You broke it? You own it.

By Scott Taylor

Immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, United States President George W. Bush declared a war on terror.

No one was exactly sure what that meant, but since every nation was petrified to invoke the wrath of an angered, wounded American, almost everyone simply pledged their allegiance to Bush.

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was an exception, and they refused to extradite 9-11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. This led to the November 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, with the dual objective of toppling the Taliban and capturing bin Laden.

It took only a matter of weeks, at a cost of three U.S. servicemen’s lives, to oust the Taliban (bin Laden successfully evaded execution until May 2, 2011). However, once the U.S. had created the power vacuum in Afghanistan, it became readily apparent that no plan had been made for a post-Taliban era.

The Band-Aid solution from the outset was to appoint existing tribal leaders and warlords, and then keep them pliable through the generous provision of aid money. There were subsequent farcical attempts at staging elections, which were presented as exercises in democracy, but the same cast of corrupt characters remained in power.

Despite the fact that they knew the Kabul regime was one of the most corrupt and despised governments on the planet, the NATO alliance, including Canada, deployed an ever-increasing number of troops to prop up the Afghan leaders. The exit strategy for NATO then became focused on the creation of an Afghan security force capable of independently maintaining the corrupt Afghan regime after NATO troops withdrew.

To this end, NATO poured in weaponry and trained hundreds of thousands of young Afghan men how to fire those weapons. After more than 13 years of international intervention, we left the Afghan people at the mercy of a repugnant government protected by a semi-capable but woefully unmotivated security apparatus.

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan

In the case of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the only objective was to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The U.S. flat-out fabricated the excuse that he possessed weapons of mass destruction to justify invading a sovereign state in the name of self-defence.

Once Saddam’s military was shattered and it was clear that no WMDs existed, the U.S. began spinning the mission as a humanitarian intervention to free the Iraqi people from a brutal tyrant.

The problem with that argument is that, once again, the U.S. had a plan for a military operation but not for the post-Saddam power vacuum. Like Afghanistan, a few puppet administrations were pronounced to have been elected through a democratic process, and like Afghanistan, this central authority had no power beyond the range of American weapons.

Once again, the exit strategy was to pour weapons and training into an Iraqi security force that could independently hold up a Baghdad regime that was, in itself, a divisive factor amongst Iraq’s various factions.

Unfortunately for all involved, the U.S. investment of an estimated $22 billion and nine years worth of training and mentoring didn’t prevent the Iraqi army from disappearing at the first sight of ISIS fighters last summer. With the swift collapse of the Iraqi army, the Shiite leaders once again called out their militia in southern Iraq, and the Kurdish peshmerga militia took up the fight against ISIS in the north.

The international community’s immediate response was to flood in weapons and military trainers. Canada has taken a lead role in providing weaponry and mentoring to the Kurds, while Iran has been the primary sponsor of the burgeoning Shiite militia in the south.

A map depicting the Kurdish region of Iraq

A map depicting the Kurdish region of Iraq

While everyone focuses on the immediate issue of militarily defeating the ISIS fighters, no one seems to be discussing what form of authority will fill the power vacuum left in the wake of ISIS. Without a rapprochement between the Sunni tribes supporting ISIS and the predominantly Shiite leadership in Baghdad, the cycle of violence will continue.

For their part, the Kurds, who our Canadian special forces are training, are not fighting for Iraq, they are fighting to establish Kurdistan as an independent nation.

The clearest example of planning for war but not the aftermath is the conflict in Libya.

Under Canada’s leadership, NATO helped Libyan rebels oust Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011. While we celebrated victory, the ragtag Libyan rebels — many of them Islamic extremists — continued to fight each other.

During the uprising, NATO had enforced a strict arms embargo against the Gadhafi loyalists while flooding in weapons, munitions and training to assist the rebels. Since Gadhafi’s death, Libya has descended into a total state of armed anarchy and become a safe-haven breeding ground for Islamic extremists, including ISIS members.

Despite Libya’s proximity to southern Europe and the threat posed by ISIS, NATO officials have maintained that they will not revisit the idea of another military intervention in that country.

“The problem is there isn’t a government in Libya that is effective and in control of its territory,” claimed British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in response to the crisis.

“There isn’t a Libyan military which the international community can effectively support.”

Given that it was NATO that destroyed both the Libyan government and the military in 2011 and did not even attempt to replace them, how can NATO now use the resulting circumstances to dismiss itself from further responsibility?

As they say in Pottery Barn, “You broke it? You own it.”