The U.S. involvement in Iraq and adequate response to terrorist threat remain the most contested aspects of American foreign policy. The attack of 9/11 was one of the most tragic landmarks in American history; it revealed that the issue of international terrorism should be effectively tackled. By the time of the attack, Al Qaeda terrorist network accumulated enough resources to pose a considerable threat to the U.S. homeland security. After the proxy was between the U.S. and the USSR on the territory of Afghanistan, radical Islamism began to spread over the Middle East and resulted in the establishment of Taliban government there. When the Taliban refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden, the suspect in the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. launched an attack on Afghanistan and overthrew the regime. However, there was intelligence data pointing on another major threat, that of Iraq that allegedly developed WMDs in defiance of UN resolutions. In 2003, the U.S. launched the Operation Iraqi Freedom and toppled Saddam Hussein. However, regime change did not bring stability; neither did it put an end to insurgency. Therefore, the U.S. should stay the course in Iraq till the final settlement of the issue.
The Rise of Islamism in the Middle East
According to the U.S. Department of State (2003), the origins of the present form of radical Islamism can be traced back to the Afghan-Soviet conflict in late 1980s. The conflict contributed to the rise of Taliban that aimed at unifying Arabs who fought against Soviet Union and providing help to Afghan resistance. USSR’s foreign policy induced recruiting, training and financing Sunni Islamic extremists for the resistance forces.
Looking at the issue in a broader historical context, after Afghanistan’s coup of 1978 resulting in the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) led by Nur Muhammad Taraki coming to power, the dangerous buildup of tension started. PDPA can be regarded as the most important Soviet-orientated Communist party of those times foe the reason that many of its leaders had studied or undergone military training in the USSR. The coup itself was planned and supported by the USSR. Following the events of 1978 Afghanistan relied on foreign aid from the USSR, which was a significant foreign policy change for a country that had maneuvered between the U.S. and the USSR without decisively siding with any of them (Ahmed, 2001).
The U.S., alarmed by the fact that they were loosing Afghanistan to communism, started its covert operation prior to large-scale Soviet invasion. There were also fears of Persian Gulf area moving out of the sphere of American influence (Gasper, 2001).
The goal of supporting anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan was two-fold: first of all, there were plans to overthrow Taraki’s government with a view of establishing a new government under American control, secondly, provoking Russian to invade Afghanistan was perceived as a means of weakening the rival superpower. Ex-National Security Adviser under President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezenski, is reported to have said the following:
‘We did not push the Russians into invading…[but]…we knowingly increased the probability that they would. The secret operation was an excellent idea. The effect was to draw the Russians into the Afghan trap’ (Power, 2005, para. 3).
Fearing the U.S. overtaking Afghanistan, the USSR invaded the country in December 1979. The result was a brutal civil war that brought about numerous casualties. It also resulted in a fraction of military and political leaders fleeing to Pakistan to organize a liberation movement which was subsequently manipulated by the U.S. (Ahmed, 2001).
After Soviet troops left in 1989, numerous militant groups previously sponsored by the U.S. started to compete for political power. The country remained in the state of anarchy and civil war before one of such groups, the Taliban, managed to consolidate a significant degree of power by the mid-1990s. The regime instituted by the Taliban was oppressive in its nature and violated human rights of Afghan citizens. The Taliban was backed by Pakistan and funded by Saudi Arabia (Karon, 2001).
However, the far-reaching implication of the war in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s taking over Kabul in 1996 concern the rise of militant Islam in the Middle East. For many Muslim radicals, Russian invasion of Afghanistan was a sign of the ‘clash of civilization’ that led to the strengthening of anti-Western sentiment in some parts of the Muslim world. Given the support for the Taliban provided by certain fractions in other Muslim countries, it served the purpose of establishing close ties among militant Islamic organizations in the region.
U.S. inconsistent foreign policy also contributed to the complication of the situation. U.S. secretly supported the Taliban until 1998, when Washington charged Osama bin Laden with the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and launched cruise missiles at Bin Laden’s alleged training camps in Afghanistan (Gasper, 2001).
Therefore, proxy war between the two superpowers contributed to the rise of militant Islamism in the region. U.S. covert support for anti-Soviet insurgency became the starting point of training and arming Muslim terrorists that are the primary enemy of the U.S. (and the rest of what is called ‘the Western world’) nowadays.
