End­ing blow­back ter­ror­ism

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Ter­ror­ist at­tacks on civil­ians, whether the down­ing over Si­nai of a Rus­sian air­craft killing 224 civil­ian pas­sen­gers, the hor­rific Paris mas­sacre claim­ing 129 in­no­cent lives, or the tragic bomb­ing in Ankara that killed 102 peace activists, are crimes against hu­man­ity. Their per­pe­tra­tors – in this case, the Is­lamic State (ISIS) – must be stopped. Suc­cess will re­quire a clear un­der­stand­ing of the roots of this ruth­less net­work of ji­hadists.

Painful as it is to ad­mit, the West, es­pe­cially the United States, bears sig­nif­i­cant re­spon­si­bil­ity for cre­at­ing the con­di­tions in which ISIS has flour­ished. Only a change in US and Euro­pean for­eign pol­icy vis-à-vis the Mid­dle East can re­duce the risk of fur­ther ter­ror­ism.

The re­cent at­tacks should be un­der­stood as “blow­back ter­ror­ism”: a dread­ful un­in­tended re­sult of re­peated US and Euro­pean covert and overt mil­i­tary ac­tions through­out the Mid­dle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and Cen­tral Asia that aimed to over­throw gov­ern­ments and in­stall regimes com­pli­ant with Western in­ter­ests. Th­ese oper­a­tions have not only desta­bilised the tar­geted re­gions, caus­ing great suf­fer­ing; they have also put pop­u­la­tions in the US, the Euro­pean Union, Rus­sia, and the Mid­dle East at sig­nif­i­cant risk of terror.

The pub­lic has never really been told the true history of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Start­ing in 1979, the CIA mo­bilised, re­cruited, trained, and armed Sunni young men to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The CIA re­cruited widely from Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions (in­clud­ing in Europe) to form the Mu­jahideen, a multi­na­tional Sunni fight­ing force mo­bilised to oust the Soviet in­fi­del from Afghanistan.

Bin Laden, from a wealthy Saudi fam­ily, was brought in to help lead and co-fi­nance the op­er­a­tion. This was typ­i­cal of CIA oper­a­tions: re­ly­ing on im­pro­vised fund­ing through a wealthy Saudi fam­ily and pro­ceeds from lo­cal smug­gling and the nar­cotics trade.

By pro­mot­ing the core vi­sion of a ji­had to de­fend the lands of Is­lam (Dar al-Is­lam) from out­siders, the CIA pro­duced a hard­ened fight­ing force of thou­sands of young men dis­placed from their homes and stoked for bat­tle. It is this ini­tial fight­ing force – and the ide­ol­ogy that mo­ti­vated it – that to­day still forms the ba­sis of the Sunni ji­hadist in­sur­gen­cies, in­clud­ing ISIS. While the ji­hadists’ orig­i­nal tar­get was the Soviet Union, to­day the “in­fi­del” in­cludes the US, Europe (no­tably France and the United King­dom), and Rus­sia.

At the end of the 1980s, with the Soviet re­treat from Afghanistan, some el­e­ments of the Mu­jahideen mor­phed into Al Qaeda, Ara­bic for “the base,” which re­ferred to the mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties and train­ing grounds in Afghanistan built for the Mu­jahideen by bin Laden and the CIA. Af­ter the Soviet with­drawal, the term Al Qaeda shifted mean­ing from the spe­cific mil­i­tary base to the or­gan­i­sa­tional base of ji­hadist ac­tiv­i­ties.

Blow­back against the US be­gan in 1990 with the first Gulf War, when the US cre­ated and ex­panded its mil­i­tary bases in the Dar alIs­lam, most no­tably in Saudi Ara­bia, the home of Is­lam’s found­ing and holi­est sites. This ex­panded US mil­i­tary pres­ence was anath­ema to the core ji­hadist ide­ol­ogy that the CIA had done so much to foster.

Amer­ica’s un­pro­voked war on Iraq in 2003 un­leashed the demons. Not only was the war it­self launched on the ba­sis of CIA lies; it also aimed to cre­ate a Shia-led regime sub­servient to the US and anath­ema to the Sunni ji­hadists and the many more Sunni Iraqis who were ready to take up arms. More re­cently, the US, France, and the UK top­pled Muam­mar el-Qaddafi in Libya, and the US worked with the Egyp­tian gen­er­als who ousted the elected Mus­lim Broth­er­hood gov­ern­ment. In Syria, fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s vi­o­lent sup­pres­sion of peace­ful pub­lic protests in 2011, the US, Saudi Ara­bia, Tur­key, and other re­gional al­lies helped to fo­ment a mil­i­tary in­sur­gency that has pushed the coun­try into a down­ward spi­ral of chaos and violence.

Such oper­a­tions have failed – re­peat­edly and fre­quently dis­as­trously – to pro­duce le­git­i­mate gov­ern­ments or even rudi­men­tary sta­bil­ity. On the con­trary, by up­end­ing es­tab­lished, al­beit au­thor­i­tar­ian, gov­ern­ments in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and desta­bil­is­ing Su­dan and other parts of Africa deemed hos­tile to the West, they have done much to fuel chaos, blood­shed, and civil war. It is this tur­moil that has en­abled ISIS to cap­ture and de­fend ter­ri­tory in Syria, Iraq, and parts of North Africa.

Three steps are needed to de­feat ISIS and other vi­o­lent ji­hadists. First, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama should pull the plug on CIA covert oper­a­tions. The use of the CIA as a se­cret army of desta­bil­i­sa­tion has a long, tragic history of fail­ure, all hid­den from pub­lic view un­der the agency’s cloak of se­crecy. End­ing CIA-caused may­hem would go far to staunch the in­sta­bil­ity, violence, and anti-Western ha­tred that fu­els to­day’s ter­ror­ism.

Sec­ond, the US, Rus­sia, and the other per­ma­nent mem­bers of the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil should im­me­di­ately stop their in­fight­ing and es­tab­lish a frame­work for Syr­ian peace. They have a shared and ur­gent stake in con­fronting ISIS; all are vic­tims of the terror. More­over, mil­i­tary ac­tion against ISIS can suc­ceed only with the le­git­i­macy and back­ing of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

The UN frame­work should in­clude an im­me­di­ate end to the in­sur­gency against As­sad that the US, Saudi Ara­bia, and Tur­key have pur­sued; a Syr­ian cease-fire; a UN­man­dated mil­i­tary force to con­front ISIS; and a po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion in Syria dic­tated not by the US, but by a UN con­sen­sus to sup­port a non-vi­o­lent po­lit­i­cal re­con­struc­tion.

Fi­nally, the long-term so­lu­tion to re­gional in­sta­bil­ity lies in sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. The en­tire Mid­dle East is be­set not only by wars but also by deep­en­ing de­vel­op­ment fail­ures: in­ten­si­fy­ing fresh wa­ter stress, de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion, high youth un­em­ploy­ment, poor ed­u­ca­tional sys­tems, and other se­ri­ous block­ages.

More wars – es­pe­cially CIA-backed, Western-led wars – will solve noth­ing. By con­trast, a surge of in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion, health, re­new­able en­ergy, agri­cul­ture, and in­fra­struc­ture, fi­nanced both from within the re­gion and glob­ally, is the real key to build­ing a more stable fu­ture for the Mid­dle East and the world.

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