Another page in the global war on terror

The flow of Western and Asian terrorists to the Arab region away from Washington, London, Moscow, and Paris remains an undeclared goal for many leaders

Raghida Dergham

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Despite the horrific nature of the terrorist attack that has since put Charlie Hebdo on everyone’s lips, what happened in Paris this month does not resemble the terrorist attacks of September 2001, which struck New York and paralyzed Washington, and led to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The similarity between the two attacks involves Islamist terrorism in Western cities, meaning that international intelligence chiefs will now place before their governments every possible option to keep terrorism away from their cities once again, and confine it in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq.

The flow of Western and Asian terrorists to the Arab region away from Washington, London, Moscow, and Paris remains an undeclared goal for many leaders. What is new is the growth of the phenomenon of non-Arab Western and Asian terrorists, who terrify all those who had thought the war in Syria had successfully gathered all terrorists in one geographical spot and created an opportunity to eliminate terrorism away from their cities.

The flow of Western and Asian terrorists to the Arab region away from Washington, London, Moscow, and Paris remains an undeclared goal for many leaders

Raghida Dergham

Today it is not French President Francois Hollande or U.S. President Barack Obama alone who are concerned about more terrorist attacks in France and the United States. Russian President Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most concerned about a possible terrorist reprisal in his country, because I believe he too had thought that the war in Syria was useful to keep terror away from his cities and immediate neighborhood. A lot will happen when the new international counterterrorism strategy will be drafted after what happened in Paris. The Washington summit next month will possibly see the birth of a new alliance, which is likely to include Russia, Iran, and even Israel, in parallel with the anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States and comprising its Gulf allies. In the midst of these military and intelligence alliances, there is no indication that there is any willingness to admit to mistakes committed by the leaders of these countries, which contributed to spawning terrorists. There are no indications that there will be a radical and serious political approach to crises and conflicts that would prove the major players have good intentions in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Israel, Palestine, Iran, and elsewhere. This is the main problem that portends that the worst is yet to come.

What happened in Libya?

In Libya first, France had a leading role under Nicolas Sarkozy. At the time, Sarkozy side by side with French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy led the raid on Libya to topple a tyrant in the name of freedom and the Arab Spring. It is not clear today what France had in mind at the time, when it prepared military operations even before NATO gave the go-ahead, and rallied Arab support, beginning with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to go into Libya and depose Muammar Qaddafi.

Let’s say -- just to avoid a lengthy debate into this issue - that French oil interests were not the top priority for the Elysee, and that the goal was really to rescue Libya from the yoke of a tyrant to reinvent itself and rebuild itself, as a civil state rich in resources capable of building institutions.

So what happened then? How did it happen that just like that all NATO countries rushed militarily into Libya, they rushed out from Libya without offering help to build the necessary institutions that would have prevented the country from collapsing? Indeed, everyone knew full well that in the event Libya was left without assistance in rebuilding itself as a civil state, Libya would become either a failed state or an open arena to Islamist extremism, vendettas, and/or a fertile ground for terrorism.

Libya fell into the hands of corruption, the corrupt, and the corruptible. The human rights defenders of yesterday became new tyrants. Libya’s floodgates were then opened to all kinds of Islamists, from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda and ISIS. Libya’s oil became its curse once again. Tens of thousands of Libyans were killed, and Libya returned back in time without France and its allies in NATO showing any concern. When President Obama noticed a mistake had been made in Libya, he essentially blamed the Europeans, exonerating himself. Others said that what happened in Libya had been planned in Washington essentially, and implemented by France in its own acrobatic manner.

Thus, between Qaddafi’s acrobatics and NATO’s, resource-rich and beautiful Libya turned from a one-tyrant country to a country of neo-tyrants of various nationalities, identities, and agendas, at a heavy cost paid by the Libyans.

Today, we are hearing repeatedly that Libya was the target, but the other target was no doubt Egypt. Libya remains Egypt’s weak side, especially if the situation there continues unchanged without a drastic and earnest treatment.

We are hearing that what the Western powers want is to lure Egypt militarily into Libya, to implicate it there with a view to prevent it from recovering and retaking its place and position in the regional balance of power. If Egypt decides to intervene with its military in Libya, it would win the military battle without much effort. However, any military intervention requires follow up by staying in the country. This is exactly what makes Egypt very conscious of the dangers of falling into the trap of military involvement in Libya. There, it could end up fighting a war of attrition with ISIS and al-Qaeda, which had spread in Libya in the wake of the French adventure championed by Sarkozy and Levy, and their subsequent odd escape that threw Libya into a spiral.