Origins and Rise of Al Qaeda
First of all, it is necessary to take a close look at the charismatic leader of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden. He was hailed as a hero of anti-Soviet insurgency, and the Taliban welcomed him back to Afghanistan in 1996 after his had to leave Sudan. Bin Laden supposedly strengthened his connections with the Taliban leadership through his daughter’s marriage to its leader, Mullah Omar. His ‘Arab Afghan’ militants contributed to the Taliban’s takeover of the country. Many Taliban fighters received training in Bin Laden’s camps (Karon, 2001).
An important reason for the popular appeal of Bin Laden is connected with his promises to restore the former pride of Muslim countries, currently disoriented by globalization. He interprets Quar’an to serve his own interest; fundamentalism has always been present in Muslim countries, and the terrorist groups found a platform to consolidate it.
Bin Laden issued a number of ‘fatwas’, or verdicts based on Islamic law; one of the most important was the ‘Declaration of Jihad on the Americans Occupying the Country of the Two Sacred Places’ that called upon the elimination of foreign forces at the Arabian Peninsula.
Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda has grown throughout the 1990s to become one of the strongest terrorist networks. The US Department of State (2003) reports that current goal of Al Qaeda is establishing an Islamic Caliphate by combating anti-Islam regimes and removing non-Muslim population from traditionally Muslim countries. The organization was based in Afghanistan until the US-led war on terrorism made them change their location. However, Al Qaeda has cells worldwide; it is reported to have location across South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.
Al Qaeda planned to become a platform for the unification of allied Islamic extremist organization who shared the same values and objectives. As a consequence, Al Qaeda merged with Al-Jihad and al Gamaa al Islamiya, both Egyptian extremist groups, in 2001. Their united campaign would be known under the name of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and the Crusaders. Al Qaeda is in the heart of widely developed terrorist network worldwide; it is a focal point for a number of Sunni Islamic extremist groups, for example, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the Harakat ul-Mujahidin.
As for the way of obtaining financial resources, Al Qaeda has its own businesses and benefits from donations from international supporters. Sometimes the organization uses illegal ways to gain money, for instance, by manipulating with donations to charitable organizations. As for the structure, Al Qaeda is generally viewed as consisting of four committees, namely the Military Committee, Finance Committee, Religious/Legal Committee and Media Committee; all the committees report to Majlis.
Al Qaeda claims to have attacked US helicopters and US servicemen in Somalia in 1993 and to have carried out three explosions that targeted US troops in Yemen 1992. Al Qaeda planned to assassinate Pope John Paul II during his visit to Manila in 1994 and Bill Clinton during his visit to the Philippines in 1995. The same year the organization planed to bomb a number of American transpacific flights, but these plans were not carried out (Katzman, 2005).
In August 1998, Al Qaeda carried out the bombings of the US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Tanzania, that resulted in approximately 300 killed and 5,000 injured. In 1999, Al Qaeda planned to explode an airport in Los Angeles and to attack American and Israeli tourists in Jordan during the celebration of the new millennium. This operation was disrupted the planned operation and brought 28 suspected terrorists before the court (Katzman, 2005).
In October 2000, an attack on the USS Cole in Yemen was conducted with 17 members of US Navy killed and 39 injured. In December 2001, a terrorist tried to conduct and explosion on a flight Paris-Miami with the help of a shoe bomb. In 2002, Al Qaeda conducted bombing of a hotel in Mombassa, Kenya, with 15 killed and 40 injured, and supported bombing of a nightclub in Bali that killed 180 people. In April, it conducted a bombing of a synagogue in Tunisia that resulted in 19 killed and 22 injured. In October, an attack on U.S. soldiers in Kuwait was initiated. Al Qaeda directed the attack on MV Limburg off the coast of Yemen. The organization also attempted to attack an Israeli plane with an air missile in the airport of Mombassa (Katzman, 2005).
In 2003, the scale of organization’s activities became very significant. In spring 2003, it conducted bombing of three expatriate housing complexes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; this terrorist attack resulted in 20 people killed and 139 injured. In autumn, it again conducted the bombing of a housing complex in Riyadh that killed 17 and injured 100 persons (Katzman, 2005).
Al Qaeda participated in an attack on a Jewish club and hotel in Casablanca that killed 41 people and injured more than 100. It is likely that Al Qaeda took part in the bombing of Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in August that resulted in 17 people killed and 137 injured. In November, the terrorist network staged explosions in two synagogues in Istanbul the resulted in 23 persons killed and 200 injured. The same month Al Qaeda carried out the bombing of the British Consulate and HSBC Bank in the capital of Turkey that killed 27 and injure 455 (Katzman, 2005).
