The skyjacking of the four passenger planes by nineteen Al- Qaeda terrorists in the early morning hours of September 11, 2001, should have been looked upon as a wake-up call for an objective, emotion free reckoning. As with the destructive suicidal crimes of the past by fanatical Muslim terrorists, the evil acts in Mannhatan, New York City, in Arlington, Virginia, and in the field off a reclaimed strip mine in Stonycreek, near Indian Lake and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, too, the writing on the proverbial wall had been around for almost an entire millennium.
In the Quran, which, according to the Islamic faith contains the words of God (Allah) and therefore cannot be altered by men (Q6:115), Jihad, the holy war against the Unbelievers, meaning all of mankind except those who accept Islam, is referred to at least hundred sixty four times. Conversely, the word “Salam”, meaning peace, cannot be found even once in the Quran. Yet, the world’s understanding of Islam has, over time, been beaten down into the most benign myth of ineffective semi-intellectual self-deception. In reality, Islam, unlike many other faiths across the globe, is an aggressively proselytizing religion that strives for exclusive spiritual world domination.
The political message to the American people as well as the world at large was conveyed by then President George W. Bush in his speech to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001. After praising the bipartisan resolve of both Houses of Congress and the nation, he spoke of “an act of war against our country.” Then, posing the question “Who attacked our country?” President Bush defined Al Qeada as a part of “a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations” whose members “practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism.” Then, upping his erroneous judgement of Al Qeada, he intoned thus: “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying in effect, to hijack Islam itself.” Using the adjective “fringe” and combining it with the dictum that “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” President Bush provided a strategically deceptive analysis of the overall situation within the world of Islam, in which disparate armed groups, contrasting tribes and clans with unconnected loyalties, as well as populations without real sense of patriotism, who knew nothing about the notion of democracy were vying for absolute power. Addressing Muslims throughout the world, he said: “We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.” Again, his illusory description of the political and spiritual state of affairs in the world of Islam did not clarify anything. On the contrary, it exacerbated the ubiquitous chaos and collapse of state authority across the world of Islam. Finally, he declared a worldwide war on “every terrorist group of global reach” until it “has been found, stopped and defeated.” A promise as enormous as irresponsible. Believing that an all encompassing military campaign would lead to a radical transformation of personal mentalities and societal structures in the world of Islam was nothing short of spilling political oil on the general discontent.
Thus, President Bush’s speech that attempted to be a political high wire act between the United States of America’s geopolitical interests and domestic reassurances almost completely missed the mark because of the inherent characteristics of the Quran as a religious maximum as well as the political limitations of the governments in every Islamic state with their multiethnic compositions. Similarly, Southeast Asia and the Middle East have historically been the violent theatre of radically opposite great power, national, ethnic, tribal and clanish interests. The end effect of the speech has been a half-hearted and conveniently vague declaration of a global war on Islamic terrorism moderated by the American people’s lack of knowledge of Islam and its political influence in faraway regions as well as the political and military bueraucracies’ institutional unpreparedness for dealing with crimes of this scale. Consequently, his attempts for revenge in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Obama’s equally incompetent approaches in Syria, Libya and Iran, and President Trumps errant policies of quick extrication from twenty years of entanglements combined have contributed to the shameful chaos in Washington, D.C.’s foreign policies. Finally, to add a totally negative national inspiration to the history of 9/11 and American traditions, President Bush’s recent speech at the Flight 93 memorial service only demonstrated the limitations of his underperforming intellect when he compared the undefined group of “U.S. extremists” of January 6, 2021, to the foreign terrorists who attacked America twenty years ago: “We have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within…” While not explaining how he came to such a convoluted and one-sided conclusion, he continued attacking domestic and foreign extremists who “disdain pluralism,” “disregard human life,” and “defile national symbols.” Again, by opportunistically politicizing the war on terrorism, Presidents Bush and Obama poured oil on the fire of violent extremism across the globe, instead of extinguishing it.
The modern day involvement of the West with Afghanistan has started with the so-called First Anglo-Afghan War, known by the British as the Disaster in Afghanistan, and transpired between 1839 and 1842. In this case, Great Britain foolishly intervened in a succession dispute between two Emirs. The British supported the former Emir Shah Shujah from the Durrani clan, whom they installed upon capturing Kabul in August 1839. When the intervention turned into a permanent occupation and British tolerance for the locals’ way of life metamorphosed into their attempt to Westernize the various tribes and clans, the latter revolted. To add idiotic insult to political injury, the British appointed William Hay Macnaghten, a former judge in a small town in Ulster, Ireland, to be their chief representative to Kabul. With no knowledge or understanding of the local culture, he succumbed to the prevailing culture of corruption and flaunted his desire to live the life of a wealthy aristocrat. No wonder that the dissimilar Afghan tribes and clans united in 1841 in a global resistance against the British. When the British realized that their presence was strategically futile, they embarked on a retreat from Afghanistan in 1842. By January 13, 1842, the main British Indian force was completely annihilated except a single British doctor that was left alive intentionally to tell the story of the British humiliation. Regardless of Great Britain’s abysmal failure to secure Afghanistan as a buffer against the expansionist Russian Empire, two more British-Afghan Wars followed between 1878-1880, and 1919-1921, with similar results. After independence in 1921, Zahir Shah became king of the Afghanistan monarchy in 1933. In 1973, the former Prime Minister Mohammad Daoud Khan, a cousin of the king, overthrew his cousin with the help of the Soviet Union. As a result, the new ruler abolished the monarchy and named himself the President of the newly minted Republic of Afghanistan. Since the new president betrayed the Kremlin and Afghanistan’s home grown Communists, he was summarily killed in a Communist coup in 1977. Infightings among the rival leaders of the Afghan Communist Party and the obviously anti-Islamic ideology of the Soviet Union led to the birth of a guerilla movement called the Mujahadeen across Afghanistan. In 1979, the then American Ambassador Adolph Dubs was murdered in Kabul. Following additional assassinations of leading Afghan Communists, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. A war of liberation against the Soviet Union ensued that ultimately led to the withdrawal of the Soviet Red Army from the country in 1990. In 1995, the fractured Mujahideen were challenged and replaced by the Taliban. Again, Afghanistan faced a civil war among the various ethnic groups. The Taliban’s ruthless Islamism resulted in their turning Afghanistan into a terrorist heaven. And then September 11, 2001 happened.
