Al-Qaeda is back in Fallujah and Ramadi, where we defeated them in the recent past. Everyone in the Middle East knew it, and they all knew al-Qaeda was on the ropes. Recruitment was more difficult, fund-raising likewise, and the cult of bin Laden was decidedly wobbly.
That’s what happens when a messianic mass movement — like Islamism — loses. People start asking all sorts of annoying questions. If your past victories were due to Allah’s support, a demonstration of His recognition that you were the sole practitioners of the right sort of Islam, what are we to make of your defeat? Has Allah abandoned you? Has he joined the Marines?
In the ebb and flow of the global war in which we are so reluctantly engaged, that was a moment to be seized. Instead, our new leaders judged it was the perfect time to walk away. They have been walking away ever since. And they had plenty of support, from deep within American tradition, from that oft-fatal conviction that peace is normal and war is an aberration, when the opposite defines human history. So we walked away, abandoning those who had staked their future to America’s commitment to freedom, and giving hope and time to our enemies, who regrouped and attacked again. Thus, Iraq, where the slaughter often exceeds the death toll in Syria. Thus, Syria itself. And Lebanon.
Al-Qaeda, and others like them, can now say, “You see, Allah is indeed with us. We are stronger than ever. Much stronger. We used to have bands of terrorists, but today we have armies. The Americans have run away from Iraq, where our flag now flies, and they are running away from Afghanistan, where the Taliban are preparing to impose God’s will. The future is clear. We will win. Join us, or perish.”
That is the meaning of Fallujah. And everyone in the Middle East knows it. These Americans can win some battles, but they do not have the stomach to win the war.
It’s serious enough to make the deep thinkers at the White House ponder reengaging in Iraq, somehow. As the Wall Street Journal reported,
The rise of the Islamist forces in Iraq is particularly worrisome to the Obama administration. In response, U.S. officials said Sunday they were seeking to boost military support — though they emphasized no troops — for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to help in his campaign to push back al-Qaeda. U.S. officials are also considering new military aid for Lebanon, which is plagued by rising sectarian violence.
Easier said than done, however. It’s one thing to support Maliki when we’ve got troops on the ground, and can effectively defend him against al-Qaeda, and against Iran. It’s quite another matter when we’re just offering weapons, drones and bombs from a distance. Maliki certainly can’t defend Iraq against Iran, whatever his wishes, and indeed any assistance we give him may well end up in Tehran. Do we really want to deliver hellfire missiles to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei by way of Baghdad? Congress seems reluctant, and rightly so. On the other hand, if Iraq can’t get help from us, they’ll take it from Tehran, which has happily offered to fight al-Qaeda.
That’s what happens when you deny reality and insist that you can achieve peace by making nice to your enemies; you get more war, with even fewer good options than before. George W. Bush bequeathed Obama a greatly weakened al-Qaeda, a lot of discouraged Islamists, and a cautious Iran. Five years later, Obama faces rampant Islamic forces, new al-Qaeda armies, and an Iranian regime that believes he will bend to their wishes.
Our enemies expect to keep fighting until they have defeated us, even if they get beaten up along the way. That’s Fallujah again, a sort of Islamist version of the Brezhnev doctrine: once they’ve conquered territory, it’s rightfully theirs forever. They think they’ve proven it.
Fallujah means we can expect things to get worse. Why shouldn’t our enemies press ahead? Wouldn’t you, in their boots? And why should anyone think it’s strategically wise to bond with the new America? The Egyptian generals will explain to you that the Americans can’t be trusted to support their friends.
Here in Washington, some pundits are saying that things are actually going well, since radical Sunnis and Shi’ites are killing one another. The problem with this cheery outlook is that eventually one of them will win, and the winner won’t be good for us. Moreover, Sunnis and Shi’ites have demonstrated they can work well together when the mission is killing Americans.
They can do that even when they’re killing one another. Just wait.