A decade after the jihadi strikes against America’s military and financial centers at the hands of al-Qaida, the question remains: Have we won the war?
In the ongoing, debate, we see two camps. One stating that we were defeating the enemy until Washington changed direction three years ago, and another boasting that America was losing the war until three years ago when a change of direction brought victory in sight.
Some really believed that the years following the attacks have brought the free world and democracy to an inch from victory. Others among us believe that thanks to today’s policies we are finally better than ever before.
Sad to say at this anniversary, but both views are wrong. We weren't close to strategic victories some five years ago and we are far from defeating the jihadists today. This sober assessment isn’t for domestic politics consumers, far from it.
Here are some realities:
Bringing down the Taliban regime was a smashing victory for the U.S., NATO and the Afghan people particularly for women and minorities.
Defending the country against the return of the jihadi militias and containing their incursions from inside Pakistan’s enclaves were the right strategic choices. But the U.S. and NATO failed to engage civil society groups, women, and secular wings to help launch a democratic revolution in the country instead of spending billions on asphalt, construction, and futile unproductive projects.
We surged against the Taliban but we didn’t help the people surge politically via massive education efforts. Now we are doing the unthinkable: negotiating with the Taliban for Afghanistan's future.
Managing the country without a strategy to confront the ayatollahs and Bashar’s regimes was a mistake. As in Afghanistan, work half done in Iraq backfired. Billions were spent and huge human sacrifices were made without enabling the Iraqi society to rise against the multiple anti-democracy forces.
Now a catastrophic policy of abandoning Iraq’s democrats to the region’s Islamists, during the past three years seems to be what we're left with.
Yes Saddam is gone, and there is a multiparty system in Iraq. But Iran controls the Shia militias that are devouring the government and two-thirds of the country; the Salafi Islamists of the Sunni areas are pushing back against the moderates; the Kurds are encircled by three threatening regimes; and the Christians and other minorities are relentlessly persecuted.
The present administration has dangerously engaged with Tehran, allowing the Khomeinist regime to expand its threats in all directions: Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Eastern Arabia, Northern Yemen and other continents. None of the U.S.' policies, including sanctions, have stopped Iran’s development of missiles and its frenetic pace to equip them with nukes. And when the Green revolution exploded, we let the Pasdaran take back the streets unquestioned.
The Arab Spring:
Before it even started, the Arab Spring’s true democratic forces were already abandoned by Washington. Back in 2008, Hezbollah invaded Beirut and crumbled the Cedars Revolution of 2005 under heavy silence from both the Bush administration and Congress.
The next year, the Obama administration turned its back on the opposition in Tehran. Civil societies in the Arab world tried to revolt next. In early 2011, secular youth rose and brought down the Mubarak regime but Washington preferred to empower the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and their Islamist colleagues in Tunisia.
In Libya the administration joined the fray against Moammar Gadhafi only to eventually partner with the country’s Islamists. In Syria Washington’s hesitates between the Baath and the Brotherhood ignores democratic reformers. The same alignment is projected for Yemen, Bahrain, and other Arab countries. The democrats of the Arab Spring are losing.
Al-Qaida: The long relentless campaign against the top entity of the jihadists bore results over 10 years. They lost the sole regime that backed them openly in Kabul, retreated to Pakistan, lost more of their commanders by the years, and eventually lost their leader Osama in 2011. But multiple other tentacles of the organization have grown bigger and longer in reach.
Still operating and killing in AFPAK, franchises opened in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, North Africa, and their cells hit in India, Russia, and Europe. Al-Qaida today is 10 times larger in global reach than the old one headed by bin Laden.
The terrorists who brought down the twin towers were foreign-born aliens who penetrated America’s defenses killing thousands. However their ideology penetrated America, producing homegrown cells. Moreover, a more lethal type is expanding within our borders: the jihadi lone wolves. No spectacular acts since 2001 but an army is brewing inside the country.
The U.S. is losing on all these fronts, and so are democracies and free people around the world. The real debate should be about what is being missed. We must focus on the enemy's ideology.
Unfortunately over the past 10 years, Washington and its companions in Europe have lost the mother of all wars: the war of ideas. If American leadership persists in dodging the ideological battle with the jihadists, by 2020 not only we would have missed a precious opportunity with the Arab Spring but most likely lost a vital shot at bolstering national security.
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Dr Walid Phares is the author of "The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad," and "The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East." He advises members of Congress and the European parliament.
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