded.

[4]  Myself included, of course.

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2 Responses to “Why the U.S. lost the war on terror”

  1. williambearcatBill Says:

    amen

    Like

  2. whungerford Says:

    This must be right because none of our politicians agree.

    Like

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