Dr. Walid Phares
Seven Years of War, One Year of Retreat
September 11, 2009
Every commemoration of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001
reveals our confusion. Eight years after 9-11, we are still asking
ourselves too many questions, and in those questions are embedded the
reasons the war has gone on so long.
Who is this enemy and why do they want to harm us, many ask. If you
can’t define the enemy, you cannot defeat him.
Where are we this year in the confrontation with the forces that caused
us harm and want to defeat us? Are we making progress in the war against
the "terror forces;” are we far from victory; how much more sacrifice
will it cost us to get to the other side?
Rarely over the past eight years have we received good clear answers.
Our debate was hopelessly disabled by large segments of our own
political establishment, which advocated exaggerated apology; our public
perception was outmaneuvered by the Jihadist propaganda worldwide. For
years any clear identification of the enemy, its ideology, its
strategies and how to counter them has been lacking.
In no conflict throughout history were people still confused about the
threat eight years after hostilities began. For America, neither WWI nor
WWII had lasted half that long. And in those wars we not only achieved
victory in that time, but we knew long before that – with crystalline
precision – who our foes were and what we had to do to defeat them.
Unfortunately, in the years after the 9/11 war began most academic and
some media elite and, most recently and stunningly, top advisors on
national security continued to affirm that Jihad is just some equivalent
of yoga. Despite the mobilizing Presidential speeches of earlier years
in this conflict, the bureaucratic machine didn’t fight this war; in
fact it pushed it to fail and eventually crumble.
And with the change of administrations, though policy and execution
levels are at last united, their goal is to cease the combat, not win
the war. In short, it is bleak, but it is not yet over and this is why:
If we analyze how the United States responded to the attacks of 2001,
evolved in its campaigns overseas, debated its own perceptions of the
conflict domestically and managed its own homeland security over the
last eight years, we are forced to conclude that what has taken place in
the very big picture was this: Since 9/11, the US dislodged two
tyrannies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Historians will judge the validity of
toppling Saddam’s regime at that time, or also the strategy of not
resuming the pressure against Assad and the Ayatollahs all the way once
we began the Iraq campaign. This was the history of the two first years
of the "war.”
Since then, American efforts and sacrifices entered the stage of
stalemate: fighting al Qaeda in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle and the Taliban in
the peripheries of Afghanistan; gaming Iran and Syria’s regimes in Iraq
and Lebanon; widening the hunt for Jihadists in several countries;
chasing after "homegrown” cells inside the homeland; and Presidential
escalation of the rhetoric against Islamist ideologies.
Between 2003 and 2008, the War on Terror was more of an
"in-the-trenches” conflict: pushes here and there, from one side and the
other. Lebanon was freed from Syrian forces in 2005 without bullets or
dollars, but Hizballah counter attacked with both and took back most of
its lost terrain by 2008. Somalia’s successive Jihadists uprisings split
the country and now no one is winning. In the vast African Sahel, al
Qaeda’s clones seized positions, retreated and came back: the jury is
still out. In Sudan, US efforts identified Darfur as genocide -- a
humanitarian victory of sorts -- but Khartoum is solidly backed by
influential petrodollars regimes: no salvation was accomplished.
In Iraq, the successful surge weakened al Qaeda, but since 2007 Iran’s
role wasn’t contained any more by Washington. In Pakistan, the Taliban
went on the offensive and, as of last year, the new government went on
the counter offensive: neither side is winning.
The risks though are near catastrophic: A Jihadist victory in Islamabad
would create the first al Qaeda nuclear state. In Afghanistan, a similar
scenario is pinning NATO down, but not offering strategic victories to
the Taliban. In the homeland, unprecedented spending aimed at securing
the infrastructure but cells continued to mushroom, the age of homegrown
Jihadists falling to younger and younger generations dramatically.
Luckily the country was not hit for eight years, but mutant Jihad is
So, under the Bush Administration we had two years of US thrusts
overseas and five years of trenches warfare on a global scale. Was it a
success? Bringing down the Taliban was a move of necessity; removing
Saddam was militarily successful but its regional follow ups regarding
the Baath and the Khomeinists failed.
The dichotomy within the US government regarding the so-called War on
Terror had caused strategic shortcomings. Later, we understood that the
American offensive was slowed and halted by the combined forces of
appeasers and oil lobbies and by the sheer fear of wider war.
In short, winning an ideological war over the Jihadists was the only
clear path to reach success anywhere worldwide, including in Afghanistan
and Iraq and also at home. But that is precisely where the Bush
Administration failed to fight and was thus paralyzed, causing a five
years long "trenches war” where we spent endlessly and got nowhere
beyond the targets reached by 2003.
Historians will most likely discover that the regional forces fearing
the expansion of democracy in their midst, were pushing back against US
efforts perhaps more so than the fighting Jihadists on the battlefields.
We were defeated in a war of ideas they have launched and were crumbled
from the inside by the interests groups feeding from Petro Jihadism. It
would be useful to analyze the pitfalls of the Bush led War before
beginning to address the Obama led disengagement.
After less than a year, the Obama Administration is sounding retreat in
Iraq. We will withdraw regardless of Iran and Syria’s counter moves, or
at least that is the plan.
There will be no "meddling” in Iran’s democracy struggle and Washington
will "hope" the Ayatollahs won’t set off the nuclear mushroom: Less
likely other plans are envisaged.
In Lebanon, bureaucrats will eventually talk with Hizballah. In Gaza,
the US will sometimes engage Hamas.
There will be no Darfur campaign, and we will seek the Taliban, while we
will call them "the good ones” for a dialogue in Afghanistan-Pakistan.
In short the US War on Terror is over, but the Jihadists war on
democracies will go on. Inside this country, we will be increasingly
calling Jihad, "Yoga” and there will be more and more "Yogists” rising
This is no prediction of doom, but a rational, mathematically grounded
projection of where we will be going from where we are now. I am not
prescribing how the changing directions from offensive, stalemate and
retreat will affect the nation’s future. That is a matter American
citizens will have to decide on in the next benchmarks of choices they
will have to make.
9/11, it is important for the public to realize where history stands,
from a very high altitude. More important is transparency. The American
people need to be informed accurately as to what are the options if it
wants to pursue the struggle or if it wants to ignore it at their peril.
The rest is details...