We have just observed the 14th anniversary of “Operation Enduring Freedom,” otherwise known as the war in Afghanistan. It is the longest war in US history, a conflict that never even came close to achieving its stated goal of stabilizing the area and eradicating the Taliban. The US-backed central government in Kabul today has no more control of the country than it did when first established, and the Taliban is on the march, retaking city after city and inching toward the capital with the inevitability of high tide at the beach. And while the pretext for this costly adventure – the capture of Osama bin Laden – has long since been rendered moot, his heirs and legatees not only persist, but they prosper – with our help.
For a long time that help arrived by indirection: the jihadists prospered in reaction to our intervention. As we lurched around Afghanistan, and then Iraq, kicking down doors, slaughtering civilians, and setting up torture chambers from Bagram to Abu Ghraib, we created the conditions for a global insurgency that had once been relatively localized. The classic theory of “blowback” operated with relentless predictability.
But then something else occurred: the so-called “Arab Spring.” You’ll recall that the War Party, in selling the invasion of Iraq to the American public, promised that our intervention would provoke a wave of sympathy throughout the Muslim world, and the Middle East would witness the arising of a movement demanding their version of “democracy” on a regional scale. President George W. Bush made a speech declaring that the US was leading a “global democratic revolution” that would incite a “fire in the mind” of the populace and soon put an end to the Bad Guys.
Well, yes, a “fire in the mind” of the Middle Eastern peoples was indeed set to burning – except that the flames, once they reached a certain temperature, seared our hands. For it wasn’t liberal democracy that the crowds gathering in the streets were demanding: it was a return to Islam. If democracy means majority rule, then this outcome was entirely foreseeable. We had swept away the secular despot Saddam Hussein, and planted the seeds of regime-change in Syria: our busy little seminars on the virtues of democracy had spawned a generation of “activists” intent on tearing down governmental structures and unleashing the Arab “street.”
And this effort succeeded – albeit not in the way we intended. The NGOs promoted by the National Endowment for Democracy and the multitude of US government agencies dedicated to “democracy promotion” were soon swept aside by indigenous forces long suppressed by secular dictators such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its allies in Syria took to the streets, demanding “democracy,” i.e. the creation of an Islamic state and the imposition of Sharia law.
Instead of awakening the longing for “freedom,” the rampage of the Americans across the face of the Middle East had instead roused the long-slumbering giant of Islamic fundamentalism — the same “fire in the mind” that had brought down the World Trade Center and engulfed the Pentagon in flames.
After some initial hesitation, the geniuses in Washington responded with a policy of co-optation. Instead of seeking to tamp down and stabilize the forces they had unleashed, the Obama administration, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then CIA Director David Petraeus, jumped on the bandwagon of the “Arab Spring.” Taking a leaf from the counterinsurgency strategy that had supposedly worked so well during the Iraqi “surge” – in the course of which the US armed the Islamist tribes of Anbar province, paying them off in order to rid the country of al-Qaeda – they dumped Mubarak, began to fund and arm the Syrian opposition via their Saudi and Gulf state allies, and then went after Moammar Gaddafi in Libya.
The idea was to take advantage of divisions between rival jihadist groups, split the Sunni fundamentalist movement, and direct the energy of the alleged “moderates” toward projects that supposedly advanced American interests – such as the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya and Assad in Syria. It was the “Anbar Awakening” on a regional scale – but as Vladimir Putin put it in his recent speech to the United Nations, “Who’s playing who here?”
I opened my paper this morning, and turning to page three, where the international news resides, I was greeted by two headlines. The first read: “Russia fires missiles from ships into Syria,” over a story that informed me:
“At certain points in Wednesday’s fighting, rebels fired advanced TOW anti-tank missiles, supplied covertly by the CIA, at Syria’s Russian-made tanks, leaving the impression of a proxy war between Russia and the United States. Videos posted by rebel groups, including the US-backed Division 17 and Suqour al-Ghab, showed the guided missiles sailing toward approaching tanks and destroying them.”
So the enemy is no longer the jhadists – the ones who took down the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon – it’s now the Russians, and the secular Syrian government, along with Iran and Hezbollah. What the story cited above doesn’t tell you is that the US-backed rebels of the Free Syrian Army (“Suquor al-Ghab”) are allied with the al-Nusra Front – the “official” al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.
So a “war on terrorism” that began with an attack by al Qaeda on American territory, one which struck at the very heart of Manhattan, has ended up arming the very people who murdered 3,000 people that fateful autumn morning.
Glancing down the page, directly below this alarming news, was another headline: “US: Why do militants drive Toyotas?” Apparently both Toyota and the US government are struggling to discover the answer to that question. “Toyota trucks,” we are told, “are conspicuous in extremist propaganda and are often what carry Islamic State group fighters into war with large caliber weapons affixed to truck beds.”
How did they get their hands on them?
The answer to this question should be easy enough to discern, especially in view of the known fact that those US-backed jihadis are in the habit of handing over their equipment to groups like al-Nusra: indeed, entire platoons have defected to al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, with thousands more joining ISIS, laughing in the faces of their American sponsors in the process.
Those Toyotas – and much else – are a gift to the terrorists from the American taxpayers. You paid for them, just as you’re paying for those TOW antitank missiles being fired at the Russians and their Syrian allies.
In the course of fighting our “war on terrorism,” over a stretch of some 14 years, we have somehow managed to switch sides: in effect, our government has gone over to the enemy. The Sunni fundamentalists who are filling the ranks of the Syrian opposition, along with their paymasters in the Saudi kingdom and the Gulf states, are now our allies: the new enemy is an alliance of Russia, Syria, Iran, and the Shi’ite communities of the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.
Is that Osama bin Laden’s laughter I hear emanating from the lowest rung of Hell?
With the addition of Russia to the Middle East equation, the stakes have been raised a hundred-fold. How long before this “proxy war” turns into a direct confrontation between two nuclear-armed powers? Will I witness another version of the Cuban missile crisis in my lifetime?
Once again the specter of a third global conflict looms as a real possibility – a quarter century after the end of the cold war. This is where our foreign policy of “American leadership” and global intervention has gotten us – right where the War Party wanted us all along.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.