How is it even possible that the jihadist situation is even more screwed up now than it was right after the 9/11 attacks? Because two successive presidencies, seeming and mostly real political opposites, have pursued deeply incoherent and ultimately profoundly counter-productive strategies.
The only way the policies pursued by George W. Bush and, with some variances, Barack Obama make sense is if they are designed to stimulate chaos in order to provide post-Cold War justification for massive national security and surveillance apparats. Otherwise, the past 14 years has been largely a set of exercises in crashing stupidity.
President Barack Obama announced the successful U.S. Navy SEAL raid that took down Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011. Yet the long war bloodily meanders on.
So, diabolical brilliance? Or ignorant mediocrity?
Ever since Osama bin Laden was allowed to escape from Afghanistan -- when the Bush/Cheney administration decided to use local proxy forces instead of nearby British commandos and US Marines to prevent him getting to Pakistan -- our post-9/11 operations have usually made little sense.
We've had the big logical non sequiturs:
** Respond to 9/11 by ... invading Iraq! Which had nothing to do with 9/11. And which also had no WMD, the other con job justification for the airhead imperialism of the Iraq War.
** Respond to the persistence of Al Qaeda and its burgeoning offshoots in multiple countries by ... surging American forces for a big escalation in Afghanistan! One of the places we can safely say does not contain Al Qaeda.
And we've had big military fads.
** RMA, the Revolution in Military Affairs! It's the next best thing to push-button war! We'll conquer the big, populous country of Iraq with high-tech air power, special forces, and highly maneuverable ground forces. And we won't need a big occupying army because the Iraqis will be so happy to see us that they'll welcome us with flowers and finance it all with their oil.
Er, not after we throw their whole army out of work, disqualify most competent Iraqis from positions of responsibility, and wreck their infrastructure. Which, by the way, we never actually fixed, despite the incredible fortune we spent in Iraq.
** COIN, the dynamic new doctrine of counter-insurgency! It's hearts-and-minds war. It's so innovative!
We'll defeat the new insurgency -- or ongoing/unleashed civil war -- by strengthening the central government we install, helping local communities and winning new allies, surging our forces into hot spots, and training up local forces to take over from us. Too bad the central governments of Iraq and Afghanistan both lacked legitimacy and preyed on their citizens. And that the new allies were largely rented thugs and warlords. And that the local forces would never be ready to take over from our surge forces.
COIN was presented as if it was akin to the invention of the warp drive.
The reality is it was old hat to anyone who'd done even a modicum of reading about the Vietnam War. In which it failed. I'd even done a little of it in the day, helping prep Philippine forces out to suppress Islamist and Communist guerrillas.
The thing is, it requires either a colonial situation with no media coverage or a government viewed as at least somewhat legitimate by the people. The deeply corrupt and sometimes murderous Marcos regime in Manila, incredibly flawed as it was, cleared the bar of legitimacy. Well, until it was overthrown, that is, though not by the guerrillas. The Maliki regime in Baghdad and the Karzai regime in Kabul -- both of which we installed -- did not.
For all the talk of nation-building, we actually fostered two of the most incredibly corrupt regimes on the planet. During the US occupations, the world-leading opium trade of Afghanistan actually accelerated under both the Bush and Obama administrations. And in Iraq, we never really did get the electric power back up. What kind of clown show imperialism can't manage that, with the massive fortune we spent?
We would have been better off burning the money. Because at least then our idiot presence would not have stimulated the creation of far more jihadists than there were before.
** Now we have the latest military fad. But, after the debacles of RMA and COIN, it's conducted in such secrecy that it doesn't have an official name.
Let's call it Double Secret Super-CT. (CT for Counter-Terrorism.)
This new doctrine, brought to fruition under Obama, who reportedly is the top of the pyramid on kill lists, sees US forces utilizing transnational surveillance and drone programs and high-tech special operations forces to detect potential jihadist emergences and strike in secret.
But what exactly are we trying to do? And why? What does it have to do with protecting the US from another attack? Is it creating more jihadists than would otherwise exist? What's the mission? What's the plan to carry out that mission?
It's all secret. We're assured by the pols supposedly doing oversight in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that things are fine.
Why should we believe that a secret war, global in scope, is any more capably conducted -- not to mention wiser -- than the disgracefully foolish and incompetent wars that have been conducted in public?
Kill the terrorists directly threatening Americans with attack? Sure. Fire.
Kill an assortment of semi-random jihadists and folks who don't like us plus whomever else happens to be in the area? How dumb can this get?
Unfortunately, there is too much evidence that a lot of the latter is taking place.
We've actually achieved most of our legitimate objectives for post-9/11 action. The Al Qaeda organization that attacked us has been disrupted and dismantled, rendered ineffective for major attacks as the events have shown.
But in lashing about so recklessly, we have created more dangerous situations, including an internal danger of unnecessary levels of secrecy, surveillance, and unaccountable military action. We need to be strong, resolute, and decisive in recognizing and responding to actual threats. But what this long war has morphed into is something that is not only frightening to too many around the world, it doesn't really work for America. If it did, we would have accountability rather than empty assurances and vague spin.
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