If insanity is doing the same thing over and over in the expectation of a different result, then our foreign policy surely qualifies as madness. Since 2001, in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States has been in a state of constant warfare: the Afghan conflict has been ongoing since that time, the longest sustained combat in our history. From Iraq to Syria to Somalia and beyond, US forces and their proxies are engaged in a “war on terrorism” that shows no signs of slowing down, only expanding.
And where has it gotten us?
In Afghanistan, more than half the country is under the control of the Taliban, the radical Islamist group that sheltered Osama bin Laden – and they are now joined by ISIS, which has extended its tentacles into that country.
In Iraq, after our war of “liberation,” a civil war pitting Shi’ites against Sunnis is raging, and terrorist attacks are the norm. The Iranians have extended their sphere of influence into the country, and US troops are still fighting there, despite the much-heralded “withdrawal.”
The focus of US military action in the Middle East has now shifted to Syria, where a multi-sided civil war has been raging ever since the so-called Arab Spring. There we have managed to destabilize the regime of Bashar al-Assad by supporting alleged “moderate” Islamists, while we simultaneously fight ISIS – which is tacitly supported by our “moderate” proxies. The result has been a disaster of epic proportions: hundreds of thousands dead, as refugees pour out of the country and into Europe.
Far from winding down, the “war on terrorism” is constantly expanding. The latest front is in Yemen – arguably the poorest country on earth – where our Saudi allies, aided by the US, are slaughtering civilians, bombing funeral processions, and setting off a famine that will kill many thousands more. And while al-Qaeda does indeed have an active franchise in Yemen, the Saudis aren’t targeting them – they’re going after the Houthis, a religious sect that is neither Sunni nor Shi’ite, whose adherents are fighting both the Saudis and al-Qaeda. The Houthi-Saudi war started because Saudi missionaries were spreading Sunni fundamentalism in their historic homeland: in short, the Houthis are resisting the very extremism that provides terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS with their base of support. Yet we are aiding Saudi Arabia – the epicenter of global terrorism – in their merciless war of aggression.
All this frenzied military action – the bombs, the proxy armies, the “surges” – has led to precisely the opposite of its intended result. If our “war on terrorism” was supposed to end or even reduce the incidents of terrorism in the West, it must be judged an absolute failure.
All across Europe, terrorists are swarming like termites after a rain. We saw what happened yesterday [Monday] in Manchester: the biggest attack in Britain since 2005, and the culmination of a series of prior incidents. In France and Germany it’s the same story.
And in the United States, the trail of post-9/11 terror follows the same pattern: far from diminishing, the number of terrorist incidents is on the upswing. Sixteen years after the twin towers fells, we are less safe – and less free. Draconian security measures are now taken for granted, and that includes not only cumbersome rules and restrictions around airline flights but also universal surveillance. Engulfed in a quagmire of perpetual war, we are fast approaching the condition of a police state – with not even the benefit of increased security.
Most ominously, the ranks of the terrorist armies are swelling, as hatred of America and the West is incorporated into the religious tenets of Islam. Some argue that Islam was always antithetical to Western values and norms, but this debate is now rendered irrelevant as the cycle of violence and repression makes this proposition a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The roots of this disaster are in the presidency of George W. Bush: he and his neoconservative advisors launched a war that was supposed to transform the Middle East into a laboratory of “democracy” – exported by force of arms. The idea, as expressed by neoconservative ideologues, was to “drain the swamp” of the Middle East, so altering the environment in which the “mosquitoes” of terrorism lived and flourished that they would be unable to produce a second generation. Yet we are now into the third generation – and they are more numerous than ever, buzzing around Europe and even the US, stinging at will.
So what’s the solution?
Let’s start by acknowledging that what we’re doing isn’t working.
That’s half the battle right there.
The other half involves winding down the multiple conflicts we’re presently engaged in. Afghanistan is a hopelessly Sisyphean conflict that can never be “won” – it’s long past time to get out. If the Iraqi government we put in place is incapable of defending itself, then let them fall – we can no more prevent that than King Canute could stop the tide from coming in. Syria is a catastrophe made in Washington: our “regime change” policy doomed that country to perdition. We should have the decency to recognize that, and stay out of their internal affairs: let Assad and the Russians take care of their terrorist problem.
Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.