In October 2001, in the aftermath of 9-11 and the horrific terror attacks perpetrated against the Pentagon and the Twin Towers by al-Qaida, the U.S., in the name of self-defence, invaded Afghanistan, which was protecting the group’s mastermind, Osama bin Laden.
In order to protect America from further attacks and to bring the culprits to justice, the U.S. military toppled the Taliban and embarked on a massive, decade-long manhunt for the elusive bin Laden.
At the time of the invasion, Afghanistan was already a failed state, with the despotic Taliban regime unable to fully pacify the northern region, and a resource-less country combined with an illiterate and unskilled workforce meant the illegal drug trade was the primary source of revenue.
The U.S. never planned to get bogged down in a lengthy military campaign in Afghanistan. The idea was to use its overwhelming air power and guided munitions and to let a handful of Special Forces operatives guide the ragtag Afghan militias under command of the Northern Alliance warlords to defeat the Taliban. Nobody wanted a lot of American “boots on the ground,” especially not for any appreciable length of time.
After a couple of years of mentoring from just a few thousand NATO-led troops of the International Security Assistance Force, the Afghans were expected to take to democracy like ducks to water, and their ragtag militia would transform into a disciplined and professional national security force. With this pipe dream still alive in the Pentagon planners’ heads, the mighty U.S. military was now free to invade Iraq.
Although Saddam Hussein was in no way linked to the al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the U.S. (in fact, Iraq’s prisons were full of al-Qaida extremists), U.S. President George W. Bush wanted to use the pretext of 9-11 to eliminate a long-standing irritation. Saddam never had the weapons of mass destruction Bush claimed as the pretext for yet another invasion in self-defence.
Iraq had been hit with strict UN-imposed sanctions after Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and much of the country’s key infrastructure and military capabilities were destroyed during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But Hussein clung tenaciously to power and kept Iraq from becoming a failed state.
American military planners knew that war with Iraq would be a cakewalk, and as expected, Saddam’s conventional forces collapsed in a matter of days. The self-delusional spin from senior U.S. sources was that the oppressed Iraqi people were unified in their hatred of their evil dictator and that by removing him from power, “American troops would be greeted as liberators.”
I spent a lot of time in Iraq during the lead-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion. While Saddam may not have been universally loved, all Iraqis knew their own complex composition and feared a power vacuum. Contrary to the U.S. assumption that the Iraqis were united in their hatred for Saddam, they were much more clearly divided by their hatred of each other, as history has now clearly exposed.
Immediately after the U.S. occupation, the divisions between Arab, Kurd, and Turkmen, Sunni and Shia Muslims and secular and fundamentalist factions emerged in the form of a bloody and complex civil war. But Iraq’s inter-factional violence was overshadowed in the western press by coverage of attacks directed solely at U.S. occupation forces.
Since the last of the U.S. troops left in December 2011, however, the rate of terrorist attacks in Iraq has steadily increased to the point that only in war-ravaged neighbouring Syria is the monthly civilian casualty count higher.
Other than the fact that the oil is still pumping, Iraq has become a failed state. This is despite the U.S. and its allies, as in Afghanistan, putting hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground for nearly a decade.
With the conflict in Libya, the West made sure that was not the case. The recipe was pretty much the same with the pronouncement that Gadhafi, like Saddam and the Taliban before him, led an oppressive regime that needed to be toppled in favour of the freedom-loving masses.
This time, however, the West would use air power, the provision of weapons and the training of personnel to assist the Libyan rebels. There would be no boots on the ground.
The initial result was a bloodless victory for NATO just over two years ago. But as was highlighted by the recent abduction of Libya’s prime minister by armed militiamen in Tripoli, the proclamation of victory was far too premature.
Without any NATO boots on the ground to disarm the ragtag rebel militias that we originally armed, Libya has developed into a state of lawless anarchy, divided into tiny fiefdoms ruled by local warlords.
Other than the fact that the oil is still flowing, Libya too has become a failed state and a breeding ground for international al-Qaida-based terrorists.
Boots on the ground or no boots on the ground, the West is 3-for-3 in creating failed states … sorry, I mean new democracies.