Con­tain­ment be­gins at home

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

In­deed, un­fore­see­able con­se­quences were pre­cisely what con­cerned Ken­nan when the United States charged into Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq two years later. Af­ter all, it was no co­in­ci­dence that many of those the US was fight­ing in Afghanistan, in­clud­ing Osama bin Laden him­self, had been as­so­ci­ated with the Mu­ja­hedeen, the gueril­lastyle units of Mus­lim war­riors whom US forces trained as in­sur­gents dur­ing the 19791989 Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion. Like­wise, the US had armed Sad­dam Hus­sein’s Iraq to go to war with Iran in the 1980s.

Fol­low­ing the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Septem­ber 11, 2001, Amer­i­cans asked, “Why do they hate us?” Yet, though the US has ex­pe­ri­enced no at­tack on its soil since then, US Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion pur­sued, vir­tu­ally unchecked, the de­struc­tion of two Mus­lim coun­tries – and the dev­as­ta­tion has con­tin­ued be­yond Bush’s ten­ure with an ever-in­ten­si­fy­ing cam­paign of drone strikes.

These poli­cies have helped push Afghanistan to the precipice of state fail­ure, while open­ing the way for the Is­lamic State to take over more than one-third of Iraq’s ter­ri­tory. The re­sult­ing dis­con­tent in those coun­tries and across the Mus­lim world has in­creas­ingly been felt in Europe – and now is emerg­ing in the US, too.

To be sure, US crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tors have not of­fi­cially iden­ti­fied the mo­tives of the Kuwaiti-born Ab­du­lazeez, who does not seem to have be­longed to a terror net­work. But there is plenty of prece­dent for an alien­ated and dis­en­chanted young man, brought up in the West (Ab­du­lazeez at­tended high school and col­lege in Chat­tanooga), to seek a cause worth fight­ing for – and to find it in the per­ceived hu­mil­i­a­tion of Is­lam by Amer­ica and the West.

Of course, as soon as the word “Is­lam” ap­pears, Western media start paint­ing such “lone wolves” as agents of some vast Is­lamic con­spir­acy, rather than deeply wounded and des­per­ate in­di­vid­u­als. Such an in­ter­pre­ta­tion makes the act eas­ier to un­der­stand: a cog in a ter­ror­ist net­work would be com­pelled, even brain­washed, to mount such an at­tack. But when the at­tacker is a soli­tary in­di­vid­ual – an Amer­i­can citizen, no less – it raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about the sys­tem from which he or she (though al­most al­ways a he in these cases) emerged.

Ac­cord­ing to some press ac­counts, Ab­du­lazeez felt a sense of fail­ure at his in­abil­ity to meet Amer­ica’s stan­dard of suc­cess, of which money is the pri­mary mea­sure. Though he did not ap­pear deeply re­li­gious, he al­legedly praised the late An­war al-Awlaki, a US-born al-Qaeda cleric and an ad­vo­cate of at­tacks on “hyp­o­crit­i­cal” Amer­ica, as a model of tri­umph over fail­ure.

Another ques­tion about the US sys­tem stems from the re­fusal of Ab­du­lazeez’s health in­surer to ap­prove his par­tic­i­pa­tion in an in­pa­tient drug and al­co­hol pro­gramme. This is far from the first time the US has ex­pe­ri­enced a mass mur­der by some­one whose men­tal­health is­sues, in­clud­ing ad­dic­tion, had been over­looked. Does this re­flect a sys­temic fail­ure? More fun­da­men­tally, does it con­tro­vert Amer­ica’s prin­ci­ples?

Rather than con­sid­er­ing such ques­tions, the US re­mains fo­cused on the ex­ter­nal scourge of Is­lamic ter­ror­ism. Ken­nan recog­nised this ten­dency decades ago, when he warned that short­sighted poli­cies at home and abroad had al­ready put Amer­ica in a vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion. In­stead of bask­ing in its own su­pe­ri­or­ity, he ad­vised, the US should learn from the mis­takes of its en­e­mies, in­clud­ing Rus­sia.

In the 2000s, Ken­nan com­pared the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “global war on terror” to Rus­sia’s wars against Chechen sep­a­ratists in the North Cau­ca­sus. When the Soviet Union dis­solved in 1991, Boris Yeltsin, Rus­sia’s first pres­i­dent, promised its sub­jects “as much sovereignty as they can swal­low.”

The Chechens, who had sought in­de­pen­dence from Rus­sia for cen­turies, took this prom­ise as an op­por­tu­nity for self­de­ter­mi­na­tion. But Yeltsin, un­will­ing to lose any more ter­ri­to­ries af­ter the Soviet Union’s ini­tial breakup, re­neged on his pledge.

In 1993, the first Chechen war erupted. Rus­sia man­aged to de­feat the sep­a­ratists and main­tain con­trol over Chech­nya. But it was a Pyrrhic vic­tory, given that it drove many dis­il­lu­sioned and an­gry Chechens to­ward re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism.

As a re­sult, when the sec­ond Chechen war be­gan in 1999, the fight was no longer just about Chechen in­de­pen­dence from Rus­sia; it was a fight for Is­lam, waged against Chris­tians ev­ery­where. Rus­sia, un­der Yeltsin’s suc­ces­sor, Vladimir Putin, de­feated the sep­a­ratists again, restor­ing fed­eral con­trol over the ter­ri­tory. Fif­teen years later, Chechen ex­trem­ists are fight­ing along­side the Is­lamic State.

One might ob­ject to com­par­ing Amer­ica’s de­sire to ex­port democ­racy at the bar­rel of a gun to Rus­sia’s im­pe­rial death spasms un­der Yeltsin and Putin. But, whether we like it or not, there is a strong par­al­lel be­tween them: both coun­tries are per­ceived to be dic­tat­ing to Mus­lims.

And, in fact, it was Ken­nan who first drew my at­ten­tion to this sim­i­lar­ity, when in a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion about 9/11, he noted that, for many Mus­lims, Rus­sia and the West were be­com­ing in­dis­tin­guish­able. Both were viewed as sec­u­lar states an­tag­o­nis­tic to Is­lam.

Ken­nan warned that, just as the first Chechen war bred na­tional and in­di­vid­ual re­sent­ment, Amer­ica’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would only fuel more ha­tred and frus­tra­tion – which would even­tu­ally blow back onto the US. “The fail­ure to fit the sys­tem makes peo­ple at­tack that sys­tem,” he said, “so it is never wise to bomb na­tions to free­dom.”

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