Since Sept. 11, 2001, every annual commemoration of the terror attacks brings Americans back to pondering: Where are we this year in the confrontation with the forces that caused us harm and want to defeat us? Are we making progress in the war against the “terror forces”? Are we far from victory? How many sacrifices will it cost us to get to the other side? Rarely over the past eight years have we received real and clear answers.
Our debate was hopelessly disabled by our own political establishment, let alone by the jihadist propaganda worldwide. For years a national identification of the enemy, its ideology, its strategies and how to counter them has been lacking. In no conflict throughout history were people still confused about the threat eight years after hostilities began. “Jihad is just yoga” continued to affirm academics and media elite and, and most stunningly, top advisors on national security.
Despite the mobilizing presidential speeches earlier in this conflict, the bureaucratic machine didn’t fight this war. And with the change of administrations, policy and execution levels are at last united, but to cease the combat, not winning it. Most likely this is what historians will acknowledge in the future. In short, it is bleak, but it is not yet over and this is why:
If we analyze how the United States responded to the attacks of 2001, evolved its campaigns overseas, debated its own perceptions of the conflict domestically, and managed its own homeland security over the last eight years, we are forced to conclude that what has taken place in the very big picture was this: Since 9/11, the U.S. counterattack removed two tyrannies in Afghanistan and Iraq. This was the history of the two first years of the “war.”
Since then, American efforts and sacrifices entered the stage of stalemate fighting al-Qaida in Iraq’s Sunni triangle and the Taliban in Afghanistan’s edges; gaming Iran and Syria’s regimes in Iraq and Lebanon; hunting for jihadists in several countries; chasing after “homegrown” cells inside the homeland; and presidential escalation of the rhetoric against Islamist ideologies.
Between 2003 and 2008, the war on terror was more of a trenches conflict, pushes here and there, from one side and the other. Lebanon was freed from Syrian forces in 2005, but Hezbollah took back most of its lost terrain by 2008. Somalia’s jihadist uprising split the country and now no one is winning. In the vast African Sahel, al-Qaida’s clones seized positions, retreated and came back: the jury is still out. In Sudan, U.S. efforts identified Darfur as genocide, but Khartoum is solidly backed by influential petrodollars regimes: the status quo is solid.
In Iraq, the surge weakened al-Qaida, but Iran’s role wasn’t contained by Washington, especially since 2006. In Pakistan, the Taliban went on the offensive and, as of last year, the new government went on the counteroffensive: neither side is winning. In Afghanistan, a similar scenario is pinning NATO down, but not offering strategic victories to the Taliban. In the homeland, unprecedented spending aimed at securing the infrastructure but cells continued to mushroom, the age of homegrown Jihadists falling to younger and younger generations dramatically. Luckily the country was not hit for eight years, but mutant jihad is spreading.
So, under the Bush administration we had two years of U.S. thrusts overseas and five years of trenches warfare on a global scale. Later, we understood that the American offensive was slowed and halted by the combined forces of oil lobbies worldwide and its extensions inside the U.S. After almost one year of the Obama administration, we know what’s coming. In Iraq, we will withdraw regardless of Iran and Syria’s counter moves. There will be no “meddling” in Iran democracy struggle and we will "hope" the Ayatollahs won’t set off the nuclear mushroom. In Lebanon, we will eventually talk with Hezbollah. In Gaza, we will sometimes engage Hamas. There will be no Darfur campaign, and we will seek the Taliban for a dialogue in AFPAK.
In short the U.S. war on terror is over, but the jihadists war on democracies will go on. Inside this country, we will be increasingly calling jihad “yoga,” and there will be more and more “yogists” rising among us.
This is no doom vision, but a rational, mathematically grounded projection of where we will be going from where we are. I am not evaluating how the changing directions from offensive, stalemate, and retreat will affect the nation’s future. That is a matter American citizens will have to decide on in the next benchmarks of choices they will have to make. On this 9/11, it is important for the public to realize where history stands, from a very high altitude. The rest are details.
Dr. Walid Phares is the author of “The Confontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad”. He is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. To visit his Web site go to www.walidphares.com
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