Jihadis+Territory= Terror| August 17, 2021
This is a disaster of generational dimensions, not just embarrassing but dangerous to America
Never in their wildest fantasies did the Taliban dream of a birthday present like this. As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, pictures of their Kalashnikov-toting fighters sitting in the Afghan presidential palace while diplomats fled made viewers across the West gasp.
It’s a military and propaganda coup not seen since the group’s surrogate, Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda — whom the Taliban sheltered in Afghanistan as they plotted against America — brought down the World Trade Center; humiliation for the American Great Satan sent packing with forked tail between his legs.
Scrambling to contain the inevitable comparisons to the fall of Saigon in 1975, the White House’s attempts to spin the chaos as a contingency that they’d planned for was met with disbelief even by friendly news networks.
Make no mistake: this is a disaster of generational dimensions, not just embarrassing but dangerous to America — and Biden owns the tragic end.
If two decades of fighting Islamic terror have taught us anything, it’s that when fundamentalists control sovereign territory, the flames of jihadism burn bright.
That, after all, was the very reason for invading Afghanistan to begin with. When terror groups don’t have to worry about survival, they’re free to refine tactics and plot mayhem. So the Taliban’s control of state resources in the 1990s led directly to the 9/11 attacks. The same happened under Islamic State in 2014. Control of vast swathes of Iraq and Syria gave the group the resources to undermine Middle Eastern regimes and plot terror abroad.
Even more than state-level resources, controlling territory is the ultimate recruiting sergeant for the jihadi cause. The Islamist dream is to actualize a religious governing vision. When that happens, radicals flock to the flag. ISIS’s initial victories were a PR coup, bringing thousands of Western radicals to fight under the group’s banner. It was only when American airstrikes shrank Islamic State’s territory to nothing that the romance of the cause dwindled, giving way to a squalid reality that cut off the stream of foreign recruits.
Biden may not have negotiated the deal with the Taliban that led to the pullout — President Trump did — but the disastrous implementation belongs to the current Oval Office occupant. That pullout has resurrected jihad’s recruiting sergeant. Because what matters is not what narrative the West tells itself, but the story that Islamic fundamentalists tell about the West. In the eyes of the jihadists, their RPG-carrying mujahideen have seen off not just the Russians in the ’80s, but now the far more formidable foe of America.
So yes, Biden was right that “one more year wouldn’t have made a difference if the Afghan government can’t hold its own country.” But according to many experts, this was no all-or-nothing choice. Americans were no longer doing the bulk of the fighting in Afghanistan, and for a relatively modest cost, the Taliban were denied a sovereign state.
America’s slow-burn failure in Afghanistan has deep roots in the failure of a corrupt foreign-backed government to win legitimacy against a relentless religious insurgency. That was the case under Presidents Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden. But in the final analysis, it was war-weariness, not strategic logic, that dictated the end to the “Forever War.” By surrendering to that siren-song, President Biden has seriously damaged his vaunted foreign policy credentials.
Because as the Taliban do an incredulous victory lap of their new global stage in Kabul, the president will be reminded that America may not be interested in jihad, but jihad remains very much interested in America.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 874)
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