Although President Barack Obama has more empathy for the opinions of the Islamic world than his predecessor and seems to vaguely understand that they do affect U.S. security, he doesn’t seem to understand specifically that U.S. meddling in and occupation of Muslim countries inflames Islamic radicals and is the main cause of blowback anti-U.S. Islamist terrorism.
In Afghanistan, Obama has already thrown in more troops and will probably be goaded by the military and conservatives into further escalation. This despite a timeline that appears to indicate that the insurgency grows as a reaction to increased foreign presence in the country. Up until 2005, U.S. forces were stationed mainly in Kabul, and the Taliban presence in Afghanistan was minimal. During 2005, U.S. forces moved out into the rest of the country; strangely (or not so strangely) the Taliban resurgence began in 2006. In other words, escalating the number of U.S. forces has the counterproductive effect of merely escalating the conflict.
Obama and the rest of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment have ignored this glaring fact largely because the reverse is perceived to have happened in Iraq. A U.S. troop surge in 2007 there appears to have significantly dampened ethno-sectarian mayhem and the rebellion against the U.S. occupier. Yet, many experts say the surge had less to do with reducing the violence than did the sectarian separation from prior ethnic cleansing and paying off the Sunni guerrillas not to fight U.S. occupying forces. After all, for the Iraqi election in 2005, U.S. forces had the same number of troops as during the surge, yet chaos reined. And Iraq is “not over till it’s over,” as the recent massive bombings of Iraqi government buildings have shown. The restive Sunni militias have not been integrated into Iraq’s security forces, and one can only wonder what will happen when payments eventually stop.
More similar to Afghanistan than Iraq is the situation in Somalia. U.S. policy-makers worry that the lack of a strong central government and an Islamist insurgency will make that nation a possible haven for al Qaeda terrorists, but they rarely admit that U.S. policy caused the problem in the first place. Al-Shabab, the militant Islamist movement now trying to take over the country, had minimal popular support before the CIA began supporting corrupt Somali warlords. Normally, Somalis tend to be moderate Muslims. The U.S. then sponsored and aided Somalia’s archrival, Ethiopia, in its invasion of Somalia. Such foreign intervention and occupation caused popular support for al-Shabab to skyrocket into the current problem. If a foreign country were intruding in or occupying the United States, Americans would probably support any force that would push back against outside interference.
In fact, Americans already did. Why can’t a country that was born out of exasperation about British control and occupation understand that people in other countries don’t like foreign interlopers any better than Americans do?
After 9/11, President George W. Bush alleged that al Qaeda had attacked the U.S. because of its freedoms. Yet other countries that enjoyed political and economic freedoms weren’t attacked. Most foreign policy analysts chose to ignore or play down all of Osama bin Laden’s writings about his reasons for attacking the United States: U.S. meddling in and occupation of Islamic countries. Why?
Interventionism—a non-traditional U.S. foreign policy developed after World War II—has many supporting vested interests, especially government security bureaucracies, and thus has bipartisan support. Foreign interventions bring bigger budgets to such bureaucracies and also secretly subsidize various industries (for example, U.S. intervention in the Persian Gulf benefits U.S. oil companies).
So despite endangering U.S. citizens—through being subjected to 9/11-style anti-U.S. terrorism—and swelling the ranks of militants and terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Somalia, U.S. meddling in the Muslim world and elsewhere continues because politically powerful interest groups benefit from the policy at the expense of the general public.
This article first appeared in The Independent Institute and is republished with permission.