The War Continues - And We Are Losing
I don’t know precisely who should take the blame for deciding to label the conflict that followed 9/11 the “war on terror.” Whoever that is, though, did the nation a great disservice. We were not at war with terror. We were at war with a very radical and very virulent form of Islam. This was – for the enemy at least – an expressly religious conflict. Pretending that it was not set us adrift and had catastrophic consequences.
None of this is intended to suggest that we were or are at war with Islam as a whole. I have spent a great deal of my life on the ground abroad in this conflict and I know from personal experience that a great many of the brave men fighting and dying on our side of this conflict are followers of Islam. I have served alongside them proudly.
It does mean however that our enemies are followers of a particular brand of Salafi Islam and they are fighting us for expressly religious reasons. They do not want us to leave them alone. They do not want some sort of homeland in which they can live in peace. They believe that they are on the right side of history and ordained by God. It is their express mission to conquer the Earth and either convert or annihilate those who oppose them. There is no end to this conflict short of that result for them.
By pretending that this conflict was something else, something amorphous like a fight against bad people and bad tactics we guaranteed that we would lose our way and lose our purpose.
We invaded Afghanistan for the purpose of crushing Al-Qaeda – a radical Islamic group dedicated to our destruction. Having largely achieved that purpose in a brilliant military and intelligence campaign that lasted months we then drifted off into some mad enterprise dedicated to transforming Afghanistan into Switzerland in Central Asia. Instead of maintaining a laser-like focus on the destruction of jihadists, we began to preach gender equality, pave roads and attempt to transform Afghanistan into a European-style nation-state.
The enterprise was doomed from the beginning. We squandered enormous quantities of blood and treasure and the only entities that came out ahead were those defense contractors that feasted on taxpayers’ dollars.
We tottered off into a war on Saddam Hussein. He was undeniably a monster. The world is better for his absence. That does not change the fact that he was a secular ruler completely opposed to jihad and his toppling set loose forces with which we are still attempting to contend.
Now over two decades later we have largely decided to pretend the war is not ongoing. The conflict is not over. We are simply largely no longer fighting.
Afghanistan is now a terrorist super state. Al-Qaeda is firmly entrenched there. So are a myriad number of other groups. All of them are dedicated to our destruction. All of them are gaining strength.
An armed resistance to the Taliban continues to fight against jihadism. They appear to be having substantial success. We ignore them. Instead, we are fixated on finding a way to hand $7 billion in frozen Afghan funds to this new Islamic caliphate dedicated to our destruction.
ISIS is not gone. It has spread worldwide through a vast network of affiliate groups. These franchises exist all across North and Sub-Saharan Africa and as far afield as the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
Somalia is on fire. Al-Shabab threatens the stability of that nation’s government and continues to stage attacks inside Kenya as well. Al Shabab is assessed by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to be “the largest, wealthiest, and most lethal al-Qaeda affiliate in the world.” Al Shabab is so rich it provides financial support to al Qaeda senior leadership.
Al Qaeda is not gone. Zawahiri’s death has made no meaningful difference. Not only does the group enjoy a safe haven in Afghanistan again, but it also has a whole worldwide network of powerful affiliates now. It operates on multiple continents and is increasing in power and reach every day.
Pakistan is teetering on the edge of implosion. We faced the very real prospect of watching hundreds of nuclear warheads be seized or simply handed over to the same individuals who brought us 9/11.
Our southern border is wide open. Increasingly, in fact, there is no border. It is a legal fiction that does not exist on the ground. We have no idea who is crossing or what they are bringing with them.
All around the world believers – in what amounts to an apocalyptic death cult – continue to multiply and wage war against the United States and its allies. We are not defeating them. In many cases, we are not even attempting to limit their activities. We are watching and waiting for the inevitable.
For the radical Salafi jihadists who wish us dead nothing has changed. They have not moderated. They have not changed tactics. They are as dedicated to our destruction as they were on 9/11 and just as convinced that victory will inevitably be theirs.
The war has not ended. It continues all over the world every day.
And, we are losing.