As for the major cases that occurred in 2004, there is a need to mention the explosion of ten bombs in Madrid on the 11th of March 2004. This terrorist attack resulted in 191 deaths and 1,800 injuries. It is believed that the terrorist attack was committed by the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group supported by Al Qaeda.
Operation Iraqi Freedom
The most significant, notorious and tragic operation of Al Qaeda was 9/11 attack. Four planes were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Shanksville. According to the official report of 9/11 Commission (2004), more than 2,600 people died at the World Trade Center; 125 died at the Pentagon; 256 died on the four planes; altogether the number of deaths reaches almost 3,000.
After the nation recovered from the shock, attempts were made to understand the reasons for this well-designed and cold-blooded crime. There were numerous investigations by the government authorities, scholars, and the public. Many people believe that 9/11 signified that the hatred of the Islamic extremists had reached its peak. Thus, the 9/11 Commission Report speaks of the attack as a shock, not a surprise, as Islamists have continuously issued warning that they had been planning massive killings of American citizens (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, 2004).
After the 9/11 attack, the fight against terrorism was firmly put at the top of the government agenda. There were widespread fears that terrorists were planning subsequent attacks on the United States. After the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden who was suspected of engineering the 9/11, the U.S. launched an operation in Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban government. Afghan Interim Authority with a six months mandate was established in 2001; it was succeeded by the Transitional Authority with a two year mandate. The new Constitution of Afghanistan was passed in early 2004; however, the government is still weak, and the insurgency continues.
After the Afghanistan operation, Al Qaeda fighters were dispersed from their bases in mountains and relocated to urban Arab environment, where they could be more readily hidden and helped. Most Arabs who were in Afghanistan moved to Iraq. The treat of terrorism led to the U.S. operation aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein. As for the U.S.-Iraq relations before 9/11, the relation between two states deteriorated in 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. A year after the U.S. and coalition attacked Iraq from Saudi Arabia, leading to the Gulf War. The war almost toppled Saddam Hussein, but he managed to stay in power, to the dismay of American leaders.
Iraq’s alleged possession of WMDs in defiance of United Nations resolutions was the most widely cited reason for the operation in the official documents. The reason for the beginning of the operation was associated with the allegations that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction, which could be subsequently used to attack the U.S. America decided it had sufficient proof of the existence of such weapons to commence the attack, since the CIA concluded that Iraq has went on developing its WMD programs failing to comply with restrictions placed by the UN.
However, independent commission of weapon inspectors concluded that Iraq did not posses such weapons. As the Guardian (2004) reports, the Iraq Survey Group announced on October 6, 2004 that 15 months of searching have provided no proof that Saddam Hussein possessed significant weapons of mass destruction before the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Thomas E. Ricks (2006, p.23), the author of the book titled ‘Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq,’ writes that ‘Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.’ Logical reasoning in support of the fact that there were no WMDs in Iraq suggests that if Saddam Hussein had possessed those weapons, he would have used them. Therefore, they claim that WMD was only an excuse caught at by the U.S. government. Yet even if the intelligence that led to the attack on Iraq was faulty, the U.S. has the obligation to stay the course.
The Importance of Staying the Course in Iraq
Pulling out from Iraq at the moment will have dangerous long-term consequences. The country is unstable and suffers from sectarian violence, and the U.S. pulling out forces will leave Iraq in a complete devastation. The country may then be left to insurgent terrorist groups or even fall apart. Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said two years ago that ‘Iraq is heading toward disintegration, raising fears of a wider regional conflict’ (Daily Times, 2005, para.1).
The duty of Americans as a nation is to oversee the final settlement of the issue with Iraq. The U.S. is the only superpower left after the collapse of the Soviet Union, therefore the present system of international relations is essentially unipolar. In this context, Anthony A. Loh (1999) from Weatherhead Center for International Affairs Harvard University introduces the theory of ‘benign hegemony’ under which the stable nature of the global balance of power does not allow any open conflict to break out. Robert Kagan (1998, p.27), senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, suggests the ‘the benevolent hegemony exercised by the United States is good for a vast portion of the world’s population.’ For this reason, the U.S. should live up to the expectations of the world community and stay the course in Iraq till the situation in the region is stabilized and imminent terrorist threat is eliminated.
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