Two years after Obama declared that the administration has decimated Al Qaeda worldwide, Al Qaeda has delivered the most devastating blow to the United States since the 9/11 attacks that precipitated America’s war on Islamic terrorism.
The fall of the Iraqi Anbar province towns of Ramadi and Fallujah recently to foreign fighters under control of Al Qaeda, called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, represents not just a tactical defeat in Obama’s “Smart Power” strategy, but a strategic surrender of the entire U.S. foreign policy conception for the last 50 years.
“US policies and leaders in three years have destroyed a state system that earlier generations evolved over decades,” said an intelligence analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak with the press. “The U.S. has nothing to show for it but suffering and has nothing to replace it with.”
Anbar province is strategically situated, sharing a border with Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan. While Jordan and Saudi Arabia remain tenuously allied with the United States, the spread of military operations by Al Qaeda out of Syria and into Iraq must mean that they will continue to cast around for more reliable allies than the Obama administration has proved to be.
“US policy makes no sense to anyone in the region,” the analyst continued. “In the view of the US administration, however, the US is consistent in trying to promote democratically elected government, despite the total irrelevance of that concept to region.”
The analyst further observed that the administration has crafted the ridiculous foreign policy conditions in which they support what the Al Qaeda rebels are doing in Syria in opposing that government, while the administration opposes the same rebels across the border in Iraq who are trying to topple the government installed through the Iraqi elections.
The rebels on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border, the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL), has been Al Qaeda since 2004 and mostly consist of foreign fighters.
In the fall of 2012 the administration tried to paint a very different picture of the strategic situation for Al Qaeda.
"The intelligence picture shows that al Qaeda's core is a shadow of its former self,” said Obama’s National Counterterrorism Director Matt Olsen in September 2012 as the administration was making its case for a second term.
A year earlier then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that the war against Al Qaeda was all but won: "I'm convinced that we're within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda."
As late as November 1st, 2012 wearing his flight jacket as commander in chief Obama told a crowd on the campaign trail: “Thanks to sacrifice and service of our brave men and women in uniform, the war in Iraq is over, the war in Afghanistan is winding down, al Qaeda has been decimated, Osama bin Laden is dead.”
Not quite the “mission accomplished” speech George Bush indulged in from the deck of an aircraft carrier. In fact, it’s much, much worse. Because the comeback for Al Qaeda has been armed and fueled by Obama’s incomprehensible foreign, military and strategic policies in the Middle East and North Africa, starting with arming Al Qaeda in a bid to topple Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi in the spring of 2011. Since then American arms and American money has been helping to rebuild Al Qaeda in Africa, Syria, Iraq and throughout the Arab world. And it’s not just the stability of Iraq at stake anymore: Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Israel are all affected.
Each in turn now have very real concerns about the spread of fighting to their own country, an eventuality that never was contemplated while Bush was in charge.
One young Marine who supported operations in Ramadi when the fight was in doubt back in 2004 told me he was “irritated” by the loss of the town to the same Al Qaeda fighters that they chased out previously.
“The people in that town relied on us to protect them. They didn’t like Al Qaeda then,” said the Marine who supported the 2nd Battalion 4th Marines, “and they probably don’t like them now. 80 to 90 percent of those fighters weren’t even Iraqi anyway.”
A Navy veteran of Enduring Freedom, who walked the sand in Iraq, told me that he had been watching the situation “unfold for a while now. It’s incomprehensible to me,” he said “that we lost so much there and these guys just threw it all away.”
Like the Marine veteran, he didn’t want his name used for fear of retaliation from the Obama administration.
Tony Marsh, a U.S. contractor who helped with elections in Iraq has no such scruples. He blasted the administration for squandering the “sacrifice of American soldiers who in 2004 fought and won a bloody battle against Al Qaeda in Iraq’s Anbar Province.”
“From day one,” said Marsh, “president Obama has sent a very clear message that this is not a fight he or his Administration have the stomach for. Al Qaeda has been biding its time when they can finally emerge, unopposed by U.S. forces, to rebuild their networks and reaffirm their fight against the west. We see them doing that now in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and large parts of Africa.”
This defeat is worse than the Tet Offensive, the highly successful new years attack staged by the communists in Vietnam in 1968. While ultimately defeated by U.S. and Vietnamese forces, Tet was widely seen as convincing many that the war in Vietnam could not be won.
But here’s the difference. We can’t just walk away from the Middle East, as we did Vietnam. There is too much at stake for the United States and the West in the region. Recent developments show just how farsighted the Bush administration was in trying to prevent the very eventuality that Obama’s guns and money have enabled in Iraq and across the Middle East.
Whatever else one might say, it’s clear Bush had more strategic sense in his middle finger than Obama has in his whole administration.
Just think of that.