Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘war on terror’ Category

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

Flooding the Swamp

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The metaphor most commonly used to describe terrorism and its backdrop is the one of the mosquitoes and the swamp, in which the mosquitoes are the bombers and the swamp is the much wider public which sympathises with and supports the terrorists, and from which the terrorists recruit. The metaphor is entirely accurate. It is not wishy-washy liberalism but cold logic to state that the only feasible method of defeating anti-Western Islamist terror in the medium to long term is to ‘drain the swamp’, by removing the grievances which inflame hundreds of millions of otherwise reasonable and tolerant Muslims against the West.

This does not mean surrendering Western values to an Islamist agenda but implementing common sense ‘do as you would be done by’ principles. Westerners too would be infuriated by foreign powers which occupied them, or which peppered their land with unwanted military bases, or laid siege to their elected governments, or propped up dictators who abused them.

If the West stopped violently interfering in the Muslim world, the Muslim world would stop violently replying. Certainly, a tiny hardcore of mosquitoes would continue to desire conquest of the infidels, but with their swamp dry, they would soon die off.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 27, 2008 at 12:45 pm


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It seems this broken region, and this broken world, are in for a further escalation of conflict in 2007.

The report of the US Congress-mandated Iraq Study Group recommended that US forces end direct participation in combat operations in Iraq and concentrate on training Iraqi troops instead. It also called for American dialogue with both Iran and Syria for the sake of stabilising Iraq. Although the report failed to recognise the gravity of the problems in Iraq (that there are no ‘Iraqi’ troops, for instance, only militiamen) or to propose serious political solutions, and although its authors still envisaged a long-term American controlling presence in the country, it nevertheless represented an acknowledgment that America is failing in Iraq, and an attempt to limit the damage.

Bush and his people are ignoring the report. Who are Bush’s people? On the one hand, there are traditional right-wing Republicans who are unable to countenance defeat, the kind of people who don’t understand that America was militarily defeated in Vietnam. If it hadn’t been for hippies and weak politicians at home, they think, we’d have smashed the Cong. We won’t be defeated again! And there are neo-con nihilists, believers in ‘creative chaos,’ ideologues often more loyal to Israel’s perceived interests than to America’s. Many commentators have claimed the neo-cons are in decline: I fear not. They have been repositioning, certainly – blaming Bush and Rumsfield for the conduct of the war in Iraq (but not the war itself), making themselves more attractive to the right-wing of the Democratic party. It is very important to remember that as far as large sections of the American ruling class are concerned the Iraq war has not been a failure.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 18, 2007 at 7:39 pm

Posted in Iran, Iraq, war on terror