Sunday, September 10, 2006

Five Years Later

For most Americans, the "War on Terror" began on September 11, 2001. This is not when it began for al-Qaeda, which had been ramping up its attacks since the late 1990's, nor for many on its front lines, who had been working to counter the threat from perches inside defense agencies during the same period. However, the image of the World Trade Center coming down and President Bush's subsequent actions mean that that is the day people will remember as a turning point in their perceptions of the world and its dangers.

During that five years, however, it seems that little has been accomplished. The United States and its allies toppled the Taliban and denied al-Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan, but they have carved out a new domain, now with the acquiesence of the Pakistani government, in Waziristan. Afghanistan's government, meanwhile, is weak, and the country largely insecure. It's economy is based on unprecedented levels of opium production, and attempts to eradicate it serve more to alienate the people who depend on it than anything else. Meanwhile, I suspect the profits from this opium crop are paying for insurgencies in Waziristan and Baluchistan, as well as the forces behind the growing unrest in Central Asia's Ferghana Valley. Nothing suggests the Taliban have broken their alliance with al-Qaeda, which while returning to its pre-9/11 difficulty in attacking the American homeland has inspired or had a hand in numerous attacks in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The Bush administration's main foreign policy initiative in all this has been to invade Iraq, removing a regime hostile to al-Qaeda and creating a state in which Abu Musab az-Zarqawi gained an international stage, one which was inherited by the al-Qaeda network upon his death. The opportunity to fight Americans doing something which most Arabs see as an atrocity cloaked in cynically deployed rhetoric about democracy has helped elevate the status of jihadists with many Muslims, and Iraq now serves the same role Afghanistan did during the 1980's in allowing these jihadists to form new networks and alliances which will last long after the war is over.

These have not been five years of success, but five years of miscalculation and incompotence, for which we will be paying the price for a long time.

That's all from me for a little while, as early tomorrow morning I set off for Israel. See you from the other side!

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)


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