A top military official who heads the Defense Intelligence Agency told journalists at the Aspen Security Forum last week that the United States is no safer than it was before the World Trade Center attacks that set the Nation’s perpetual war machine into motion. In fact, the Nation is likely far less safe than it was in 2001.
“We have a whole gang of new actors out there that are far more extreme than al-Qaida,” Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Of course, Flynn’s remarks certainly don’t come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to the current state of global affairs.
Hawks intent on keeping U.S. military action alive in the Mideast have commonly argued that the U.S. must fight them (whoever they are) over there (wherever that is) to prevent bloodshed in the homeland. Other times, those hawks have warned Americans of depraved despots in possession of dangerous weapons.
As a result, many Americans gladly and patriotically supported U.S. invasions in the Mideast — most importantly those to pursue extremists in the deserts of Afghanistan and its neighboring countries and to cripple Saddam Hussein’s regime and bring Democracy to Iraq. In the past 13 years, the United States has spent trillions of dollars and lost thousands of American soldiers as the world’s leading self-appointed crusader against terror, an enemy with no concrete face or nation, and purveyor of democracy, a form of government best served self-earned.
So how have we done?
In October 2001, U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden, whose terror group was a primary suspect in the Trade Center attacks (bin Laden initially denied, but was later reported to have claimed responsibility for the atrocity). The war was sold to an emotional American public as a straightforward operation to cut off al-Qaida’s head and install a government that would, unlike the Taliban that seized control in 1996, prevent extremists from ever again using Afghanistan as a terror staging ground.
The Taliban were eventually replaced by a farcical sham of a democratic government in Afghanistan. And elections, rife with predictable corruption, have taken place in the country from time to time. After repeated U.S. troop surges and withdrawals over the course of several years, the U.S. military eventually settled into a routine of training Afghan forces (who routinely turn to be infiltrated by extremists intent on killing U.S. soldiers) to defend themselves without American support.
If you squint really hard, it almost looks like the U.S. achieved its goal in Afghanistan. With eyes wide open, however, one would be able to see all the way back to the 1970s — when the U.S. first attempted Afghan regime change — and realize that history is on repeat.
The New York Times reported last week:
The Taliban have found success beyond their traditional strongholds in the rural south and are now dominating territory near crucial highways and cities that surround Kabul, the capital, in strategic provinces like Kapisa and Nangarhar.
Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it.
So extremists are taking over larger swaths of land than they had previously influenced in Afghanistan. That’s not so bad. At least we won Iraq, right?
In March 2003, President George W. Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq to eliminate the country’s weapons of mass destruction.
“They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat,” Bush said at the time.
They weren’t. Actually, we never found them.
The U.S. invasion did manage to take Saddam and his Baath Party out of power and install a new, more democratic government. Unfortunately, good ole apple pie democracy evidently was not enough to calm the tensions of nearly 1,500 years of tribal conflict between Sunni and Shiite Islam in the region.
Under the Baath Party’s rule, Iraq was led by its Sunni minority, as it had been since the Ottoman Empire. That, of course, wasn’t pleasant for many members of the majority Shiite population. So when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite at the helm of a largely Shiite government, took control in Iraq after Saddam’s ouster, things got predictably nasty for the Nation’s Sunnis.
The Islamic State terror group (aka ISIS/ISIL), mostly consisting of violent extremists intent on turning the whole Arab world into a jihad training camp, has profoundly benefited from the tribal tensions that were inflamed by the U.S. invasion. And with the help of wealthy Sunni donors the group is quickly taking control of much of Iraq.
“The speed that [ISIS] came into this northern city of Iraq, into Mosul, and they were able to, you know, kind of [cut through Iraqi security force defenses] like a hot knife through butter through really about four [Iraqi Army] divisions,” Flynn said of the current situation, “I would say that, yeah, that caught us — that level of speed that they were able to do that — caught us by surprise.”
With Iraq’s democratic government likely a stone’s throw (pun intended) from collapsing and Afghanistan having never really managed to have a legitimate governing structure following the U.S. invasions, the situation in the Mideast looks about as bad as it possibly could. But thanks to the United States’ decision to aid rebels overthrow relatively stable — though sometimes despicable — regimes in places like Libya and Syria, the situation is actually much more volatile that the Pentagon would like to admit.
Syria’s civil war has given the Islamic State group an opportunity to take over large portions of the country for the borderless Islamic state it is bent on creating. Libya, meanwhile, is in a state of chaos and largely under the control of al-Qaida militants.
The United States’ war on terror has expanded al-Qaida’s reign and created the opportunity for more extreme extremists under the Islamic State group flag to gain a firm foothold throughout the Mideast. How is that possible?
Flynn contends that it’s because it’s hard to attack an idea with a military.
“I, you know, have been going against these guys for a long time. The core is the core belief that these individuals have — and it’s not on the run,” he said. “That ideology is actually, sadly, it feels like it’s exponentially growing.”
Meanwhile, the United States’ southern border is too poorly defended to stop illegal immigrants, most of them people with no ill-intent toward the Nation and no fanatical religious drive to murder, from making it into the country. When you consider how a highly organized and opportunistic group of jihadists like those who make up the Islamic State group might exploit the border weaknesses, it becomes pretty obvious where those trillions of taxpayer dollars would have been better spent.
*This article has been edited to provide additional information about Osama bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11.