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Commentary

Lame Duck Bush Administration Continues to Inflame Islamist Terrorism for Its Successor


     
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Although media coverage has focused on U.S. occupations and counterinsurgency/counterterrorist campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq—which had the perverse result of further inflaming Islamist radicalism—the Bush administration has been busy stirring that same hornet’s nest in other parts of the world, especially in Africa. Not only has the administration not been honest with the American people about the reasons for the 9/11 attacks, it has also been self-delusional.

After 9/11, the Bush administration—in contradiction to everything that Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders have written—claimed that al Qaeda had attacked the U.S. because of its freedoms. Tragically, the American public, self-servingly oblivious to the real causes of the attacks, eagerly bought into this implausible hooey, thus allowing the administration a free hand to make the problem worse.

You don’t have to condone the monstrous murders of 9/11, cheer for their heinous perpetrators, blame the innocent victims, or be “unpatriotic” to have asked intelligent questions about the contributions of a shadowy third party to the entire episode. Not Saddam Hussein—the U.S. government. The inevitable conspiracy theories aside, bin Laden has clearly and repeatedly stated that his main reason for waging war against the United States has been this nation’s continuing occupation and intervention in Muslim lands with non-Muslim forces. Even temperate Muslims detest such non-Muslim meddling in their affairs.

For example, in Somalia, which is a classic case of counterproductive militaristic U.S. anti-terror efforts, radical Islamists had little sway in this moderately Muslim nation until the United States began supporting unpopular, corrupt, and ruthless warlords. As a result, the Islamist movement caught fire and took over the country three years ago. The Islamists then brought order to a country that had been in chaos for years. The Bush administration then egged on and supported an Ethiopian—regarded by Somalis as non-Muslim—invasion and occupation of Somalia. Now that the Ethiopians have tired of the whole mess and will withdraw their forces by the end of December, the even more radicalized Islamist forces are poised to retake the country and remove the bickering and weak “transitional” government.

Desperate, the Bush administration has now drafted and rammed through the U.N. Security Council a resolution that allows outside nations to attack Somali pirate havens on land using ground and air forces. The United States could use such authority as a cover to clandestinely take over the counterinsurgency/counterterrorism mission directly from the withdrawing Ethiopians. After all, for years, the United States has used a counter-drug campaign to veil its support for Colombia’s counterinsurgency campaign against communist guerrillas.

Humanitarian groups and even the commander of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet have warned the lame duck administration that aggressive attacks on “pirate havens” could make the situation in Somalia worse. The New York Times quotes Nicole Widdersheim, who heads Oxfam International’s New York office, warned that “expanding anti-piracy operations inside Somalia risks further complicating the conflict and could exacerbate an already dire humanitarian crisis.” Vice Admiral William E. Gortney, Commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has who warns that ground attacks on suspected Somali pirates would endanger the lives of innocent civilians. Of course, the logical corollary to this warning is that such civilians will be driven to support the Islamist insurgency.

Somalia is not the only place the administration is using the U.S. military to make the United States less secure. After 9/11, the administration embarked on a worldwide program entailing U.S. forces training local forces in counterinsurgency/counterterrorism against Islamists. Such training has even been conducted outside the Middle East in such places as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Africa. In Africa alone, training has been conducted in Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, and Morocco. Surprisingly, even the army of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, who the U.S. once accused of being a sponsor of terrorism, may get U.S. counterterrorism training.

And with the military training comes the usual U.S. aid for job training, teacher education, building schools, etc. In Mali, a recipient of both U.S. counterterrorism training and U.S. aid, the Pentagon is actually funding radio soap operas that attempt to foster peace and tolerance.

All of this aid is usually a drop in the bucket, is rarely effective in promoting genuine economic development, and is based on the United States’s self serving and self-delusional idea that poverty is another main cause of terrorism. In Mali, for example, this premise can be demonstrated as false. Mali has long been a poor country, but recently al Qaeda cells (not Malian forces) have threatened to attack U.S. forces.

In fact, U.S. aid can actually be seen as further condescending U.S. interference in local affairs, especially when financed by the Pentagon. That, compounded by the creation of the new U.S. African military command, makes even recipient governments nervous about U.S. intentions.

Of course, the Islamists are even more spun up about such U.S. meddling. The purpose of the military training and aid programs worldwide is to nip such terrorism in the bud before it becomes as rampant as in Somalia. Yet U.S. blindness that the Somali situation is of its own making causes the United States to continue such interventions in other countries, which only make future Somalias more likely.

Perhaps the incoming Obama administration will be more perceptive; learn the lessons of Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan; and develop a more restrained military policy overseas. But unfortunately, given that the disease of interventionism infects both U.S. political parties, I somehow doubt it.


Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.

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