Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for September 2021

Decline and Fall

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Twenty years ago who would have thought that Salafi-Jihadism would win its battle against the United States? Because that’s what seems to have happened. Two decades after the September 11th attacks, even more extreme groups than al-Qaida have proliferated, and are stronger, more relevant, more deeply embedded locally, and have greater geographical reach. The capacity of the United States to project power, meanwhile, has been greatly reduced.

Of course, al-Qaida didn’t exactly win. The nihilism of its ideology means it will always be a symptom of dysfunction rather than an alternative governance model, and today it’s somewhat less likely to attempt mass casualty attacks on western targets. So it didn’t win, but the US – provoked by its terrorism into lashing out blindly – certainly lost. The two unplanned, incompetently prosecuted, and corrupt wars which followed 9/11 exposed the emperor’s nakedness. For the previous decade, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, American power had appeared unassailable, but this was an illusion. Now hubris led to wars of choice rather than of necessity, and to a reliance on violence rather than intelligence. The point of the wars was not to prevent greater disasters but to erase the humiliation of 9/11, to demonstrate Western power primarily to the West itself. They signaled self-absorption rather than global engagement.  The silliness of ‘shock and awe’ soon boomeranged – nobody was awed, but everyone was shocked as American pretensions were turned to dust not by first-world armies but by small groups of third-world reactionaries.

The invasion of Afghanistan (as opposed to police work to track down al-Qaida) was foolish to say the least. Once America had committed to it, however, it should have done a better job. It may have spent a trillion dollars, but most went on overpaid foreign consultants rather than building the infrastructure of the poorest country on earth, one wrecked by Soviet invasion and then civil war even before the Taliban arrived. The Americans handed power to the corrupt warlords who had made the Taliban look like a reasonable option to many Afghans in the first place, and then almost immediately they lost interest, and rushed into Iraq.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 10, 2021 at 12:35 pm