Empires become wounded and die. Empires collapse and fall. The American empire, the most powerful empire in history, is no exception. It has been wounded before, even if its responses to those wounds were different. Today, the US is withdrawing from the world, and going into internal isolation.
The US was wounded in Pearl Harbor; the response was its decisive entry into World War II. It was wounded in Vietnam; the response was withdrawal. The US was wounded on September 11; the response was the war on terror, and to prevent further wounds, Washington thought that its withdrawal from the world would protect it, but the logic of history says otherwise.
There are other wounds. Lebanese Hezbollah operatives blew up US marines and their embassy in Beirut in 1983, so President Reagan decided to pull out the troops. Al-Qaeda terrorists in Somalia shot down a US Black Hawk helicopter, so President Clinton decided to withdraw troops, and the examples abound.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its handover to the Taliban will be interpreted as defeat. The Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS have learned that Washington can be exhausted through sheer will, determination, and the persistence of terrorism. This overwhelming realization by all Islamist fundamentalist and terrorist movements will be the big driver for more wounds in the world in the coming years, which will, unfortunately, reach the US.
This context does not preempt events, but an international political and security climate is being built today in preparation for future events, giving the logic of history what it needs to recycle the wounds.
In its foreign wars, the US has always been keen to link its wars to morals, principles, and ideals, fighting for freedom and democracy. But, the US presidents, political parties, and trends do not provide serious definitions for freedom or democracy, for which they fight or want to spread in the world.
President George W. Bush did not discuss the meaning of democracy that he preached when he declared the war on terror. President Barack Obama did not discuss the meaning of democracy that he preached when he stood against Arab countries and their peoples and allied himself with fundamentalist groups in what was known as the Arab Spring.
The decision-makers or the Western thinkers, specifically the American ones, do not find a need to discuss pressing philosophical, historical, and political questions about preaching democracy. They talk about a ready and complete model, and in the words of fundamentalist groups, a timeless one, so why do they preach it without having a complete vision and decisive answers?
Many different factors shape the answer to the previous question, but two are most important: First, to win the support of the US voter by conveying a simple, but critical, idea that the American empire has moral superiority and a moral message that it wants to pass on to the world and make peace and war decisions based on it. Second, to exert selective pressure on some countries but not others, according to the interests of each US administration at the time.
Observers monitor the unmistakable contradiction in US policies toward the countries of the region with regard to Iran and Arab countries for example. Under no criterion of reason and logic, nor for any reason can the Iranian regime compare to the Arab countries. Also, the formalities of Iranian theocratic democracy do not serve as a smokescreen when the issue is raised in its cognitive and scientific proportions.
The Iranian regime is blatantly moving toward greater militancy and recycling bloody symbols known for their terrorism and dictatorship to lead the regime, indifferent to all the efforts of the current US administration to restore the ominous and incomplete nuclear deal because it simply does not have to. The wooing of Iran is pushing it toward more stubbornness, not leniency, to increase its ideological rigor, not to review the principles of the revolution, or strategies to support militias and terrorism, nor its expansion policies and interference in countries’ internal affairs.
After the Afghanistan-based al-Qaeda’s 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, President George W. Bush delivered a speech, in which he said: “We will not waver; we will not tire; we will not falter, and we will not fail.” He described America’s war there as “Mission Creep.” “I will not forget this wound to our country,” he said. Twenty years later, the US has not forgotten, but it has withdrawn at an amazing speed and allowed the Taliban to return quickly, leaving important questions evaded and unanswered at official press conferences.
How will the Taliban and terrorist organizations explain the US withdrawal from Afghanistan? Maududi followers are politicized fundamentalist fighters, who do not recognize half-solutions and do not believe in diplomacy or democracy but will simply say that America was defeated and pulled out its troops, and this will give them the strength and impetus to reorganize, harbor, and nurture terrorism, the effects of which will be evident in the years to come.
This happened before. In his memoir “Decision Points,” President George W. Bush said: “Seemingly, terrorists felt that they had an open invitation to attack, only expecting minimum retaliation. In the words of Osama bin Laden, the Americans were ‘paper tigers’ who could be made to ‘run in less than twenty-four hours.’”
Following the end of Bush’s presidency, it was clear that defeating terrorism required defeating its roots in political Islam groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the Obama Administration was burdened by the task and decided to do the exact opposite, namely, to ally with these groups, hand over power in Arab countries during the fundamentalist spring era and sign the nuclear deal with the Iranian regime and shut up about all its anti-world, not just anti-region, policies.
Obama’s vision of withdrawal and isolationism and abdicating the role of the world’s policeman has created geopolitical vacuums that were filled by rival countries, such as Russia and China. Returning to that vision today after the stage of President Trump opens the door to a new fundamentalist era in the region and the world, the effects of which will be felt on the international scene.
Had the leading and moderate Arab states not designated political Islamist groups as terrorist groups, speeches would have been given, fatwas issued, and poems written about the US’ action. Emotional sentiment would be ramped up and followers would be mobilized, but this time from Western countries, Afghanistan, and Iran.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.