I am writing this on Sept. 11th, the fifteenth year since Al Queda destroyed the towers. In this political year Donald Trump acts as if all terrorism is the fault of Democrats, and that President Obama and Hillary Clinton founded ISIS. Ignorance abounds.
It could be argued that Ronald Reagan created Radical Islamic terrorism in 1979 when he armed and supported the Mujaheddin who opposed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but Jihadists have been around for hundreds of years. The real roots of today’s Islamic terrorism began with Abd al-Wahhab who wrote that all Muslims must individually pledge their allegiance to a single Muslim leader (a Caliph, if there were one). Those who would not conform to this view should be killed, their wives and daughters violated, and their possessions confiscated. He formed an alliance in 1741 with Ibn Saud and ever since then the Saudis have been protecting and trying to spread the extreme version of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism or Salafism.
It was only in the last fifty years however that they have been able to use their oil riches to spread this radical ideology by financing religious schools or Maddrassas throughout the Middle East and Africa that teach hatred of the West. As a result Al Queda, the Taliban, ISIS, Al Shabaab, Al Nusra, Boko Haram and almost all other radical Islamic terrorists are Wahhabi. Wahhabism is the official religion of Saudi Arabia, and although Saudi Arabia is considered our Ally and the leaders cooperate with us in our war on terror and help us with our addiction to oil, there are still some in the country who used their oil riches to fund 9/11 and continue to fund terrorists.
We should distinguish between participation in guerilla warfare and international terrorism. A Jihadist is obligated to come to the defense of other Muslims that are under attack but they are not supposed to kill innocent civilians. The Koran even says that Muslims should protect other “People of the Book” which means Christians and Jews as well as Muslims. Islamic terrorists on the other hand kill mostly other Muslims especially Shiites but anyone who is not Wahhabi could be considered takfir or apostate. In the early 80’s Ronald Reagan, who opposed communism whenever he could, encouraged and armed the Mujahideen and they were successful in driving the Soviets out of their country in 1989 (see Charlie Wilson’s War).
At that point there was no surviving infrastructure in Afghanistan and they were in desperate need for aid to rebuild their country. We should have helped them build roads, hospitals, schools, and a new government to express our gratitude for their important role in bringing down the Soviet Empire. We could have used this as an opportunity to gain badly needed friends in the Middle East. Instead we abandoned them and did nothing.
Saudi Arabia stepped up and funded Maddrassas teaching the radical Islamic Wahhabist hatred of the West. The Afghan people were understandably resentful of the abandonment by the US and this gave birth to AL Queda and to the Taliban. Wahabism taught that the reason Muslims were not prospering is that, due to the influence of the Western powers, the people of Islam had moved away from the true faith. Allah would smile upon them once again if they formed a Caliphate and the people lived according to Sharia law.
The Taliban took over the country and instated Sharia law. Many of the tribal leaders resented this because the Taliban cut opium production by 90%. After 9/11 when America invaded Afghanistan to get Osama Bin Laden, it was the Northern Alliance of tribes, along with American air support that overthrew the Taliban and drove them out of the country. People in Afghanistan resented the bounties President Bush put on information about the bad guys. Many people used this as an excuse to get rid of their enemies and most of the people turned in for the bounty were innocent. When President Bush gave up on Bin Laden and invaded Iraq, this unwarranted invasion based on lies and the torture, further inflamed anti American feeling. Our reputation as the good guys was destroyed.
The Sunnis in Iraq were further enraged when Paul Bremmer fired anyone that had belonged in the Baath Party. That encluded the army, the police and anyone in the government who could rebuild the country. They were later to become the backbone for ISIS.
There was one period during the end of our occupation when there was relative stability in Iraq. Conservatives will say this is because of President Bush’s Surge where he added 30,000 troops, but what was more important was when in September 2006, 30 tribes in the Anbar Province formed the Anbar Awakening, an alliance to fight Al Qaeda (AQI) militants. 103,000 of these “Sons of Iraq” were paid about $300 a month to fight Al Queda by Gen. David H. Petraeus in an agreement called the Sahwa, and they dramatically reduced the number of attacks.
As one local sheikh said: “Let’s be honest. They established the Sahwa in our city after all the doors had been shut in our face because there was no chance to hold jobs. The first reason for establishing the Sahwa was because there were no jobs; the second reason—to provide money for the families; and the third reason—to protect the civilian people.”
The Sahwa and the payments ended when the government was turned over to President Nouri al-Maliki who formed a Shiite sectarian government and the oppressed became the oppressors. Then violence began to increase again.
ISIS actually started in Camp Bucca Iraq, in 2007. Camp Bucca was one of the largest and most dangerous prisons in Iraq. It threw together the most dangerous people in Iraq with many people who were unjustly arrested, and it grew into a pressure cooker of extremism in which anyone acting like a Westerner was punished. The hard core Baathists collaborated with the worst members of Al Queda in Iraq and many prisoners were recruited for the new terrorist organization called ISIS. At least nine of the top commanders of ISIS had been imprisoned at Camp Bucca.
Is Obama at fault for withdrawing troops from Iraq? Did the resulting power vacuum result in the rise of ISIS? Not really. President Bush negotiated the withdrawal and the Iraqi president Malaki’s refusal to sign a Status of Forces agreement left the President no alternatives. President Malaki was supposed to set up a government that included participation of the Sunnis. Instead the Sunnis were excluded from the government and persecuted by the Shiites in power.
The violence in Syria allowed ISIS to marshal their forces as resistance fighters. And when they attacked in Iraq the Iraqi army should have been capable of stopping them. But when they rolled into town the Sunnis felt that there was no reason to fight for the Shiites who were persecuting them, so they abandoned their weapons and shucked their uniforms. The fault was Malaki’s not Obama’s.
America’s greatness derives from its goodness. America was greatest after WWII when we helped rebuild Europe with the Marshal plan. There was very little goodness being exhibited in Iraq and America was very unpopular among Muslims worldwide. In 2004 a Tsunami struck Indonesia the most populous Muslim nation killing 230,000 people. At first the US only pledged $15 million but that soon grew to $350 million and President Bush sent an aircraft carrier group to the area to help. After the $ 800 million total UN response the popularity of America and the other Western powers increased.
We cannot defeat ISIS militarily because it is an ideology that has spread over much of the Middle East and Africa. It can only be defeated by the people rejecting that ideology, and the hearts and minds of the people are best won by doing good works not by bombing them or with drone strikes.
How can we prevent Saudi Arabia from funding the Maddrassas which teach hatred of the West? Why don’t we provide real schools, especially for the girls all over those areas? Why don’t we find a way to provide jobs for those most in need, rebuilding their own country’s infrastructure. All of these war torn areas need hospitals, water, power, and sewage systems as well as roads and bridges. We should help there regions with a new Marshal Plan. Humanitarian aid is much cheaper than sending in the military. We can provide sufficient funds for a person to support his family for about $3000 a year but it costs about a million dollars for each one of our soldiers to be over there.
The same is true for this country. We could use our own Marshal Plan to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure to provide jobs here, and if we spent more on helping everyone all over the world so they didn’t hate us as much, we wouldn’t need to spend as much on the military.