Monday, June 9, 2008

Al-Qaeda – the United States' Invisible Foe

The Current Discussion: CIA Director Michael Hayden says al-Qaeda is more or less defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan. Should the Bush administration take credit? How much?

When wars are fought with an adversary who is largely invisible, how can one make the assertion that the war is over? CIA Director Michael Hayden says the war against al-Qaeda is over –“more or less.” Now if ever there was a wishy-washy statement, that is one. The question now is, is it “more” or is it “less”? The entire gambit of media output coming from the Bush Administration on Iraq, Afghanistan and indeed the al-Qaeda is so distorted and mixed up. At the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq. In the ensuing months, as the management of Iraq literally fell apart under the worst public management ever done by Mr. Paul Bremen and others, an insurgency against the U.S. flared up. This was, and is, a domestic movement, nothing to do with al-Qaeda or others. While some attacks have been attributed to and even claimed by the al-Qaeda of Iraq, this was largely a splinter element. Thus, to defeat the al-Qaeda is not consequential in Iraq. What is consequential is the larger issue of managing the country and bringing about order in a country where insensitivity to the aspirations of the people has led to the worsening of the situation.

In Afghanistan, while the al-Qaeda may well have existed and, perhaps, still do, the issue of law and order is more complex. I have no doubt that while the Taliban were hated by the people, the fact they reinstated order and stopped the internal civil war is what the Afghan people remember as more important. Hamid Karzai has had a tremendous task on his hands. Whether he can restore order has to depend on his handling of the tribal and social fabric of a difficult country – hopefully doing it without foreign troops propping him up.

I have always argued that the underlying problems of these societies have to be resolved, not just through cosmetic changes at the top or on the surface. This means bringing economic well-being to a broader spectrum of people, accepting that the aspirations of each might be different from what the U.S. may want. Yes, al-Qaeda may well be a matter of concern for the U.S. Administration, but one has to understand that within these societies the issues are much larger and more acute than they might expect. One has to admit that mismanagement of these societies was going on well before the U.S. intervened. However, if the purpose of the intervention was to make things better, this has been a total failure and the result is clear – we’ve allowed a destabilized society to be exploited by all factions in this invisible war.