Amer­ica’s never-end­ing war

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

It is of­fi­cial: US Pres­i­dent and Nobel Peace Prize lau­re­ate Barack Obama is at war again. After top­pling Libyan ruler Muam­mar el-Qaddafi and bombing tar­gets in So­ma­lia and Ye­men, Obama has ini­ti­ated airstrikes in north­ern Iraq, ef­fec­tively declar­ing war on the Is­lamic State – a decision that will in­volve in­fring­ing on the sov­er­eign, if dis­in­te­grat­ing, state of Syria. In his zeal to in­ter­vene, Obama is again dis­re­gard­ing US and in­ter­na­tional law by seek­ing ap­proval from nei­ther the US Congress nor the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Obama’s pre­de­ces­sor, George W. Bush, launched Amer­ica’s so-called “war on ter­ror” to de­feat groups that he in­sisted wanted to “es­tab­lish a rad­i­cal Is­lamic em­pire that spans from Spain to In­done­sia.” But Bush’s in­va­sion and oc­cu­pa­tion of Iraq was so con­tro­ver­sial that it frac­tured the global con­sen­sus to fight ter­ror, with the Guan­tanamo Bay de­ten­tion cen­tre and the ren­di­tion and tor­ture of sus­pects com­ing to sym­bol­ise the war’s ex­cesses.

After Obama took of­fice, he sought to in­tro­duce a gen­tler, sub­tler tone. Con­tend­ing in a 2009 in­ter­view that “the lan­guage we use mat­ters,” he re­branded the war on ter­ror as a “strug­gle” and a “strate­gic chal­lenge.” But the rhetor­i­cal shift did not trans­late into a change in strat­egy, with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion mov­ing beyond se­cu­rity con­cerns to use its anti-ter­ror­ism ac­tiv­i­ties to ad­vance Amer­ica’s broader geopo­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests.

Thus, in­stead of view­ing the elim­i­na­tion of Osama bin Laden in 2011 as the cul­mi­na­tion of the anti-ter­ror “strug­gle” that Bush launched, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in­creased aid to “good” rebels (such as those in Libya), while pur­su­ing “bad” ter­ror­ists more ve­he­mently, in­clud­ing through a “tar­geted killing” pro­gramme. When it comes to ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity, how­ever, such lines are dif­fi­cult to draw.

For ex­am­ple, Obama ini­tially placed the Is­lamic State in the “good” cat­e­gory, as it un­der­mined Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar alAs­sad’s rule and Iran’s in­ter­ests in Syria and Iraq. His po­si­tion changed only after the Is­lamic State threat­ened to over­run Iraq’s Kur­dish re­gional cap­i­tal, Er­bil – home to US mil­i­tary, in­tel­li­gence, diplo­matic, and business fa­cil­i­ties. Add to that the be­head­ings of two Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists, and sud­denly Obama’s team was us­ing Bush’s war rhetoric, declar­ing that the US is at war with the Is­lamic State “in the same way that we are at war with Al Qaeda and its af­fil­i­ates all around the globe.”

Amer­ica’s war on ter­ror now risks be­com­ing a per­ma­nent war against an ex­pand­ing list of en­e­mies – of­ten in­ad­ver­tently cre­ated by its own poli­cies. Just as covert aid to Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet rebels in the 1980s con­trib­uted to Al Qaeda’s emer­gence – some­thing that Hil­lary Clin­ton ac­knowl­edged when she was Obama’s sec­re­tary of state – the help that the US and its al­lies pro­vided to Syr­ian in­sur­gents after they emerged in 2011 con­trib­uted to the rise of the Is­lamic State.

The US re­turned to Afghanistan in 2001 to wage an as-yetun­fin­ished war on the ji­hadists whom its ac­tions had spawned. Like­wise, it is now launch­ing a war in Iraq and Syria against the off­spring of Bush’s forced regime change in Bagh­dad and Obama’s ill-con­ceived plan to top­ple As­sad.

It is time for the US to recog­nise that since it launched its war on ter­ror, the scourge has only spread. The AfghanistanPakistan belt has re­mained “ground zero” for transna­tional ter­ror­ism, and once-sta­ble coun­tries like Libya, Iraq, and Syria have emerged as new hubs.

Obama’s ef­fort to strike a Faus­tian bar­gain with the Afghan Tal­iban, whose top lead­ers en­joy sanc­tu­ary in Pak­istan, in­di­cates that he is more in­ter­ested in con­fin­ing ter­ror­ism to the Mid­dle East than de­feat­ing it – even if it means leav­ing In­dia to bear the brunt of ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity. (In fact, Pak­istan’s on­go­ing war of ter­ror against In­dia also sprang from Amer­ica’s anti-Soviet op­er­a­tion in Afghanistan – the largest in the CIA’s his­tory – as the Pak­istani In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence si­phoned off a large share of the bil­lions of dol­lars in mil­i­tary aid for the Afghan rebels.)

Sim­i­larly, Obama’s strat­egy to­ward the Is­lamic State seeks merely to limit the reach of a bar­baric me­dieval or­der. Mo­ments after declar­ing his in­ten­tion to “de­grade and de­stroy” the group, Obama re­sponded to a re­porter’s re­quest for clar­i­fi­ca­tion by stat­ing that his real goal is to turn the Is­lamic State into a “man­age­able prob­lem.”

Mak­ing mat­ters worse, Obama plans to use the same tac­tics to fight the Is­lamic State that led to its emer­gence: au­tho­ris­ing the CIA, aided by some of the re­gion’s oil sheikhdoms, to train and arm thou­sands of Syr­ian rebels. It is not dif­fi­cult to see the risks in­her­ent in flood­ing the Syr­ian killing fields with even more and bet­ter-armed fight­ers.

The US may have some of the world’s top think tanks and most highly ed­u­cated minds. But it con­sis­tently ig­nores the lessons of its past blun­ders – and so re­peats them. US-led poli­cies to­ward the Is­lamic world have pre­vented a clash be­tween civil­i­sa­tions only by fu­el­ing a clash within a civil­i­sa­tion that has fun­da­men­tally weak­ened re­gional and in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity.

An end­less war waged on Amer­ica’s terms against the en­e­mies that it helped to cre­ate is un­likely to se­cure ei­ther steady in­ter­na­tional support or last­ing re­sults. Nowhere is this more ap­par­ent than in the tepid Arab and Turk­ish re­sponse to Amer­ica’s ef­fort to as­sem­ble an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion in support of what the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ad­mits will be a mul­ti­year mil­i­tary of­fen­sive against the Is­lamic State.

The risk that im­pe­rial hubris ac­cel­er­ates, rather than stems, Is­lamist ter­ror is all too real – yet again.

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