We live in an age of morons. Unfortunately, many of them now hold high office. As an example of this foolishness at the top, consider articles like this nonsense from Foreign Policy magazine:
Arrogant socialists imagine that key strategic goals for US foreign policy in the coming decades will depend on impractical economic whims, chicken-little scare tactics about the environment, denial of the US role as world leader, and dependency on central government. Yet the hubris is similar to that displayed by conservatives not so very long ago, due to a similarly distorted view of the world. In the case of the conservatives, at least they were not alone in their fantasy.
The Soviet Union appeared poised to dominate the Eurasian continent by 1980. Europe was in upheaval, the US had somehow lost a war in Vietnam to a band of primitive thugs, the US economy was mired in both high unemployment and high inflation at the same time, and most self-proclaimed experts in the media announced the US was done. Then a lot of things changed. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan turned into a disaster, the US revived under Reagan on all fronts, and American exceptionalism returned to favor not only in the US, but in many other nations. This reached an apogee in 1991, ironically after the US made mistakes in judging the intentions of Saddam Hussein. Hussein sent his army into Kuwait, imaging the US would not dare try to stop what he had all but completed. Instead, George HW Bush directed a masterful campaign of diplomacy, influence, and military power to destroy Iraq’s military and make clear the US’ ability to obliterate any enemy of significance. Unconfirmed reports from the intelligence community in 1991 generally relayed the same message at the Politburo:
AirLand battle doctrine was not only superior to anything on the books anywhere in the world, the Gulf War demonstrated not merely superiority but absolute supremacy of US training, logistics, and weapons systems. Since 1991, only Iraq has been rash enough to plan for any kind of direct confrontation with main battle forces of the United States. Even today, twenty-two years after the Gulf War, most strategic textbooks in China, Russia, or other potential opponents make clear that the only sort of warfare which may be waged against the US with any hope of survival (let alone victory) is asymmetric warfare. This, by the way, was the reason for the sponsorship of the PLA’s propaganda piece, ‘Unrestricted Warfare’, in 1999.
The success of the Gulf War led to a number of mistaken assumptions, by both Democrats and Republicans. Bill Clinton used the success to justify a scale-down of military force, but also drastically increased the number of troop deployments, such as into Bosnia and Somalia. George W. Bush was misled into believing that an invasion of Iraq would enjoy success similar to Desert Storm, although conditions and objectives were very different. The limited goals of Desert Storm, the overwhelming unanimity of support, both domestically and internationally, and the restraint after freeing Kuwait, all combined to make Desert Storm a very different conflict from prior and future engagements. If anyone had paid attention to Clinton’s blunders in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia, the errors of assuming easy victory could have provided important lessons. Ironically, the US was far better prepared for the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan than in occupying Iraq. The reason is that the United States always understood that occupation of Afghanistan was impossible, the only viable strategy being to help Afghans rule themselves. In Iraq, the lack of a coherent exit strategy has made the campaign bloodier and less decisive than it might have been.
Switch now to the Jihadist perspective. Before 1972, Americans were largely out of sight and out of mind to the Arabs, Persians, Jews and other Middle Eastern people. World War 2 made it clear that the US was formidable when angered, but few nations tried to build strong friendships with the US before 1972, with four notable exceptions: Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iran. Muslims in general found it easy to ignore the US, except for business deals.
When Britain withdrew from the Gulf in 1972, the US was by default the referee for the region, which led to the rise of four general groups:
- Pro-US nations, especially Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran
- Soviet client states, like Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Egypt (before 1979)
- Arab nationalists, usually starting as NGOs to test the climate
- Neutrals like Algeria, which rejected diplomatic ties with the US and USSR but did business with both
Without going too far down the rabbit hole of splinter groups from these four general groups, we can recognize that there is a fractal effect from major changes in global policy, and this in turn created the opportunity for Jihadist groups to grow in size and influence in the Middle East. At first, most of these groups followed the pattern of European terrorist organizations – indeed, the IRA and Baader Meinhof Gang both operated training camps in Middle East countries in the 1980s, and their influence colored thinking in PLO, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad operations and strategy. The Jihadists, however, rejected Soviet connections from the start, basing their funding and ideology on strict Islamist principles. This home-grown methodology limited the growth of the Jihadists early on, but also kept the American and Soviet agencies from infiltrating them and identifying leadership. There is some evidence that certain European agencies were able to gain access through funding, most notably the DGSE of France and a number of Balkan organizations, but far more that recruitment through madrasas and funding through mudarabha were the means of building such groups. The Jihadists commonly used tactics of planning and logistics that focused on mosques and Islamic communities for early staging, then abandoning all direct connections to nominal Islamic associations when activating a cell. This demonstrates the desire to decentralize operations as much as possible, and to partition Jihadists from official government offices.
This point brings up a key aspect of Jihadist goals – while there are several nations supportive of Jihadist actions and ideals, there is no currently nation under Jihadist leadership, including Iran. Jihad by nature is insurrection, and therefore all establish political hierarchies seek to dismantle domestic Jihad activity , preferring instead to sponsor foreign actions which destabilize enemies; there is no actual desire to establish the supreme Caliphate, as this would deprive these officials of power and influence in the region. Even in theocratic states like Iran, sponsorship of terrorist groups is meant entirely as a weapon to attack foreign enemies, not establish a Jihadist state. This is why, for example, wealthy donors from Saudi Arabia support terrorists – it’s a form of danegeld to send the monsters somewhere else than their own front door.
Next: Salafi Jihadism and US Grand Strategy Part III – The Avenging Angel