France had nothing to do with the errors the United States and Britain made in Iraq. France had opposed the Anglo-American military intervention led by George W. Bush and Tony Blair in the name of preventing the proliferation of WMDs on falsified premises regarding Iraq’s possession of nuclear capabilities that both capitals knew full well Iraq did not have.

Bush’s candor soon exposed the real goals behind the Iraq war, which he had decided to wage directly after the terror attacks of 9/11. Bush declared that the objective of his war on terror in Iraq was in order to avoid having to fight that war in American cities. Bush was successful in keeping terrorism away from U.S. cities, but his war on terror in Iraq helped fuel Islamist terror and radicalism. As a result, the U.S. approach and priority produced a brand of extremism that was able to spread and move from Iraq to Yemen and then Syria.

Transcontinental war on terror

Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, and European leaders adopted the strategy of gathering terrorists in one place to pin them down in battles far from their cities, a purpose for which they found Syria to be ideal. However, it is not possible to say -- or believe -- that those leaders were not aware that prolonging the conflict in Syria would lead to developing the capabilities of the terrorists of all kinds, to the extent that they started attracting volunteers from Europe, America, Australia, Russia, and the Muslim republics in Central Asia to participate in the jihad in Syria.

Perhaps this was the implicit or calculated objective. In effect, the attack in Paris opened a new page in the transcontinental war on terror.

Today, Russia is saying: I am here. This suits Russia because it needs to deflect attention away from its adventure in Ukraine and the estrangement it caused with the United States and the European Union, and even with Russia’s friend German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Vladimir Putin will spare no effort to be a partner in the Washington Summit on February 18, which will most probably launch advanced intelligence cooperation in addition to giving broader functions for interior ministries such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, headed by Jay Johnson, which has extraordinary powers in the United States.

Iran is also saying: I am here. It is saying it in its own way, bearing in mind that any cooperation with Iran would not be public and direct at the Washington summit, but would be on the ground as is happening in Iraq, even though Tehran is not officially part of the anti-ISIS coalition.

Israel will exploit every opportunity provided by Islamic extremism and use it as ammunition against the Palestinians. Israel will stand ready to benefit from the global fixation on Islamist terrorism.

Europe is afraid of the repercussions of the fact that there are at least 3,000 European jihadists in Iraq or Syria. The European coordinator for counter-terrorism said that 30 percent of them have returned to the European Union countries. The Europeans feel they are today at risk from "inside and outside" as Francois Hollande said, and they will be vigilant and consider issuing exceptional laws that would give their governments sweeping powers.

The other horrific scene that emerged in the media this week -- in addition to the Paris attack -- is that of the boy from Kazakhstan nicknamed the “Cub of the Caliphate” executing two Russian “spies.” He shot them with steady hands and piercing looks and a face that embodied his ruined childhood. It was a truly terrifying sight.

There remains something necessary that should be said about the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the freedom of expression. Journalism and journalists have extraordinary privileges. We have the right to raise any question and write any opinion. We are the so-called fourth estate. But with privileges, there are responsibilities and a duty to abide by the principles of the profession. We enjoy those privileges because our duty is to be vigilant about the public interest and hold those infringe upon it accountable. Thus, it is not our right as journalists to place the private interest above the public interest.

If it is clear that provoking religious sentiments at this juncture would harm the public interest, then there is no point provoking for the sake of provoking under the banner of the freedom of expression. Neither the culture of empty provocation nor the culture of incitement is among the privileges of responsible journalism. Yet for anyone to justify the murder and mutilation of journalists under any excuses, e.g. to teach them a lesson or silence them, is near collusion in those foolish and despicable murders.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on Jan. 16, 2015 and was translated by Karim Traboulsi.

Raghida Dergham is Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat, the leading independent Arabic daily, since 1989. She writes a regular weekly strategic column on International Political Affairs. Dergham is also a Political Analyst for NBC, MSNBC and the Arab satellite LBC. She is a Contributing Editor for LA Times Syndicate Global Viewpoint and has contributed to: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune and Newsweek Magazine. She serves on the Board of the International Women's Media Foundation, and has served on the Advisory Council of Princeton University's Institute for Transregional Studies of the contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. She was also a member of the Women's Foreign Policy Group. She addressed U.N. General Assembly on the World Press Freedom Day when President of The United Nations Correspondents Association for 1997 and was appointed to the Task Force on the Reorientation of Public Information by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. She moderated a roundtable of 8 Presidents and Prime Ministers for UNCTAD at Bangkok in 1991. Dergham served as Chairman of the Dag Hammarskjold Fund Board in 2005. She tweets @RaghidaDergham.

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