The 2016 presidential election gobbles up most media space these days, but the attack in Brussels early Tuesday reminds Americans the world remains at war with ISIS. Although the Combined Joint Task Force, an international coalition led by the USA, touts progress being made, the latest deaths are an indication we have a long way to go.
As countries struggle to contain ISIL, a warning from an essay at All Africa in 2012 comparing the group to a scorpion comes to mind. Few paid attention to the essay. Fewer still have paid attention to foreign policy on the part of the US that suggests when it comes to war, hindsight is better than foresight.
The latest attacks raise questions about current US policy on refugees, and the attacks are a reminder we are still at war whether we like it or not.
Urban terror, like that of the Boston Marathon attacks, occurs even when warnings are in place and governments know the potential exists. An official in Belgium had warned the public there might be acts of revenge after Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam was arrested in Brussels.
The Daily Mail cited official information that gives pause to any country accepting refugees from nations at war:
“[A]secret police dossier revealed there could be up to 90 ‘kamikazes’ waiting to launch suicide bomb attacks in Europe after returning from Syria disguised as migrants.”
On one social media page at Facebook, a commenter familiar with the area attacked on Tuesday said “the most important European and Belgium institutions are located” nearby. Media reported one attack occurred at the airport; another at the metro station near the European Union headquarters.
As urban areas remain potential targets around the globe, the United States continued air strikes on countries harboring ISIS. On the CJTF website, a user can click on a map and see where strikes have occurred. To date more than 22,000 targets have been damaged or destroyed.
The strikes have generated little controversy in US media for President Barack Obama, primarily because media ask few questions about civilian casualties. GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump was brutally honest with reporters about civilian casualties during war, but ironically, President Barack Obama has said little about it although he knows they occur. Trump’s comments, in contrast, drew reams of ink from reporters on both sides of the aisle.
CNN addressed the issue of civilian casualties in January, 2016. Although the Obama administration gave a nuanced and more delicate description of the matter, there is little difference between this president, his predecessor George W. Bush, or any of the top tier candidates in either party when it comes to preemptive defense.
However, there are differences in policies that might land the US in a crisis situation to begin with. And there are differences in policies that might lead to a peaceful resolution if enough countries come together to address the issue via sanctions and any other tools available.
The US Dept. of Defense announced on Sunday, “Rocket artillery, attack, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 16 strikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of Iraq’s government…” Near the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul, “[S]trikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units and an ISIL headquarters and destroyed two ISIL assembly areas and suppressed an ISIL mortar position.”
Few Americans, still keenly remembering the thousands killed by enemy combatants technically representing no country officially on 9-11-2001, take issue with preemptive attacks on the radical Jihadist cult steadily gaining geographic ground and allegedly aiming for a worldwide Islamist Caliphate. The Taliban in Afghanistan harbored the group who planned and implemented the 2001 attacks.
Obama is supposed to release a report on his drone policies and their impact, but he has largely escaped criticism directed at Bush 43 over the use of non-lethal waterboarding to extract information from terrorists. Bill Clinton, when he occupied the Oval Office, preferred rendition. Sending terrorists to other countries for interrogation broadened the scope of methods for information gathering. Few complained about Clinton’s use of that method.
In an interview with Fox News, Mideast expert Dr. Walid Phares said:
“[T]he problem of sensitive urban enclaves in Europe’s capitals and cities are the networks protecting the Jihadists…the issue is not just the Jihadists, but those militant networks protecting the Jihadists and providing them with support. The European Governments are now working on dismantling these militant networks.”
Phares is advising the Trump campaign, a sign the businessman will turn to well-vetted experts when it comes to this troubled part of the world. Phares had long warned about the aftermath of Arab uprisings and the downgrading of US leadership in a troubled world. His warnings have proved prescient.
Volatility in Iraq after the removal of US troops, as well as policy on the parts of Obama and former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, led to record numbers of refugees from countries in the Mideast and North Africa. Despite known challenges with vetting refugees, the Obama administration has increased the number the US will take in from countries where terrorist movements operate. Refugees and asylum seekers are a separate group from immigrants.
The Pew Research Center said:
“For the past three fiscal years, the U.S. has capped the annual number of refugees it will accept at 70,000. Of the 57,350 refugees admitted so far this year, most have come from Burma (13,831), Iraq (10,898) or Somalia (7,642). Since 1975, according to data from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center, more than 3 million refugees have been admitted to the U.S.”
No reporter has asked the Obama administration for a risk assessment, or metric. Considering the Paris and Brussels attacks, it is logical to assume such attacks will occur around the globe. Is there a ceiling on potential civilian casualties the US government has set as an acceptable risk? No one knows; no one is asking.
How, exactly, do you vet 70,000 people coming from countries harboring political movements aimed at taking down the US?
Meanwhile US troops continue to die in war zones and civilians continue to die in urban areas in various cities.
In 2012, an essayist I perceive as left of center, penned an editorial** for the website All Africa about the US engagement in Libya. Two things stood out.
One was Horace Campbell’s assessment of Christopher Stevens’ opinion of then dictator Muammar Gaddafi:
“He [Stevens] had served as a ‘Special Representative’ to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March 2011 to November 2011 during the NATO intervention. Prior to this period he had served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya from 2007 to 2009. At that time, Stevens described Gaddafi as an ‘engaging and charming interlocutor’ as well as a ‘strong partner in the war against terrorism.’”
Campbell quoted an article run in The Independent (UK) regarding Libya:
“Robert Fisk of the Independent drew the linkages between the NATO intervention in Libya and the escalating war in Syria, warning the West of the dangers of its duplicity in the Middle East and North Africa. Writing after the death of Ambassador Stevens, Fisk commented that:
‘The United States supported the opposition against Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, helped Saudi Arabia and Qatar pour cash and weapons to the militias and had now reaped the whirlwind. America’s Libyan ‘friends’ had turned against them, murdered US ambassador Stevens and his colleagues in Benghazi and started an al-Qa’ida-led anti-American protest movement that had consumed the Muslim world. The US had fed the al-Qa’ida scorpion and now it had bitten America. And so Washington now supports the opposition against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was helping Saudi Arabia and Qatar pour cash and weapons to the militias (including Salafists and al-Qa’ida) and would, inevitably, be bitten by the same ‘scorpion’ if Assad was overthrown.’
Fisk quoted from one of his friends in Syria who was warning against the current escalation of the war:
‘You know, we’re all sorry about Christopher Stevens. This kind of thing is terrible and he was a good friend to Syria – he understood the Arabs.’ I let him get away with this, though I knew what was coming. But we have an expression in Syria: ‘If you feed a scorpion, it will bite you’.’”
The war is going full steam ahead. Americans seem to remember it when there are attacks such as those in Brussels on Tuesday morning.
** Libya: A Year Later, the War Is Far From Over by Horace Campbell, Oct. 11, 2012, for All Africa, a subscription website. Original URL: http://allafrica.com/stories/201210121033.html. The essay can still be accessed via the Wayback Machine and is not behind a paywall there at present [https://web.archive.org/web/20121013005153/http://allafrica.com/stories/201210121033.html]
(Commentary by Kay B. Day/March 22, 2016)
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