“Veterans feel sting of Ramadi and Fallujah losses”, runs the USA Today headline. “The images of Al Qaeda militants surging back into cities that were secured at an enormous sacrifice has chilled Americans who fought in Iraq”, the story reads. For one of the veterans, “seeing the images of Al Qaeda flags flying over buildings in Fallujah and Ramadi in recent days has been devastating”.
This particular ‘surge’ in Al Qaeda’s Iraqi fortunes has been facilitated by the turmoil in Syria, with which Iraq shares a long and largely uncontrolled border. NPR had a report yesterday on how Al Qaeda in Syria has proven to be too much even for the Syrian rebels, though neither would yield anything to the other in the matter of its ostensible enthusiasm for getting rid of the common enemy, the government of Bashar al Assad. According to National Public Radio, eastern Syria and western Iraq are now a kind of Al Qaeda administered territory.
A few longitudes to the west of Iraq and Syria lies Libya, another country where there was no trace of Al Qaeda a decade ago, now reportedly home to a thriving Osama franchise.
How did things come to such a pass? In each case, the violent overthrow or weakening of the country’s leadership created a big chaos which helped Al Qaeda establish a foothold it was unable to gain earlier. In each case, the United States took a large interest in engineering the ouster of the existing regime. In Iraq it did so by a direct, massive, invasion. The experience that followed induced a growing degree of skittishness within the United States, although the old maxim, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is still a far cry from informing American policy. Thus in Libya some eight years later, America contented itself with arming the rebels and supplying Britain and France with aircraft and missiles to dismantle the Libyan regime. The ensuing mayhem still consumed the life of the American ambassador among thousands of others, splashing a further jug full of cold reality on a blithe American establishment steadfast in its refusal to learn.
Fast-forward a couple of years to Syria, where a simmering political unrest surfaced last year. Once again the American impulse was to intervene militarily to help the opposition. Popular opinion was virulent against any such idea, and prevailed over the establishment. Still, enough was done via scarcely concealed arms supply and military training to the rebels in that country as to destabilize the government and dislodge its authority over large portions of the land. Once more, a raging civil war has meant an excellent opportunity for Al Qaeda to establish itself in a new place.
In all three countries, the rulers against whom the United States pitted itself were native strongmen with one thing in common: whatever their other proclivities, they were broadly secular; not even their severest critics could accuse them of being partial to Islamic militancy, least of harboring a soft corner for Al Qaeda. Ergo, the way to winning the “War on Terror” made it imperative for America to topple all three! Even Jude would have found the logic somewhat obscure.
Al Qaeda is America’s Enemy Number One, every American president since Clinton has declared over and over. After trillions of dollars in debts, hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of human beings displaced, and millions more suffering from war caused disease, Al Qaeda’s flag now flutters over Fallujah.
Just one more of life’s little ironies.
On April 4, 2014, it will be 10 years since Army Specialist Casey Sheehan was killed in Iraq. His mother, Cindy Sheehan, used to go across the country repeating the famous question she wished to ask President George W. Bush, “Mr. President, for what noble cause did my son die?” A hardy soul from West Texas (often pronounced Wessexes), untrammeled by doubt or guilt, Bush slithered away, far from the madding crowds and into the world of book deals and speaking fees, without ever gathering up the gumption to face Cindy Sheehan.
Neither, for that matter, did his successor, who was given the Nobel Peace Prize shortly after he entered into his office. But I fear I’m droning on.
Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast. His book, “Reading Gandhi In the Twenty-First Century” was published last year by Palgrave. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.