By William Pfaff
The war against terror now being conducted from the White House, with the increasing use of drones, obviously is a self-perpetuating and self-enlarging undertaking that of its nature guarantees that the United States is the creator and perpetuator of the very war it fights.
It is losing that fight. What else can one make of the rushed evacuation of Americans from Yemen on Tuesday, a humiliating flight from the threat of some new attack by al-Qaida? What pride would Osama bin Laden feel, if he could do so in the depth of the Indian Ocean (assuming his remains are indeed there, and not in some CIA lab for specialists to identify terrorist DNA, so that a future NSA, committed to really Big Data, can screen the world’s newborns). He would be proud that 25 or more U.S. diplomatic stations, and nearly as many embassies of America’s pliant and cynical European allies, spent the weekend closed with many still closed and fortified against the threat of the followers of bin Laden.
The Washington press says that it is Republicans, not terrorists, who closed the embassies by threatening the Democrats with a new Benghazi controversy. The French press says the truth about the Benghazi attack was that “dozens” of American agents were active that night to seize Libya’s remaining air defense missiles before they fell into terrorist hands.
It claims that today, with their families, those agents are threatened with career “ruin,” and given monthly lie-detector tests, to prevent their truth about the American fiasco being outed by whistle-blowers (and “unpatriotic” American journalists), thereby inviting pitiless (Manning-like?) punishment.
What has happened to this administration? We know that the Republican Party is now institutionally deranged. The government bureaucracy has since 9/11 been purged of dissent, militarized, securitized, all of its members now under orders to spy on all of their fellows to report any suspicious move anyone might make. Washington is thereby rendered increasingly immobile when confronted with a need for thoughtful action. The world regards the American government today with amazement and no little fear.
Does anyone think that the U.S. could have carried out the brief and efficient French-led takeover of the Libyan uprising last year, or its Mali intervention this spring, with anything remotely approaching the economy and efficiency of those operations? If Washington were willing to leave it to the Marine Corps alone, perhaps. It’s not that the French army is wonderful. It’s that, with the Pentagon and the White House of the last two presidencies in command, the U.S. would still be bombing the air defenses (!) and national infrastructure of both Libya and Mali (and possibly Algeria as well), with major American carrier operations and troop landings pending in the Mediterranean, and Cam Ranh Bay-style logistical installations being constructed in Sicily.
The Islamic world today is experiencing an upheaval to whose creation the United States has heavily contributed, but which is indigenous in its quality, terms and eventual resolution. The Muslim Brotherhood has, since the failure of secular Arab reform movements (Ba’ath in Iraq and Syria, and Nassarian Socialism in Egypt), become the popularly perceived solution to the crises of the Arab world (or indeed, of contemporary Arab-Islamic civilization). The reason for this is that no strong and independent political tradition exists within Islamic civilization.
Historically, this civilization has existed as an evolution from the earliest Mediterranean civilization that emerged from the Tigris and Euphrates basin, at the origin of Western history, eventually the vehicle of one of its three dominant religions. But it remained antique in form, the government essentially a greatly elaborated expression of the ruling family, which possesses a legitimacy derived from its descent from the family of the Prophet. This was the case for the Ottoman Empire until 1918 (and is true for the Moroccan and Jordanian monarchies today, both of whose rulers descend from the Prophet).
Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey and 19th century Iran successfully established modern forms of government, both created by soldiers. But in Iran, the ruler awarded himself royal attributes, those of shah or king, claimed in Iran since the unification of the Persian Empire. Despite the support of the Nixon and Carter administrations, he fell because of abuse of power, and modern Iran was captured by the new religious movement calling for restoration of fundamentalist Islam.
This movement, Shiite in tradition in Iran, together with the parallel fundamentalist movements arising in Egypt and elsewhere, proclaims a new Islamic civilization based on strict observance of traditional religion. Bin Laden sprang from this movement and made it his crusade to expel the infidel European and American foreigners, products of Christianity and Judaism, who invaded, ruled and abused the region during the 20th century.
The George W. Bush administration, the neo-conservatives, the Zionist movement and now the Barack Obama administration, have out of colossal ignorance and lack of prudence gone to war against this fundamentalist movement. It is this upheaval that Mr. Obama thinks he is going to conquer, with his drones and his talismatic technological modernism of mass information—and supposed mass omniscience.
These tools now tell American governments about everything except the essential facts. These facts are that Islamic fundamentalism will fail because theocracy cannot survive in the post-Ottoman world. This already is being demonstrated in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. Despite that, Islamic society will in the end settle its own history—which may prove only another tragedy. The other fact is that an arrogant and foolish United States, as exists today, can only harm itself by interfering, and become part of the tragedy.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. Joshua S. Edwards
Children in Khost, Afghanistan, react to the presence of an American soldier.