The US, ISIS and Al Qaeda

The major reason that President Obama gave last night for escalating the U.S. battle against ISIS is to protect America from terrorist attack. “This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

The irony is that, instead of protecting America, Obama’s new actions may actually trigger the very attacks against the U.S.  and Americans (and America’s western allies) that his policies are supposed to prevent.

Just as happened in the Middle East almost 25 years ago. (I’ll be back to that point shortly.)

Those arguing for action against ISIS warn of the hordes  of young would-be jihadis with American and European passports who have reportedly flocked to ISIS over the past few months. After appropriate training, we are told, they could slip back in to their own countries to unleash a wave of terrorist attacks that would be extremely difficult to defend against.

The immediate problem with those warnings is that, according to U.S. intelligence experts, despite the shocking beheading of two captured American journalists, ISIS represents no immediate terrorist threat to the American heartland, nor is there any evidence they have such attacks in mind.

Their goal is not to attack America but to expand their self-proclaimed Caliphate in the Middle East.

What is most likely to convince them to target the U.S. (as well as Canada and its allies in Europe), is to do just what Obama, despite his own self-doubts) has now set America up to do—become the rallying point for a jihad against ISIS.

Which is very similar to the fatal dynamic set in motion between the U.S. and Al Qaeda, when George H.W. Bush dispatched hundreds of thousands of troops to the Middle East almost 25 years ago—an action that is still roiling the region to this day.

Ironically, one of those calling loudest for the U.S. to act forcefully today, Dick Cheney, also played a key role in dispatching those troops. In August 1990, Cheney, then Secretary of Defense, made a lightening visit to Saudi Arabia to convince King Fahd to allow U.S. troops to use that country as a staging area for the forthcoming attack on Saddam Hussein, after Saddam invaded Kuwait.

Back then—as today—the Saudi monarch was very leery of being viewed as a close ally of America–allowing thousands of ‘infidel” soldiers to be based near Islam’s holiest sites, as they prepared to attack another Muslim state.

The reason King Fahd, finally agreed was the fear—promoted by the U.S. — that Saddam’s next target after Kuwait would be Saudi Arabia itself.

Saddam insisted he had no such plans, and Saudi intelligence disputed the threat–but Cheney claimed he had satellite photos to back up the menace. Later it turned out those photos were far from convincing, but Fahd finally agreed.

Tens of thousands of U.S. and other Western forces arrived in Saudi Arabia provoking the domestic outrage that King Fahd had feared. Indeed, it was their arrival that prompted Osama Bin Laden to turn his terrorist sights on the U.S. Over the following years, he kept the U.S. in the cross-hairs.

As Osama himself told CNN in 1997, “the U.S. wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose agents on us to rule us and then wants us to agree to all this. If we refuse to do so, it says we are terrorists… Wherever we look, we find the U.S. as the leader of terrorism and crime in the world.”

Bin Laden’s message resonated throughout the Muslim world. But U.S. officials remained deaf to its meaning, and continued obsessed with al Qaeda and its Taliban allies.

Will the same thing happen with ISIS?

BARRY LANDO is a former producer for 60 Minutes who now lives in Paris. He is the author of The Watchman’s File. He can be reached at: barrylando@gmail.com or through his website.