Understandably, throughout the 1990s as well as in 2001, the peoples of Afghanistan again were in an extremely difficult quagmire. Their homeland was ruled by a fanatical religious minority of the Deobandi sect with deep roots in the Pashtun/Durrani ethnic minority. Clearly, the ruling Taliban was incapable of carrying out meaningful reforms without fatally undermining their despotic rule. Any move toward secularism would have meant democratization that, in turn, would have assured the emergence of political movements and parties, which would have ended the Pashtun dominance over the state. Thus, in light of the history, culture and the ethnic composition of Afghanistan, any challenge to the despotic Taliban regime was strongly burdened by the limitations that have been inherent from time immemorial within the country.
Moreover, Afghanistan has been situated in the flashpoint of various strategic interests. For this reason, any change in the existing strategic balance or imbalance, such as an intervention, would assuredly have resulted in interference from other concerned parties. Afghanistan borders to the north on Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, on Iran to the west, on Pakistan to the east and south, as well as on a small border section with China and India to the northeast. The country is somewhat larger than France and only slightly smaller than the state of Texas. Its geography alternates between mountains and deserts. Its population is diverse. Afghanistan, with its more than fourteen ethnic groups, many more tribes and clans, has historically been a fragmented country, in which no ethnic group has had a majority. Therefore, Afghanistan has always been the land of strong minorities that have fought each other incessantly. Regionally, the war between the majority Sunni and the minority Shi’a religious sects has always been superimposed over the political, economic, religious and cultural disagreements. Finally, all these conflicts have led back to the confrontation between the United States of America, the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China.
In light of this strategic framework, the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations should have demonstrated more skepticism vis-a-vis the Afghan anti-Taliban opposition and potential domestic allies’ political abilities and basic loyalties. What followed in reality was a two-decade long effort to create an expansive dissemination of Western values of democracy and human rights in a failed state, in which the population mainly craved order and stability. Under such circumstances, the clueless Bush administration declared its policy of nation building in a country, in which there was no Afghan nation per se. No wonder that in the absence of a strong central government violence multiplied and the forces of NATO had to function as an occupying military and police force. This, in turn, strengthened the rich allotment of Jihadist forces that the Western powers tried to isolate by pouring monies mindlessly and incontrollably into the bottomless pit of established Afghan corruption. At the end, Western gullibility and pervasive as well as entrenched corruption doomed the West’s effort of nation building to spectacular failure.
The curtain on the final act of the twenty year long Afghan war was lowered on August 31, 2021, by the idiotically inept and unprofessional Biden administration. President Biden, his Secretary of State Blinken and his Secretary of Defense Austin will surely remembered by history as perhaps the most arrogantly stupid bureaucrats of American history. The chaotic withdrawal of American forces, not coordinated with the Afghan government and the allies, will forever live in infamy. Historically, good must be defended and evil must be fought. However, doing both in a coordinated and disciplined manner requires clearheadedness and complex competence. The Wilsonian missionary fanaticism of making the world safe for democracy must be reformulated and reformed to mirror the discombobulated complexity of a world, in which almost everybody has been chasing an unattainable version of utopia. The moral outrage over global injustice and inequality must not displace sober analysis. The United States of America must champion good and fight evil by clearly distinguishing between friends and foes. To accomplish such an objective analysis, America will need a more educated citizenry and a more committed civil service to unideologically defend and promote the Union’s national as well as international interests.
Clearly, since the end of 2001, the United States of America’s policies toward the world of Islam has been hesitatingly opaque, and as a result, horrifying. The results were the so-called Arab Spring, the emergence of ISIS and the resurgence of the Taliban as well as Al Qaeda. Corruption and glaring incompetence on both sides of the conflict left the greater Middle East and SouthEast Asia in the worst situation they were before 2001. Instead of gradual Westernization, in both regions Islamic extremists became stronger, while the states, with few exceptions, metamorphosed into even more unstable and corrupt political entities. The American and West European strategic incompetence and foolishness the peoples of the greater Middle East and SouthEast Asia are hostages of police states and ruthless Jihadist groups and organizations. In their demoralized state, most of these peoples have chosen the police state. For these reasons, the world of Islam will firmly remain in the orbit of unfreedom and hopeless stagnation.