nthposition online magazine

The New American Islamic War

by Robert Philbin

[ opinion - april 09 ]

As the Obama Administration economic team squanders a brilliant president's public mandate in a futile struggle to re-establish the US economy - back to circa 1996-2006 - instead of implementing aggressive economic structural changes (like permitting failed, fraudulent corporate enterprises to collapse, or face nationalization), President Obama turned his attention to what now might be justly branded as The American Islamic Wars.

Following the president's somewhat awkward presentation, the White House issued a press statement outlining 'What’s New in the Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan' [1] but this reader found little new when compared to the war strategy of the failed Bush Administration.

After seven years of war following the US invasion of Afghanistan, here's what's publicly "new" in my view:

1. Afghanistan and Pakistan are now viewed as one front.
(But haven't we always viewed Syria, Irag, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan as one hostile region, one potential war front? Mr Bush was unable to publicly expand the war, as he wanted to, because he lacked the support of the American public after mid-2005. Under the extremely popular new president, the military defence structure, unchanged from the previous administration, faces no such limitation.)
2. The war is overtly shifting into western Pakistan.
(CIA has been committing covert acts of war in the region for more than a year according to varied news reports. Now it's offically public.)
3. More than 50,000 US troops will be committed to the war in Afghanistan
(It's only a matter of time before this number becomes insufficient because a vague mission invites mission creep, which in turn requires further resources.)

Everything else in the program - economic, diplomatic, international support, a war for "hearts and minds" if you will - has long been discussed and to little result. In fact, the situation is worse, not better, as a result of eight years of intense US focus in the region. Unless we turn the entire invasion and occupation strategy over to the United Nations, we can expect virtually no support from what the White House overview calls, "the international elements," beyond relatively few troops, some money, much lip service, and no real commitment to redesigning the collapsed cultures of the region. The rest of the developed world - beyond Great Britain and Israel - has virtually no interest in supporting US military-industrial global machinery and its failed invasions.

For the massive nation building implied in the plan to succeed, the entire industrial world would have to invest throughout the region for a generation in order to build infrastructure, weave the area into the global economy, and create the fundamental cultural platform necessary for democracy - free non religious education, freedom of personal and political expression, freedom of press, basic human rights, and freedom from nationalized religion. The global threat of al Qaeda terror is simply not great enough, in my view, for that kind of focus to happen now. It's easier to simply let the US machine proceed.

But as many observers understand, Al Qaeda cannot be defeated militarily nor can any culture - from tribal desert Iraq to the financial district of Manhattan, to the tribal mountains of Pakistan - ever be completely secured against acts of terror. Terror is accelerating around the world primarily in authoritarian regimes and those where economic progress has not reached deeply into the underclasses. A focus on one underdeveloped region merely moves the locus somewhere else. Reports from Iraq this morning, for example, indicate that the Tribal Awakening movement against al Qaeda is beginning to fall apart:

Many of the Awakening groups recently have complained about mistreatment and warned that some of their followers might switch back to supporting Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown extremist group believed by American intelligence to have foreign leadership. Mr Mashhadani [an awakening leader] has been a strong critic of the failure of the Iraqi authorities to incorporate Awakening Council fighters into Iraqi security agencies, as had been promised. “There’s a 50-50 chance that Awakening guys who are not very loyal to Iraq or who need to support their families may decide to join Al Qaeda again,” Mr Mashhadani said in an interview a week ago. [2]

Mr Mashhadani was arrested on "terrorist charges" in Baghdad today triggering street riots and an outbreak of firefights.

Even Osama Bin Laden is no longer critical to the Islamist terror movement. New leaders have been recruited and trained and they will surface when needed anywhere on the planet. Insurgencies flourish or fail based on their perceived benefit and the will of a populace to support them, not on the momentary military success of foreign forces. Defeating al Qaeda in Pakistan, as in Iraq, is fundamentally a local matter, the responsibility of the Pakistani people and foreign pressure, like drone attacks on civilians, builds support for insurgents.

Under the new plan US intervention in the region will be expansive and culturally offensive. It will be perceived as a war against Islamic fundamentalism but, by way of invasion and occupation, an American war against Islam which will further fuel Islamist extremism.

Has Senator McCain's endless occupation illusion become a reality? Was George Bush the brilliant global strategist after all?  Is Dick Cheney actually a neocon visionary with sweeping foresight?

To answer these questions resolutely, we will need real metrics - as in the Powell Doctrine - to measure the Obama expansion of US military and quasi-military operations into the region. The president's statement last week provided no such specific metrics, but it did promised them:  "Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course." Mr Obama told the American public. "Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable."

The first question is how can a new plan possibly fare any better than the old plan if the metric are still unknown? Until we see that clear set of metrics by which the president will hold himself and his government accountable, I think we are witnessing nothing more than the re-branding an old failure into the illusion of new success, something the Bush Administration attempted to do no less than six times, each time to progressively waning public support.

 

Notes

1   What’s New in the Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan [Back]
2  Troops Arrest an Awakening Council Leader in Iraq, Setting Off Fighting [Back]